A better understanding of how proteins interact with each other could lead to advances on multiple fronts in molecular and cellular biology, genetics, and human health. Protein-protein interactions (PPI) play critical roles in a remarkable range of cell functions—maintaining cellular structure, helping enzymes assemble molecular machines, regulating the signals that govern cell activity, and enabling cell motility. PPIs are also instrumental in the progression of many diseases, including cancer and Parkinson’s, and are crucial in cell metabolism and the physiology of muscle contraction.
Amy E. Keating, professor of biology and biological engineering, is expanding our fundamental knowledge of these processes. She studies how protein sequence and structure determine PPIs. She also works to develop computational and experimental approaches to understand, predict, and ultimately design specific protein interactions.
One focus of Keating’s research is alpha-helical coiled coils—a series of protein helices that coil together like strands of rope. A structural motif, these are involved in important biological functions, including the regulation of gene expression. Keating also studies the BCL-2 family of proteins, which regulate delicate cellular life-vs.-death decision processes that are often disrupted in cancers.