2020 research activities
The molecular mechanisms underlying cell structures, dynamics and fate, and their involvement in embryonic development and cancer are among the primary topics of interest of the Department. These include studies on the mode of action of growth factors and the nature of signals triggered by them in target cells following binding to specific surface receptors. Growth regulation is also approached through the study of suppressor genes encoding such proteins as p53, which inhibit proliferation and drive cells towards differentiation or apoptosis. These studies, focusing on the mechanisms stimulate cell proliferation, differentiation, or death, can elucidate the basis for cancerous transformation in a large variety of systems. Overproduction or hyperactivation of growth-promoting systems was shown to have an oncogenic (cancer-causing) effect, and a similar process may be induced when growth-suppressor or apoptosis-inducing genes fail to function. The levels at which cell structure, activity and fate are studied in this department and the focus of these studies are many and diverse, including the characterization of soluble growth factors and their receptors, the nature of complex signal transduction pathways, the action of specific regulators of cytokine action, rearrangement of genes associated with oncogenic processes, and the properties of tumor suppressor and apoptosis promoting genes. Since such processes involve networks of interacting factors, we are also interested in mathematical modeling and computerized analysis of biological gene circuits.
In addition, there is broad interest in the molecular mechanisms of cell adhesion and their involvement in the regulation of cell fate. These studies include characterization of the basic rules underlying adhesive interactions, the binding of surface-associated adhesion molecules with the cytoskeleton, and the nature of growth- and differentiation-promoting signals triggered by adhesive interactions. Of special interest are proteins such as Î²-catenin, which play a crucial role in reinforcing cell-cell adhesions as well as triggering gene expression.