Molecular Biology

The Institute for Molecular Biology, headed by Prof. Dr. Blanche Schwappach, views heart muscle cells as factories which produce their own components, put them together, and sometimes also must recycle. Heart muscle is electrically excitable. The excitation is enabled by proteins in the cell membrane which can conduct electric currents. These so-called ion channels are produced by the cell in a specially designated region inside the cell and then transported to the surfaces of the heart muscle cell. When they no longer properly function, or when demands for excitability change (for example in developing disease), new ion channels are produced and the old ones are recycled inside the heart muscle cell. For this process, many specialized molecular machines are necessary which facilitate the entire production, quality control and transport of ion channels.

Searching for ion channels

At the Institute of Molecular Biology, we investigate these processes with molecular biological and biochemical methods with which we tag the ion channels on the surfaces of the heart muscle cells and then observe the course of their fate. For this we focus in particular on changes in the genes of the ion channels or the respective production machinery. The effect of such changes, as they occur in the context of rare genetic diseases such as cardiomyopathies, can be tested in biochemical or cell biological experiments, for example in which we observe certain ion channels of heart muscle cells under a microscope. The results provide us with valuable information on particularly susceptible components or processes in heart muscle cells, which in the longer term may point to possible new therapeutic approaches. We study these questions in close cooperation with groups of the Collaborative Research Center 1002, “Modulatory units of heart failure” and the International Graduate School 1816 (IRTG 1816). The PhD students from this graduate school investigate ion channels on the cell surface of heart muscle cells in the context of intact heart tissue. They collaborate closely with partner groups within the IRTG 1816 at King’s College, London.

Prof. Dr. Blanche Schwappach-Pignataro