Structural biology is concerned with the structure, function and molecular mechanisms of biologically and medically relevant molecules, above all proteins, which are important for understanding the underlying mechanisms of life. This concerns all levels from the molecule to organelles, cells and tissue up to and including the whole organism. Jülich scientists are, moreover, deciphering the signalling pathways in the sensory and nerve cells and are investigating the molecular switching and transport properties in the ion channels and receptors involved.
Using different biophysical methods, scientists can make the structure and dynamics of proteins visible in atomic resolution. Scientists can obtain images of signalling molecules with atomic resolution using methods such as protein crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
Interest is focused on the structure and function of virus proteins of the AIDS and SARS viruses. The structure of virus proteins often reveals details of their functions since proteins of similar structure often also have similar functions.
Protein-protein interactions also play an outstanding part in neurodegenerative illnesses, which are associated with an aggregation of endogenic proteins. In the case of Alzheimer's dementia, aggregates and fibrils from the amyloid beta peptide can be observed, and, in the case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, aggregates arising from the prion protein.