My research interest focuses on one fundamental biological question. That is, how do membrane proteins end up in an appropriate membrane? Eukaryotic cells are surrounded by plasma membranes and contain many different organelles. For any given membrane protein, it has to find its way to a particular organelle where it’s meant to perform its cellular function. This is a very basic but important cellular process, because proper membrane protein localization is absolutely required for functional membranes and establishing organelle identity.
In particular, I am interested in a class of membrane proteins known as tail-anchored proteins (TAs), and how they are delivered and inserted into the ER membrane. TAs participate in a wide range of functions inside cells such as vesicle transport, apoptosis, and protein transport. They are characterized by a single transmembrane domain at the C-terminus that anchors the rest of the protein to the lipid bilayer. While TAs are structurally simple proteins, their membrane targeting remains one of the most poorly understood protein targeting pathways. Using single particle cryo-EM and in vitro reconstitution system, my goal is to gain mechanistic insights into the workings of the molecular machines that play major roles in the targeting and membrane insertion of TAs.