Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, San Diego, USA.
Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal
I had, as a child, aimed for the skies – my dream was to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force. A series of lucky coincidences brought me into science. As a teenager, an article I came across on ammonia transporters simultaneously fascinated and piqued my interest in membrane proteins. Even today, I find myself perpetually mesmerized by the structure of these molecules, their folding and assembly pathways, and their mode(s) of action.
I first developed an interest in voltage-dependent anion channels, aka VDACs, in 2006, while I was searching for a challenging protein system that was 'structurally different' from ion channels, and yet behaved 'functionally' like one. VDACs were predicted to be transmembrane beta-barrels, unlike the more abundant transmembrane helical channels. In 2008, the human VDAC 1 structure finally revealed a unique 19-stranded beta-barrel scaffold for these protein channels. When the prospect of leading my research group presented itself in 2009, I immediately realized that the opportune moment for me to initiate work on VDACs had arrived.
My team and I are working towards unveiling the mysteries of the unique 19-stranded beta-barrel structure. We elicit molecular details of unassisted and SAM-assisted VDAC assembly in physiological membranes. We correlate VDAC structure with its function as an anion channel at the molecular level. We determine how the VDAC interactome with apoptotic elements or misfolded proteins governs cell survival, and the onset of cancer or neurodegeneration. We focus on identifying molecular elements of VDAC that regulate ROS production in cells and the underlying correlation to aging.
What about my dream of becoming a pilot? Well, I now aim for the stars!