Research in our Department focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms and systems levels that control cell behavior:
- growth regulation
- determination of cell fate and differentiation
- cell adhesion and movement
- intracellular trafficking
These studies include investigations into the mode of action of growth factors, and the nature of signals triggered by them in target cells. Cell growth regulation is also examined through explorations of tumor suppressor genes, such as p53, which inhibit cell proliferation and can drive cells toward differentiation or apoptosis, as well as through the characterization of growth-activating genes and signaling networks.
Our researchers also address the understanding of the mechanisms underlying cancerous transformation, either due to deregulated growth or to failure to undergo apoptosis. Advanced gene screening techniques and genetically modified experimental models are used to identify and characterize specific genes that are involved in normal and malignant growth. There is broad interest in the molecular mechanisms of cell adhesion and motility, and their involvement in the regulation of cellular and embryonic morphogenesis, neuronal development, and in the spread of tumor metastases. Of special interest are proteins such as beta-catenin, which plays a critical role in reinforcing cell-cell adhesions, as well as triggering gene expression. These studies include characterizing the mechanisms underlying adhesive interactions, the role of sugars in adhesive processes. Furthermore we investigate the identification of recognition molecules which mediate cell-cell interactions during nervous system development. Understanding of the process by which surface-associated adhesion molecules enable the cell to bind to the cytoskeleton, and the involvement of such adhesions in cell motility and signaling is thoroughly investigated.
Other interesting issues studied in our Department are concerned with developmental biology, and differentiation, processes are dealt with by using cutting edge technologies. This includes also the molecular genetics and evolution of genes involved in human diseases and myogenesis as a model system for investigating possible therapeutic potentials.
To understand the behavior of cells, it is important to add to the molecular level of description an understanding on the level of systems biology. For this purpose, studies of model organisms such as E. coli are useful for defining the design principles of biological circuits. Combined experimental and theoretical approaches allow one to define basic network motifs and their functions, as well as studying the role of evolution in shaping regulatory circuits in the cell.
Since these cellular processes involve groups of interacting factors, we are also interested in mathematical modeling and computational analysis of biochemical and gene circuitry in normal cells and their deregulation in cancer.
The Department of Molecular Cell Biology in Weizmann Current Research Activities