The molecular mechanisms of motor proteins

Lead Research Organisation: The Francis Crick Institute


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Technical Summary

This work was supported by the Francis Crick Institute which receives its core funding from the UK Medical Research Council (FC001000), the Wellcome Trust (FC001000),and Cancer Research UK (FC001000)

Motor proteins have essential roles in management of cells and are responsible for a wide range of movements, from muscle itself, where motion is along a protein filament of actin, to movement of proteins along DNA. The proteins share several common features in the way that they transduce the biochemical process of nucleoside triphosphate hydrolysis to the biological function. Particular stages of the nucleoside triphosphate hydrolysis cycle are intimately associated with conformation changes of the protein. These protein changes modulate protein-protein or protein-DNA interactions in a way that produces the biological function.
In a wider sense these proteins are representative of the large array of nucleoside triphosphatases that are involved in cellular processes. The energy of ATP or GTP hydrolysis is converted into other forms of energy or is used to provide some sort of molecular switch. Other examples include nitrogenase in nitrogen fixation, the calcium pump ATPase, elongation factors involved in protein biosynthesis and G proteins involved in cell signalling.
The general theme of our work is the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of the processes involving such motor proteins. In particular, we are elucidating the way in which DNA helicases unwind double-stranded DNA and their involvement in larger molecular machinery such as the replisome, responsible for DNA replication.
The picture shows the use of TIRF to measure plasmid unwinding on a surface, as fluorescence spots of increasing intensity as fluorescent SSB binds to the newly unwound DNA.
Research of the Group also involves the development of new techniques to study processes of interest. This is particularly the preparation, characterization and use of novel fluorescent probes, such as reagentless biosensor for rapid and sensitive measurement of target analytes such as phosphate, ADP or GDP.


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