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Understanding quality control in the cellular immune system

October 2018. Robert Tampé, Director of the Institute of Biochemistry at Goethe University, will receive € 1.5 million from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for a Reinhart Koselleck project starting in 2019. Through this programme, the DFG enables outstanding researchers to pursue exceptionally innovative, higher-risk projects. Tampé will address the functioning of the immune system in and on the surface of cells.

“Our lives are repeatedly saved every day without us even knowing it,” states Robert Tampé. “Virtually undetected by us, our immune system constantly identifies and eliminates virus-infected cells, abnormal cells, and intra-cellular pathogens in an extremely efficient way. It’s a service provided by a well-functioning immune system.” Inversely, a malfunction or weakness in the immune system can lead to cancer, chronic illness and autoimmune diseases.

It is known that infected cells trigger an immune reaction by attracting the attention of T-cells. They present protein fragments (antigens) from their cellular proteins on the cell surface. More precisely, the antigens are transferred to the so-called major histocompatibility complexes (MHC-I) and presented to the T-cells. Editing and loading complexes associated with the MHC-I play a key role in controlling the immune response. Still, these complexes have only been investigated to a very limited extent so far.

“Viruses have developed sophisticated strategies to interfere with the antigen-loading of the MHC-I complexes and thus escape the notice of T-cells. In the Koselleck project, we want to elucidate key mechanisms in the antigen processing,” says Tampé. The researcher expects that insights into the organization of these antigen quality control points will pave the way for a new understanding of intracellular multi-protein complexes associated with the cell membrane and of chaperone complexes, which are important for the folding of proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum. In the long term, the findings should point to new therapy options for infections, autoimmune diseases, chronic illnesses and cancer.


Robert Tampé is the Director of the Institute of Biochemistry and the Collaborative Research Center "Transport and Communication through Biological Membranes" which involves scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics and Goethe University. He is also one of the founding principal investigators of CEF. Before coming to Frankfurt, Robert Tampé was Director of the Institute of Physiological Chemistry at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Marburg, and Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried and the Technical University Munich. He worked with Harden M. McConnell at Stanford University as Max Kade Fellow. He is an Honorary Professor of Kyoto University and was recently appointed Visiting Fellow at Merton College and the Department of Biochemistry at Oxford University.

As biochemist at Goethe University‘s Biocenter in Frankfurt, Robert Tampé gained an international reputation for his contribution to the mechanistic understanding of antigen processing and to solving the question of how viruses avoid detection by the immune system. He also discovered the molecular machinery of ribosome recycling and provided structural and mechanistic insights into the quality control of protein biosynthesis. His main areas of interest include macromolecular complexes, membrane biology, as well as chemical and synthetic biology.


Contact:
Robert Tampé, Institute of Biochemistry, Riedberg Campus, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt/Main, Germany, Tel. +49 (0)69 798-29475, tampe@em.uni-frankfurt.de, www.biochem.uni-frankfurt.de