Research Areas of the Woehlke Group

The complex structure of the eukaryotic cell requires a strictly regulated intracellular transport system. The major players in this system are cytoskeletal filaments and their associated motor proteins. We are studying the microtubule cytoskeleton, which is one of the three main components of the eukaryotic cytoskeletal system.

The organization of the microtubule system changes in response to internal and external cues. The cell achieves the dynamic re-organization by depolymerization and re-polymerization of microtubules from the ends, and by internal severing, which generates new free ends. 

In higher eukaryotes, severing is essential for proper function of cells, tissues and organs. If spastin is inactive, e.g. in human families with hereditary mutations, a degeneration of the first motoneurons occurs. We are interested to find out the mechanism of severing for fundamental reasons, and to find ways to relieve the severe symptoms of defective microtubule severing.

Curiously, the same pathological symptoms occur if other genes are mutated, among them the microtubule-dependent motor protein kinesin. Here again, studies on the origin of the dysfunction reveal fundamental issues on the co-operative mechanism of kinesin, and possible ways of suppressing the symptoms.