The Cafiso Group studies the structure, dynamics and molecular transformations in membrane proteins that mediate their function. As a class of proteins, membrane proteins are underrepresented in the Protein Data Bank; at the same time, they are critical to cell signaling and metabolism and they represent significant targets for pharmaceuticals. Even in cases where high-resolution structures are available, the molecular transformations that underlie membrane protein function are often unknown. Our research group utilizes spectroscopic methods, such as EPR and NMR, along with other biophysical and structural methods to characterize membrane proteins and cellular processes that are driven by membrane proteins. Two major areas of interest include membrane transport and neuronal exocytosis.
Membrane proteins represent one of the most significant challenges in the field of structural biology. The majority of pharmaceuticals currently in use are believed to target membrane proteins and they represent a large fraction of the proteins expressed by the cell (30 to 40%); yet, only a small fraction of the structures in the Protein Data Bank are membrane proteins. Even in cases where high-resolution structures are available for membrane proteins, the mechanisms by which they function are typically uncharacterized. What is lacking in these cases is information on dynamics and alternate structural forms that are in equilibrium in bilayers but not revealed by crystallography.