Welcome to the website of the Van der Wel research group. We specialize in state-of-the-art solid-state NMR (ssNMR) spectroscopy, which we use to further our understanding of the molecular origins of diseases. Our research focuses on the molecular causes of neurodegenerative diseases, and the role of protein misfolding, protein deposition, and mitochondrial protein-lipid interactions (see below).

We are part of the Department of Structural Biology, and affiliated with the Center for Protein Conformational DiseasesPittsburgh Brain InstitutePitt/CMU Molecular Biophysics & Structural Biology PhD program, and MSTP MD/PhD program.

Protein misfolding & Huntington’s disease.

We use ssNMR spectroscopy to perform unique structural studies of protein misfolding and aggregation, which are the hallmarks of many neurodegenerative diseases. We determine the structure of protein deposits, as well as the mechanism of aggregate formation. In one of our current NIH-funded projects, we are studying the misfolding of expanded polyglutamine proteins, which are mutated in Huntington’s Disease (HD), various ataxias and other diseases. Through our mechanistic and structural studies we aim to further our understanding of the disease-causing processes and thus enable the design of new treatment strategies for these kinds of incurable diseases.

Mitochondrial protein-lipid interactions in apoptosis.

We also study the interplay between lipid membranes and membrane-binding proteins. This is often a two-way process, where proteins modulate membrane structure and membranes modulate protein structure and function. In a NIH-funded research project, we investigate protein-lipid interactions that are critical in the early stages of mitochondrial apoptosis. Part of our interest in this process stems from the fact that it is plays a critical role in the neurodegeneration in HD and related diseases. Thus, we aim to obtain new mechanistic insights that may pave the way for possible new treatment strategies.

Advanced solid-state NMR spectroscopy.

We also develop new methods in ssNMR for its biological application to protein aggregates, membranes and membrane proteins. We make use of ultrafast MAS methods, high-field multidimensional MAS ssNMR, oriented ssNMR, as well as in silico simulations. Our employ dedicated high-field ssNMR instruments housed in the Structural Biology NMR facility.

Questions? Interested in joining the lab, reprints or a collaboration? Contact us!

Selected Publications

(see here for a complete listing)

  • Fibril polymorphism affects immobilized non-amyloid flanking domains of huntingtin exon1 rather than its polyglutamine core. Lin, H.K., Boatz, J.C., Krabbendam, I.E., Kodali, R., Hou, Z., Wetzel, R., Dolga, A.M., Poirier, M.A., and Van der Wel, P.C.A. (2017) Nature Commum. [URL]
  • Cataract-associated P23T γD-crystallin retains a native-like fold in amorphous-looking aggregates formed at physiological pH. Boatz, J.C., Whitley, M.J., Li, M., Gronenborn, A.M., & Van der Wel, P.C.A. (2017) Nature Commun. 8:15137 (DOI)
  • Huntingtin exon 1 fibrils feature an interdigitated β-hairpin-based polyglutamine core. Hoop, C.L., Lin, H.-K., Kar, K., Magyarfalvi, G., Lamley, J., Boatz, J.C., Mandal, A., Lewandowski, J., Wetzel, R., Van der Wel, P.C.A. (2016) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 113(6): 1546-51 (At journal)
  • Structural changes and pro-apoptotic peroxidase activity of cardiolipin-bound mitochondrial cytochrome c. Mandal, A., Hoop, C.L., DeLucia, M., Kodali, R., Kagan, V., Ahn, J., Van der Wel, P.C.A.* (2015) Biophys. J. 109(9): 1873–1884 (At journal)
  • Lipid Dynamics and Protein-Lipid Interactions in Integral Membrane Proteins: Insights from Solid-State NMR. Van der Wel, P.C.A.* (2014) eMagRes.  3: 111–118 (DOI) (PDF download)
  • Amyloid-like fibrils from a domain-swapping protein feature a parallel, in-register conformation without native-like interactions. Li, J.; Hoop, C.L.; Kodali, R.; Sivanandam, V.N.,; and Van der Wel, P.C.A.* (2011) J. Biol. Chem. 286(33): 28988-95 [at journal][PubMed]
  • The Aggregation-Enhancing Huntingtin N-terminus is Helical in Amyloid Fibrils. Sivanandam, V.N., Jayaraman, M., Hoop, C.L., Kodali, R., Wetzel, R., and Van der Wel, P.C.A. (2011) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 133(12): 4558–4566 [at journal]
  • Dynamic nuclear polarization of amyloidogenic peptide nanocrystals: GNNQQNY, a core segment of the yeast prion protein Sup35p.Van der Wel, P.C.A.; Hu, K.-N.; Lewandowski, J.R., and Griffin, R.G. (2006) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128(33):10840-10846 [Abstract] [DOI]