UM Biologist Receives NIH Grant to Create the First Map of Protein Interactions in Neurons

This project is the first systematic inspection of when and where each protein-protein interaction takes place within the cells of a living animals

Coral Gables (November 30, 2009) — Our brain is composed of over one trillion cells called neurons. Each neuron contains millions of proteins. Exactly how individual proteins interact with one another and together form complex signaling networks within neurons has never been examined directly in live animals. Now, the University of Miami (UM) College of Arts and Sciences has been awarded a grant totaling $2.6 million distributed over two years, from the National Institute of Health (NIH), through the Recovery Act Limited Competition for NIH Grants: Research and Research Infrastructure “Grand Opportunities” (RC2), to launch a systematic survey of in situ protein-protein interaction networks, or “isPIN.” Its ultimate goal is reconstruction of genome-wide protein-protein interaction networks, at every progressive step of development.

Dr. Akira Chiba, principal investigator and professor in the department of Biology, will lead a UM multidisciplinary team to develop this systematic analysis. The project will employ advanced genetics, sophisticated molecular imaging technology, and high-performance computation. The study is part of the emerging field of Proteomics, explains Chiba.

“Proteomics has been hailed as the ‘next big thing’ after genomics,” he says. “We envision that our imaging-based surveys will help illuminate the true dynamics of the molecules of life and fundamentally transform today’s proteomics, and that the area most impacted by our project will be neuroscience,” Chiba says.

The project will produce 500 transgenic lines of fruit flies, the model organism of choice. The initial 24-month pilot phase of the project will focus on 10,000 neuronal protein pairs. A new $1million imaging system—custom-designed for the project, will generate over 1,000,000 3D images occupying 1TB of memory space. Analysis using the University’s Center for Computational Science will reveal a network of interacting proteins within a living neuron.

While the current project focuses on the neurons under the normal condition, future expansions are probable to include disease-affected states as well as non-neuronal cells, bridging basic biology to advanced medicine. The new grant will also provide invaluable opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Arts and Science to work side-by-side with the research team on a project at the cutting edge of scientific research and development.

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University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of our diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world.