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All cells of an organism contain the same genome. However, the pattern of gene expression differs considerably between different cell types and also changes over time during development. One way to regulate the expression of genes is achieved by small RNAs that together with Argonaute proteins lead to gene silencing in a process called RNA interference (RNAi). In order to generate a robust RNAi response, the small RNAs must be present in sufficient quantities. How is it decided from which endogenous RNA transcripts small RNAs are produced and how are specific small RNAs then selected for amplification process? In the nuclear RNAi pathway small RNA – Argonaute complexes induce histone methylation and thereby heterochromatin formation. How are the Histone methyltransferases recruited and what are the factors involved in the process? Our research will provide fundamental knowledge of the mechanism of gene silencing and in general on the regulation of gene expression.
Our group uses an integrated structural biology approach, with structural biological techniques forming the core (X-ray crystallography & single-particle electron microscopy) and complemented by biochemical and biophysical approaches. Our research focuses on the mechanistic characterization of protein complexes, which we obtain by two complementary methods. In the bottom-up approach, we produce and purify individual components or protein subcomplexes, which then can be used for the gradual build-up of increasingly larger assemblies. In the top-down approach, a single subunit of a protein complex carries an affinity tag, which allows purifying stable complexes from endogenous sources that can be utilized for structural studies, but for example also for the identification of new interaction partners by mass spectrometry. To complement our biochemical and structural analysis, we perform in vivo experiments together with our collaboration partners.
Sebastian studied Biochemistry at the University of Bayreuth. He received his Ph.D. from Heidelberg University, where he worked on targeting of membrane proteins with Irmi Sinning. During his postdoc with Elena Conti at the MPI of Biochemistry, he combined structural biology and biochemistry to study eukaryotic RNA degradation. From March 2019 he is a group leader at the Max Perutz Labs in Vienna.
To reconstitute multimeric protein complexes we employ a bottom-up approach, in which we first purify several proteins individually and then combine them to assemble complexes. The purified protein complexes are then used for biochemical and structural characterization.
MTR4 is the central cofactor of the RNA Exosome in the nucleus. In addition to providing helicase activity, MTR4 also acts as a central platform for the recruitment of various RNA-binding proteins like NOP53, AIR2, NVL or NRDE2. They all bind to the KOW domain of MTR4 in a mutually exclusive manner using a conserved motif.
Structure of the nuclear exosome captured on a maturing preribosome.
Schuller, Jan Michael; Falk, Sebastian; Fromm, Lisa; Hurt, Ed; Conti, Elena
Mpp6 Incorporation in the Nuclear Exosome Contributes to RNA Channeling through the Mtr4 Helicase.
Falk, Sebastian; Bonneau, Fabien; Ebert, Judith; Kögel, Alexander; Conti, Elena
Structural insights into the interaction of the nuclear exosome helicase Mtr4 with the preribosomal protein Nop53.
Falk, Sebastian; Tants, Jan-Niklas; Basquin, Jerôme; Thoms, Matthias; Hurt, Ed; Sattler, Michael; Conti, Elena