Thumm, Michael, Prof. Dr.
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Cell Biology
Major Research Interests
We are studying the molecular mechanism of autophagy in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Autophagy is a starvation induced transport pathway, which delivers cytosolic material for degradation to the lysosome (vacuole). It is highly conserved in all eukaryotes from yeast to human and helps the cells to survive periods of nutrient limitation. Autophagy further plays an important role in ageing, the development of breast cancer and cardiomyopathy and it was linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer´s, Huntington´s and Parkinson´s disease. Autophagy is mechanistically unique, since its transport intermediates, the autophagosomes, are surrounded by two individual membranes. It starts at the newly-discovered preautophagosomal structure, where autophagosomes are formed. Autophagosomes unspecifically enclose parts of the cytoplasm including organelles like mitochondria, peroxisomes and parts of the ER. When the autophagosomes reach the vacuole, their outer membrane-layer fuses with the vacuolar membrane and a still membrane-enclosed autophagic body is released into the vacuolar lumen. In the vacuole autophagic bodies are lysed and broken down together with their cytosolic content. The intravacuolar breakdown of autophagic bodies requires the selective lysis of their limiting membrane. Due to the use of two limiting membranes the biogenesis of autophagosomes is a very unique process. Molecular dissection of this process is one of our main areas of research.
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