Joris Messens is since 2012 group leader of the Redox Signaling research group within the VIB Center for Structural Biology and professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. After several years in Biotech-industry as an Engineer in Biochemistry, he became an expert in protein purification. He obtained his PhD from the John Moores University of Liverpool (UK, 2003) with structural and functional work on arsenate reductase from Staphyloccocus aureus. In 2006, he created together with Jean-Francois Collet (de Duve Institute, UCL) the Brussels Center for Redox Biology (http://redox.vub.ac.be/) as a platform to stimulate redox and oxidative protein folding research. He is author or co-author of more than 90 peer-reviewed publications (h-index = 29), most of which focus on thiol-disulfide exchange and oxidative stress defense mechanisms. Joris Messens is also frequently askes as invited speaker, session leader, chair and co-chair on international meetings, like GRC, ESF, EMBO, and he is member of the reviewing board for the DFG priority program ‘Dynamics of thiol-based switches in cellular physiology’.
The mission of the Redox Signaling Lab is to decipher how cells sense redox metabolites and transduce stimuli into downstream biological effects. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a central redox metabolite, which participates in signaling through directly or indirectly oxidizing cysteines with an effect on the protein’s function and/or conformation. Knowledge of the mechanisms by which oxidative sensors and transducers function are invaluable in understanding how redox homeostasis pathways can be manipulated, with the ultimate goal to improve oxidative stress resistance in plants and to identify therapeutic targets in redox diseases.
Cancer a redox disease
Redox metabolism is central to cancer progression. Cancer cells are known to produce more reactive oxygen species (ROS), but at the same time are more sensitive to oxidative stress compared to normal cells. During metastasis, cancer cells dramatically change their cellular redox environment. To survive these changes, cancer cells develop effective protection mechanisms that aid adaptation to various types of environmental conditions. As such, many cancers express high amounts of antioxidant enzymes, such as the peroxiredoxins (Prxs). Prxs are highly efficient peroxide scavenging enzymes, and recently it has been shown that Prxs are also able to transfer the peroxide signal to the less reactive regulatory proteins. Our long-term objective is to explore and eventually manipulate the protein scaffolding system which supports Prx-mediated peroxide signaling, and to develop sensitive protein-based redox and metabolite indicator tools.
Organellar redox signaling in plants
To coordinate responses to environmental stimuli, plant cells need to communicate the metabolic state between different organelles. This requires signaling pathways and messenger molecules such as Ca2+ ions or hydrogen peroxide as well as metabolites and plant hormones. These signaling pathways connect subcellular compartments, linking for example chloroplasts to the nucleus, or peroxisomes to chloroplasts thereby enabling physical routes for signaling by metabolite exchange or even protein translocation. Today, we know that hydrogen peroxide can initiate various signaling circuits, but a long journey remains towards a fully-characterized H2O2 signaling (perceiving, transduction and regulation) map. Our research aims to contribute to one of the key questions in plant cell biology: “How are the different organellar signaling events orchestrated to face environmental stresses and promote plant survival?”
- Practical course ‘Redox Biology’ in the Interuniversity Programme in Molecular Biology (IPMB): From 2012 till now
- Practical course on ‘Redox Biochemistry’ within the course “Proteïnechemie & Structuurbepaling”, 1st master year bio-engineering sciences: From 2003 till now.
- ‘Advanced course of Protein Purification’ - 1st master year of Master of Science in Biomolecular Sciences: 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.
- General Chemistry and Protein Chemistry - 1st master year Interuniversity Programme in Molecular Biology (IPMB): From 2012-2013 till now.