Structural Neurobiology

Portret Bert Janssen

The group of dr. Bert Janssen focusses on structural neurobiology. Communication between cells in our brain is critical for its development and function.
This cross-talk is most often mediated by proteins. We are interested in how protein signaling systems initiate and transduce signals between cells in our central nervous system. Work in the group centres on elucidating molecular mechanisms that underlie intercellular signaling between glia cells and neurons. Two systems important for the function and repair of the nervous system are currently the focus of our research; 1. The myelin inhibitors and their receptors in nervous system repair inhibition and 2. Signaling mechanisms of proneurotrophic factors and their receptors in nervous system cell death. We use a hybrid approach of protein crystallography, cryo-EM and biochemical, biophysical and cellular techniques to get detailed understanding of how these systems work.

Bert Janssen is an associate professor in the department of Chemistry at Utrecht University. His group is part of the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Reseach. Bert studied Molecular Sciences at Wageningen University (MSc 2002), followed by a PhD (2007) in structural biology at Utrecht University that was awarded cum laude. During his PhD he addressed questions central to human immunology by solving crystal structures of the large complement component C3 and its activation products C3b and C3c. This revealed in detail the intricate architecture of C3 consisting of 13 domains that act in unison to protect a highly reactive group from activation and marked conformational changes of 12 domains that fully expose the reactive group upon activation of C3 into C3b. From 2008 until 2011 he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford in the lab of Prof. Yvonne Jones, funded by a HFSP fellowship. In Oxford he elucidated the molecular mechanism underlying semaphorin-plexin function in neuronal connectivity. In July 2011 he returned to Utrecht University to start his own group to work on molecular signalling processes that are critical for the homeostasis and functioning of the central nervous system. In 2012 he was awarded a starting independent researcher grant (VIDI) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In 2015 he was awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to further strengthen his research team and he was one of the UU Young Investigators Forum founders.

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