The cytoskeleton is a fundamental element of all cells. It is essential for many cellular functions such as division, migration, morphogenesis and intracellular transport and confers mechanical stability.
We are interested in the roles of individual cytoskeletal components and the principles that underly their joint contributions to cell functions. We apply methods from biophysics, biochemistry and molecular biology to quantitatively describe the behavior of cytoskeletal systems on different scales, from molecules to cells.
Cytoskeletal networks are very diverse. They exhibit a large variety of morphologies that are associated with different dynamic and mechanical properties, reflecting the ability of the cytoskeleton to respond to different cellular needs. We believe that the cross-talk between individual components and the associated emergent properties of composite structures are key aspects that confer distinct functions to the cytoskeleton. We are particularly interested in the cross-talk between microtubules and intermediate filaments, two cytoskeletal filaments with contrasting mechanical, dynamic and structural properties.
Microtubule lattice dynamics
Dynamic instability of the microtubule tip – i.e. the fast switching between growth and disassembly phases – is a fundamental characteristic of all microtubules. In contrast, the microtubule lattice far from the tip was long considered not to be dynamic. The recent discovery that microtubules continuously lose and incorporate subunits along their lattice far from the tip led to a paradigm shift. Lattice dynamics increases the resistance of microtubules against mechanical stress and impacts tip dynamics. We aim at exploring this new aspect of microtubule dynamics in order to understand its contribution to microtubule function.
In vitro systems
To study the cytoskeleton, we use in vitro reconstitution assays with defined compositions. Based on the controlled conditions, we hope to identify the principles that govern the architecture, self-organization and mechanics of cytoskeletal systems.
The use of micropatterning standardizes cell observations by controlling the geometry of the cell, resulting in reproducible cytoskeletal network organizations.
Live cell observations
We use complementary live cell observations to challenge our findings from the in vitro assays. By combining the bottom up in vitro approach with the top down cell approach, we intend to correlate cytoskeletal network composition with its function.
We employ microfluidics to regulate the microenvironment in our experimental assays and quickly add or remove components in a controlled way.