Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Understanding the spatial organization of signal transduction
The human body is made up of many types of cells that perform specific functions. As you eat, sleep, and move throughout the day, the conditions within your body, such as the presence of specific nutrients, hormones, and microbes, constantly change. To carry out their functions, each cell must sense these changes and properly transmit this information within the cell. The process by which cells sense and respond to these ever-changing environmental conditions is called signal transduction.
Sometimes signals get crossed, and incorrect information gets communicated. This can have disastrous consequences, such as the uncontrollable growth or spread of tumors. Our lab studies how signal transduction is regulated in healthy cells and how this process becomes disrupted in disease. We specifically aim to understand how signaling molecules are spatially organized at the cell surface and how their organization changes during signal transduction.
We use different experimental approaches to study signal transduction and understand the factors that control the spatial distribution of signaling molecules at the cell surface. First, we use microscopy to look at molecules within living cells and measure their spatial distribution in real time. In addition, we extract molecules from cells to study their behavior in a test tube. Finally, we attempt to reverse-engineer signal transduction in a test tube from purified molecules. Through these approaches we can gain a detailed understanding of this fundamental cellular process, which will aid in the development of new strategies to correct improper signal transduction in human disease.