Structural Cell Biology

The group of dr. Bert Janssen focusses on structural cell biology with an emphasis on the molecular mechanisms underlying communication between cells in the nervous system. This intercellular signaling is critical for the development and function of the nervous system but still poorly understood on a molecular level. We are interested in how protein signaling systems initiate and transduce signals between cells and how cells interact to give shape to tissues. Our research on the properties of receptors, ligands and adhesion assemblies in cell interactions and communication has an impact on fields studying tissue function and development in health and disease. We use a hybrid approach of protein crystallography, cryo-EM and biochemical, biophysical and cellular techniques to resolve signaling and adhesion mechanisms at the finest detail. In the past years we have uncovered an intricate interplay of how protein structures, conformational changes, and interactions work together to organize intercellular adhesion and signaling. This ultimately underpins understanding of diseases, such as cancer and neurological disorders, and offers new avenues for therapeutic approaches.

Bert Janssen is professor in the department of Chemistry at Utrecht University. His group is part of the Bijvoet Centre 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. This revealed in detail the intricate architecture and conformational changes in C3 that are critical to complement activation and amplification. 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. He was awarded a starting independent researcher grant (VIDI) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2012, and a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2015. In 2023 he was awarded a VICI independent researcher grant from NWO to further strengthen his research team.

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