Science AMA Series: I’m Albert Lau and I use supercomputers to simulate molecular machines in action, such as those in the brain. My research can help scientists understand how small molecules like neurotransmitters locate their targets. AMA!
Hi Reddit, my name is Albert Lau, and I’m a biophysics professor and computational and structural biologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I am interested in studying how biologically relevant molecules interact and change shape in order to carry out their physiological functions. My lab has focused on studying proteins called glutamate receptors that help neurons in the brain communicate with each other and are necessary for learning and memory. We’ve been examining the details of how neurotransmitters, specifically glutamate, manage to bind to these receptors and what the energetic and dynamic consequences of this binding are. My team and I recently published a paper in Neuron that shows, in part using molecular mechanics simulations carried out on supercomputers, that flexible protein elements on the surface of the receptor accelerate the process of glutamate binding by grabbing glutamate and helping to guide it into its recessed binding pocket [dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2017.11.024]. This discovery might assist the development of new therapies for neurological disorders and diseases associated with glutamate receptors, such as epilepsy, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Over the course of my training, I have been lucky to interact with and learn from extraordinary scientists in the fields of structural biology, computational biophysics, and neuroscience, and they have all influenced the research I pursue.
I look forward to answering your questions at 1pm ET.