Radu Aricescu

Supra-molecular architecture of neurotransmitter receptor complexes
Group Leader page

Chemical synapses are cellular connectors that define the organization and function of neuronal circuits and, as a result, the fundamental ability of the brain to acquire and store information. Two small molecules, glutamate (excitatory) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, inhibitory) mediate the majority of synaptic transmission in the vertebrate central nervous system. These bind ligand-gated ion channels and G-protein coupled receptors, to initiate neuronal signalling events.

The spectacular progress in the structural biology of membrane proteins during the past decade has provided a wealth of information on purified neurotransmitter receptors. We know how most of them look, and can imagine how they function. In a physiological context, however, these receptors do not work, or even exist, in isolation. They form merely the cores of large protein assemblies, including extracellular, transmembrane and intracellular molecules, which play essential roles throughout the "life-cycle" of synapses. A structure-based, mechanistic understanding of such assemblies is currently lacking.

Your project will focus on the structural and functional analysis of neurotransmitter receptor supra-molecular complexes. These span the synaptic cleft to physically connect neurotransmitter release sites in the pre-synaptic membrane with receptors on the post-synaptic side. Multiple options are available, built around the expertise available in our group on GABAA and glutamate ligand-gated ion channel families. Enquiries are encouraged, to discuss further details. This is an excellent opportunity to acquire experience in human membrane protein biochemistry and modern structural biology, including single-particle cryo-EM, cryo-electron tomography and X-ray crystallography. Structural work will be combined with biophysical analyses, electrophysiology and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. The LMB provides all the infrastructure required and an outstanding training environment for these techniques.


Elegheert, J., Kakegawa, W., Clay, J.E., Shanks, N.F., Behiels, E., Matsuda, K., Kohda, K., Miura, E., Rossmann, M., Mitakidis, N., Motohashi, J., Chang, V.T., Siebold, C., Greger, I., Nakagawa, T., Yuzaki, M. and Aricescu, A.R. (2016)
Structural Basis for Integration of GluD Receptors within Synaptic Organizer Complexes.
Science 353:295-299.

Matsuda, K., Budisantoso, T., Mitakidis, N., Sugaya, Y., Miura, E., Kakegawa, W., Yamasaki, M., Konno, K., Uchigashima, M., Abe, M., Watanabe, I., Kano, M., Watanabe, M., Sakimura, K., Aricescu, A.R. and Yuzaki, M. (2016)
Trans-Synaptic Modulation of Kainate Receptor Functions by C1q-like Proteins.
Neuron 90:752-767.

Miller, P.S. and Aricescu, A.R. (2014)
Crystal structure of a human GABAA receptor.
Nature 512: 270-275.

Tang, A.H., Chen, H., Li, T.P., Metzbower, S.R., MacGillavry, H.D. and Blanpied, T.A.
A trans-synaptic nanocolumn aligns neurotransmitter release to receptors. (2016)
Nature 536:210-214.

Frank, R.A., Komiyama, N.H., Ryan, T.J., Zhu, F., O'Dell, T.J. and Grant, S.G.  (2016)
NMDA receptors are selectively partitioned into complexes and supercomplexes during synapse maturation.
Nat Commun. 7:11264.