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Stress-induced structural and organizational adaptations of the cellular translation machinery

Project description

How cells sense and respond to stress

Under stress, cells respond. They engage in various strategies to avoid damage to the cellular proteome. The question is how. The ERC-funded RiboStress project will focus on understanding how cellular processes for synthesising proteins are remodelled in response to stress. Specifically, the project will use a cutting-edge approach to high-resolution 3D imaging, termed cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), which enables visualisation of ribosomes (the cellular machinery of protein synthesis) in their native cellular environment at molecular detail. The project will build on previous work and integrate novel image processing solutions. It will also shed new light on how cells try to counteract an imbalance of protein homeostasis (a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases). The findings will show how damage avoidance strategies impact cells’ structure and molecular organisation.


Many cellular and extracellular events cause perturbations of protein homeostasis by affecting either de novo protein folding or by destabilizing already folded proteins. Under such proteotoxic stress conditions, cells engage in various strategies to avoid further damage to the cellular proteome, e.g. by timely modulation of translation activity and specificity, or by resolving the underlying events.

Our overall goal is to dissect from a unique structural angle how such damage avoidance strategies impact on the structure and molecular organization of the translation machinery by directly imaging their effects on ribosome structure, supramolecular organization and distribution in a cellular context with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), an innovative imaging approach unique in its capability to pro-vide highly detailed three-dimensional structural information on macromolecular complexes in their cellular environment. Building on my pioneering work in the field of cryo-ET and integrating novel image processing solutions that have recently marked a breakthrough in the field, we will dissect at unprecedented resolution how the cellular translation machinery is remodeled i) after a general heat-shock, ii) during the Endoplasmic Reticulum unfolded protein response and iii) during persistent translational stalling triggering ribosome-associated quality control.

Work included in this proposal will provide detailed structural and mechanistic insights into how cells try to counteract an imbalance of protein homeostasis - a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases. It thus seems almost certain that key concepts emerging from our studies will have direct implications on mechanistic understanding of central pathological principles underlying these diseases.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 498 832,50
69117 Heidelberg

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Baden-Württemberg Karlsruhe Heidelberg, Stadtkreis
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 498 832,50

Beneficiaries (1)