Funding body: ERC Starting Grant
Title: Study of the existence of Functional Membrane Microdomains in bacteria
Cellular membranes play a crucial role in almost all cellular phenomena, yet we still have a poor understanding of their molecular organization. One of the most sophisticated concepts in membrane organization is the proposed existence of lipid rafts. This states that membranes of eukaryotic cells organize signal transduction proteins into microdomains or rafts, that are enriched in particular lipids like cholesterol. Lipid rafts are important for the correct functionality of numerous cellular functions, and their disruption causes serious defects in several signal transduction processes. The assembly of lipid rafts in eukaryotes has been considered a fundamental step during the evolution of cellular complexity, suggesting that prokaryotes were too simple organisms to require such a sophisticated organization of their signaling networks. However, we discovered that bacteria organize many signaling transduction processes in Functional Membrane Microdomains (FMMs) constituted by specific lipids similar to the lipid rafts found in eukaryotic cells. We use the human pathogen bacterium Staphylococcus aureus as working model to undertake a comprehensive molecular and functional characterization of FMMs. Specifically; we are currently working on a structural section that will elucidate the factors involved in the assembly of FMMs and their maintenance. Secondly, a functional section explores the role of FMMs in regulating cellular processes that could be relevant for S. aureus infections. Finally, an applied section investigates the feasibility of targeting the integrity of lipid rafts as a new strategy for anti-microbial therapy.