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 = 30), most of which focus on thiol-based reaction 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’.
Understanding the redox language of the cell
The mission of the Redox Signaling Lab is to decipher how cells sense and respond to redox metabolites (i.e. transient small-molecules with the ability to oxidize or reduce biomolecules, like H2O2). The importance of redox signaling for the proper functioning of the cell is being increasingly recognized, and the elucidation of its precise mechanisms and players is becoming critical, as it will allow us to manipulate these pathways with a wide variety of implications, ranging from increasing stress resistance in plants to identifying therapeutic targets in diseases where aberrant redox signaling plays a role.
In response to environmental stimuli, cells must coordinate and communicate metabolic states between organelles, like cytoplasm to the nucleus, or in plants, chloroplasts to the nucleus. This occurs via various signaling pathways that lead to (redox) metabolite exchange and/or protein translocation. These pathways ensure appropriate downstream cellular response and are often found to be dysregulated in disease states, thus proving them to be critical for homeostasis.
Thiol-based redox signaling
Today, we know that H2O2 can initiate various signaling cascades, but a long way remains towards a fully-characterized H2O2 signaling network. Full characterization requires more information regarding H2O2 perception, transduction, and regulation as well as knowledge of how this network intersects with other signaling networks, such as those involving Ca2+ or phosphorylation. We aim to understand the structural and chemical microenvironment within redox-sensing proteins that determines the kinetic privilege of cysteines to react with H2O2.
Peroxide signalling facilitators
To address the question of H2O2 signal transduction and regulation, we will be investigating peroxiredoxins (Prdx). Prdx are highly efficient and highly abundant peroxide-scavenging enzymes, which have recently also been demonstrated to participate in redox-based protein-protein interactions with the possibility of transferring the oxidizing peroxide signal to other proteins that are less reactive towards oxidation by H2O2. Our objective is to explore the hypothesized protein scaffolding system which engenders specificity in this Prdx-mediated peroxide signaling.
Metabolite indicator tools
In order to be able to investigate cellular (redox) metabolite signaling between organelles and cells it is important to have proper tools enabling the visualization of metabolic fluxes in real time in living cells, with a subcellular resolution which mass spectrometry “omics” methods cannot afford. In response to this need, we are developing metabolite indicators which harness metabolite-responsive proteins to create sensitive and specific biosensors with a fluorescence read-out that could be used in various cell types and organisms.
- 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 2012-2018
- Research Rotation Analytical Biochemistry - 1st master year Master of Science in Molecular Biology: From 2018 onwards
- Research communication skills -1st master year Master of Science in Molecular Biology: From 2018 onwards
- Analytical Biochemistry -1st master year Master of Science in Molecular Biology: From 2018 onwards