Structural Cell Biology of Viruses

Cells constitute the smallest autonomous units of life. Supramolecular complexes carry out essentially all functions and processes and form the cells structural elements. The tightly regulated structural and functional organization of a cell at this level is currently only rudimentary understood. Viruses and their interactions with host cells provide attractive model systems for studying macromolecular interactions. Unravelling the mechanisms underlying the dynamic interactions of viruses with their host cells at this level is crucial to understand the complexity of a viral infection. A comprehensive analysis of the cellular organization and its dynamic changes in the course of the viral ‘life cycle’ requires tools that allow for studying these complexes in their native environment. The group Structural Cell Biology of Viruses applies electron cryo microscopy in combination with other complementary techniques to approach selected aspects of this highly ordered network analysing protein complexes in situ. Sample preparation by fast vitrification, i.e. embedding in amorphous ice, ensures excellent preservation of structure down to the atomic level.

Picture: Herpesvirus entry into synaptosomes (Maurer et al., (2008). PNAS 105(30)).