Science using optical tweezers

In the 30 years since the pioneering work of the Nobel laureate Arthur Ashkin, Optical Tweezers (OT) have evolved into a behemoth in the field of single molecule biophysics. Using a laser beam as both the probing as well as the spatial detection element, OT allows for the manipulation of single molecules with high spatial and temporal resolutions. At the Optical Tweezers Lab of UNIMORE, we employ OT to explore protein dynamics at single molecule level, with two major research threads:

  • Study of protein folding and misfolding
    Proteins are polypeptide chains that fold into functional three-dimensional structures through a molecular mechanism that remains poorly understood, despite the theoretical and experimental efforts of many scientists over the past 40 years. When the folding process goes wrong (misfolding) the protein becomes useless and often toxic for the organism. Using OT we study the folding and misfolding processes of different proteins under different experimental conditions, and characterize the energy landscapes underlying these reactions.
  • Investigation of the functional dynamics of molecular chaperones
    Molecular chaperones are proteins that maintain cellular proteostasis by shielding client proteins against misfolding and aggregation. Some chaperones prevent protein aggregation (holdase action), others promote protein re-folding (foldase action). Using OT we characterize the molecular mechanisms underlying the holdase and foldase actions of different chaperones at the single molecule level, revealing useful information for the development of therapies against diseases caused by the malfunctioning of these proteins.


Image adapted from Advances in Protein Chemistry and Structural Biology 92, 93 (2013).


People: Prof C. Cecconi

[Ultimo aggiornamento: 03/02/2021 13:52:05]