Dynamics of cellular membranes and their exploitation by viruses

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Kräusslich
Department für Infektiologie, Virologie
Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 324
D-69120 Heidelberg

Aims of the programme

The primary aim of this priority programme is to study the similarities and differences in the envelopment of viruses and cellular structures at various cell membranes. Enveloped viruses are released from cells or subcellular compartments in a budding process which makes use of cellular machineries. Thus, it appears likely, that the parallel and interdisciplinary analysis of diverse envelopment processes will lead to the discovery of general principles and molecular mechanisms and will thus have a significant added value. Little is currently known about these processes, but recent results - partly obtained by research groups from Germany - provided first insights into the underlying mechanisms. Examples are the insertion of nuclear pore com-plexes into the intact nuclear envelope and the egress of herpesvirus capsids from the nucleus, the appropriation of macromolecular complexes used in formation of multivesicular bodies for the budding of viruses, and the formation and maintenance of lipid microdomains which can serve as platforms for virus release. Applying the study of viruses to cell biology questions and vice versa has already in the past led to major advances in our understanding of cellular processes and this program will re-build this bridge for the study of a fundamental question.

The research programme addresses many of the most important human and animal pathogens including HIV, hemorrhagic fever viruses (e.g. ebola and lassa virus), herpesviruses, hepatitis C virus and poxviruses. Moreover, results obtained are likely to also apply to other (e.g. SARS coronavirus) or yet unknown pathogens. A detailed understanding of the underlying mechanisms at a molecular and structural level will also identify new targets for therapeutic intervention. A further important aspect is to apply novel and highly sophisticated technologies to the study of membrane envel-opment. The proposed program requires the combination of methods and the inter-disciplinary interaction that is only possible in a program on a national scale. The topic of this research programme is very timely and is considered an important research priority also on an international scale. Several of the initial observations defining the research concept have been made by research groups participating in this program.