Characterizing the role of palmitoylation in the trafficking of multispanning membrane proteins to the cell surface

Molecules are transported to various parts inside the cell to maintain vital functions, such as cell growth and communication. For example, many proteins regulate the intake of nutrients or detect external signals — it’s crucial to cell survival that these proteins are transported to the cell surface so the cells can recognize and respond appropriately to the different stimuli they encounter. However, there is much to be learned about the way these proteins are transported. This is the focus of Karen Lam’s research, in particular, understanding the mechanisms by which the saturated fatty acid palmitate attaches to proteins (I do not work with brain cells, but with yeast cells, which serve as a model) and affects their transport to the cell surface. For example, palmitate attaches to various proteins found in brain cells. Many of these proteins help chemicals called neurotransmitters send signals in the brain, a process that’s essential for learning and memory. Defects in this communication can result in neurological diseases like Alzheimer, Huntington and Parkinson’s. Lam wants to determine what causes defective function and transport in these proteins by modeling the processes in yeast cells. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of palmitate attachment may lead to the development of molecular-based therapies to treat a variety of neurological disorders.