Ernesto Fuentes, PhD

Associate Professor
Research project title

Biochemical and Structural Analysis of Signal Transduction

Research description

Research in my laboratory focuses on important problems in signal transduction pertinent to human health. Our approach is interdisciplinary, combining, biochemical, biophysical, cell biological and molecular biology methods to gain insight into the mechanisms governing signal transduction in eukaryotic and prokaryotic systems. The major goal is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that regulate signal transduction. Our recent work has focused on two systems.

The first system involves the Rho family of GTPases, a subfamily of the well known Ras superfamily. In their active state, Rho GTPases interact with effector proteins to coordinate changes in gene expression and the actin cytoskeleton. Several molecules, including guanine exchange factors (GEFs), regulate the active state of Rho GTPases. Importantly, the aberrant function of GEFs has been associated with developmental anomalies, mental retardation, and human disease. The long-term goal of this research is to understand the detailed molecular mechanism(s) by which GEF proteins regulate the activation of Rho-family GTPases and how their deregulation leads to disease.

The second system centers on bacterial chemosensory in the soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Chemosensory in Myxococcus xanthus is essential for developmental gene expression, biofilm formation, intercellular communication and gliding motility. In collaboration with Dr. John Kirby (U of I, Microbiology) we are elucidating the biochemical and structural basis for Myxococcus xanthus chemosensory signaling.

Undergraduate minimum qualifications

> 3.0 GPA

Undergraduate role

Undergraduate researchers in my laboratory will participate in projects that aim at understanding the biochemical and structural mechanisms of signal transduction. General techniques such as protein purification and characterization are routinely used. A main goal is to use biophysical approaches to understand how function in regulating signal transduction pathways.