Vinzenz Unger Professor of Molecular Biosciences

Research Interests

In the wake of “omics”, and “big data”, mechanistic understanding of life is rapidly falling behind factual knowledge about macromolecular inventory and global interaction networks between macromolecular assemblies. Addressing this disparity, our research is aligned with an area where the divide between “knowing” and “understanding” is particularly pronounced: the biology of interfaces between membranes and the compartments they enclose. Through past and current work we aim to accelerate mechanistic understanding of membrane interfaces in two very different areas - membrane curvature generation, and cellular acquisition of copper ions.

To reach our goals, we use a multidisciplinary approach that blends cutting edge electron cryo-microscopy (cryoEM) with other biophysical, biochemical and cell biological studies. Building our mechanistic studies around a framework derived from cryoEM offers unique advantages because cryoEM allows for the inclusion of actual membranes into the structural correlate. This strategy of adding membranes to the picture unfailingly uncovers previously unknown molecular behaviors that lead to significant changes in mechanistic knowledge and, in some cases, standing doctrine. By shedding new light on molecular inventory components that in the past had been studied out of context, or piece by piece, our work is relevant for unraveling the mechanistic basis of cellular processes ranging from cell motility to cell division, organelle homeostasis, biological signaling and respiration, and contributes to the understanding of pathologies such as diabetes, cancer, addiction, or neurodegenerative disorders.

Selected Publications

Cellular distribution of copper to superoxide dismutase involves scaffolding by membranesPope CR, De Feo CJ, and Unger VM. PNAS. 2013 December 17;110(51):20491-20496.

Autoinhibition of Endophilin in Solution via Interdomain Interactions. Vázquez FX, Unger VM, and Voth GA. Biophysical Journal. 2013 January 22;104(2):396-403.

Structural Basis of Membrane Bending by the N-BAR Protein Endophilin. Mim C, Cui H, Gawronski-Salerno JA, Frost A, Lyman E, Voth GA, and Unger VM. Cell. 2012 March 30;149(1):137-145.

Three-dimensional structure of the human copper transporter hCTR1. De Feo CJ, Aller SG, Siluvai GS, Blackburn NJ, and Unger VM. PNAS. 2009 March 17;106(11):4237-4242.

Structural Basis of Membrane Invagination by F-BAR Domains. Frost A, Perera R, Roux A, Spasov K, Destaing O, Egelman EH, De Camilli P, and Unger VM. Cell. 2008 March 7;132(5):807-817.

View all publications by Vinzenz Unger listed in the National Library of Medicine (PubMed). Current and former IBiS students in blue.