Autophagy is defined as a highly conserved pathway leading to the degradation of cellular components in the lysosomal compartment of eukaryotic cells. Autophagy plays an important role both for basal turnover of intracellular proteins and organelles and for maintenance of homeostasis under conditions of stress, such as nutrient or oxygen deprivation. Indeed, its contribution to protein degradation can be of similar magnitude as that of the ubiquitin-proteasome system. In recent years, autophagy has been recognised to be also essential for several functions of innate and acquired immunity, e.g. antigen presentation and elimination of cytosolic pathogens. It therefore comes at no surprise that deregulation of autophagy has been implicated in a number of severe human diseases, in particular neurodegenerative disorders and neoplasias.
Our goal is an improved understanding of the autophagy process (with a focus on macroautophagy) and its physiological and pathophysiological implications at a molecular level. To this end, we are applying state-of-the-art methods of structural biology and biophysics, including X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy and imaging techniques.