Molecular Mechanisms of Cell Biology


    The existence of multicellular organisms depends on highly coordinated proliferation, growth, differentiation, and death of cells. Life starts with the proliferation of pluripotent stem cells, which start to differentiate upon initiation of preformed programs or signals from neighboring cells. Cell proliferation is orchestrated by a sequence of biochemical and cell biological events referred to as the cell cycle. Proliferation and differentiation are considered as two alternative possibilities for survival of cells; terminal differentiation usually leads to cells that irreversibly have lost the ability to proliferate. Cell differentiation is due to a selective, cell-specific expression of genes, whose products generate cells with specific phenotypes and functions such as neurons, erythrocytes, muscle cells, germ cells, to name a few. Cell growth is an intrinsic feature of proliferating cells, which have to increase their size prior to cell division. Specialized cells such as oocytes or muscle cells grow during terminal differentiation to an extraordinary size intimately related to their function. Finally, to ensure proper development of the organism and organ architecture, cells have to die in a coordinate fashion (apoptosis).

    Defects in the controlled life cycle of cells in man usually result in severe defects or diseases. Uncontrolled cell proliferation, blocked cell differentiation, and/or inhibition of apoptosis often lead to the development of neoplastic cells and tumors. Differentiation defects cause malformations during embryonic development. In addition, pathogens like bacteria and viruses affect cell homeostasis often resulting in cell degeneration and cell death. The understanding of molecular mechanisms of the \"normal life cycle\" of a cell is a prerequisite to understand aberrations, which cause disease. This program includes projects related to cell proliferation, growth, differentiation, and death. In addition, several projects directly relate to diseases caused by intrinsic or induced aberrations of these cellular programs. Due to the broad spectrum of cell systems used (germ cells, muscle cells, neurons, hematopoietic cells, yeast) and topics covered (chromatin structure, signal transduction, transcription factors, protein/protein interaction, extracellular matrices, enzyme biogenesis, virology, molecular modeling) and techniques applied in the different groups, students enrolled in this program will have the opportunity to become familiar with many aspects of cellular and molecular biology. Another advantage of this program is that it is embedded in all the activities of the Vienna Biocenter, which houses not only the Max. F. Perutz Laboratories but also the IMP, the IMBA, and the GMI. The program will be run in conjunction with the international FWF-funded PhD programs at the Vienna Biocenter together with the IMP, IMBA, and GMI. Thus, students will be able to participate in the lectures and seminars offered by the Biocenter. In addition, the students will have the opportunity to meet world-class scientists who present invited talks at the Biocenter on a weekly basis