A new Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) will investigate the function of a fundamental cellular signaling pathway. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the CRC will start its work at Heidelberg University. After successful review, the DFG approved approximately 8,5 million euros in funding for the next four years. Thomas Holstein of the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) is the spokesperson for CRC 1324, ‘Mechanisms and functions of WNT signaling’. The research will focus on Wnt proteins which control the central processes of embryonic development, cell differentiation, and the development of tumours. The comprehensive interdisciplinary collaboration aims to study the molecular mechanisms for the Wnt signaling pathway which is central to biology. The CRC will begin its work in July 2017.
Wnt proteins are released by cells and bind as ligands to receptors on the surface of other cells. Different ligand-receptor interactions transmit specific signals to networks of downstream intracellular signal pathways. Wnt proteins and their signaling mechanisms arose early in animal evolution and play an essential role also in humans. As universal development factors in the animal kingdom, Wnt proteins regulate the formation of organs and nerve tissues and are involved in body axis formation in the embryo. Errors in the finely tuned chronological and spatial pattern of the signaling network cause serious diseases such as cancer. "Because the Wnt pathway has such a critical role in many biological processes and diseases, the CRC aims to uncover the molecular mechanisms of Wnt signaling using biochemical, biophysical, genetic and mathematical approaches. We want to obtain a mechanistic and quantitative understanding of these processes. In our studies, we use methods from structural biology, high-resolution microscopy, CRISPR/Cas9 and modelling of selected model systems," explains Prof. Holstein, who teaches and conducts research at the Centre for Organismal Studies.
The Collaborative Research Centre will encompass 16 subprojects. Participants from Heidelberg University include scientists from the Biochemistry Center, the Centre for Organismal Studies, the Institute for Applied Mathematics and the Medical Faculties in Heidelberg and Mannheim. Researchers from the German Cancer Research Center, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology and Göttingen University Medical Centre are also members of the research network.