Membrane proteins are a huge and widely diverse family: with functions including valves, pumps, sorters, sensors, energy transducers, and more, it is not surprising that a large fraction of the human genome has been found to comprise membrane proteins. However, due to the difficulty in crystallizing these proteins, structures are only known for a fraction of them. This is the current rate-limiting step in the overall understanding of this protein family, since the structure/function relationship is responsible for the unique performance of each protein. Far from being a purely biological problem, there is a growing realization within the community that the transport properties of some proteins can be described from a device perspective, using mean field theories, the development of which may allow the determination of the positions of specific key atoms and charges through an inverse problem formalism by measurement of “device” transport characteristics of these proteins. Aside from structural determination, further work concerns the behavior of a subset of membrane proteins whose structures and transport properties can change with electrostatic potential. These so-called “voltage gated” proteins function through an as yet unknown mechanism, although they are fundamental to the function of the heart and brain. Due to the importance, ubiquity, and functions of membrane proteins, they are targets of high pharmaceutical interest, and their ability to govern transmembrane transport addressable electrically opens new engineering vistas as well. In this program, we will bring together experimental and theoretical experts in membrane protein structure and function highlighting the state-of-the-art in the science and integrate these perspectives with those of applied science and future applications.
Mathematical approaches: Stochastic processes, Monte-Carlo and Molecular Dynamics simulations, membrane elasticity theory, Inverse problems.
Tom Chou, Chair (UCLA)
Ka Yee Lee (University of Chicago)
Jacob Schmidt (UCLA)