Detailed Research Summary:
We seek to understand the biophysical and molecular mechanisms of how cells sense, transmit and process chemical information to make decisions. We study this problem in the biological context of immune cell signalling. To keep us healthy and free of disease we depend on a complex network of cells that comprise our immune system. A functioning immune system must detect foreign invaders, such as viruses and pathogenic bacteria, and distinguish them from our own healthy tissues. How do the many morphological distinct cell types that make up our immune system detect and respond to the chemical signals of infection and disease? How do these diverse cell types coordinate their behaviour to activate an immune response that clears the body of infection?
Immune cells are masters at information processing and decision making: they can detect signals that are vanishingly small and can accurately discriminate between closely related signals. At the molecular level immune cell decision making is dependent on complex networks of proteins. These protein networks are the biochemical circuitry that allows immune cells to process chemical data. These networks of proteins are able to rapidly respond to chemical signals and activate an appropriate cellular response.
We are interested in the following questions of how immune signalling networks work:
- How is immune signaling spatially and temporally controlled?
- How do immune signaling networks work in the complex chemical environment of the cellular cytoplasm?
- How do cells convert the random behavior of molecules/complexes into a graded or binary cellular response?