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Adriaan Bax, Ph.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator

Photo of Dr. Adriaan Bax
Scientific Focus Areas: Biomedical Engineering and Biophysics, Chemical Biology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Structural Biology

Professional Experience

  • Ph.D., Delft University of Technology, 1981
  • B.S., Delft University of Technology, 1978

Research Goal

The ultimate goal is to extend the capability of currently available nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods to study the structure, dynamics, and folding of proteins, including those embedded in membranes, as well as static and dynamic interactions between macromolecules.

Current Research

Our research is focused on developing new NMR techniques and approaches for determining the structure and dynamics of bioactive molecules. Our research focuses on four separate areas.

Our first area of interest is in improving the accuracy of biomolecular structures determined by NMR data. We are especially interested in developing the following: (a) better measurement techniques for interproton distances and dihedral angles from nuclear Overhauser effects (NOE) and J couplings, and (b) further development of quantitative relations between molecular structure and chemical shifts as well as chemical shift anisotropy.

Our second area of interest is in characterizing long-range intramolecular order by the measurement of dipolar couplings and rotational diffusion anisotropy. The methods we are developing address the main shortcoming of conventional NMR methods—the fact that they provide strictly local structural constraints.  These methods will be particularly useful for studying molecular machines with partially flexible hinges, such as found in molecular motors, and allosterically controlled enzymes.

Our third area of interest is in using fast switching of hydrodynamic pressure to modulate the folding-unfolding equilibrium of proteins and to collect real-time data on the complex process by which proteins can switch their structure.  This research is of interest to both enhancing our understanding of the all important protein folding process, but also for gaining experimental insights in misfolding, a process that underlies amyloid diseases.

Our fourth area of interest is in developing NMR technology that facilitates the structure determination process and makes it applicable to larger molecular weight systems. Effectively, our aim is to integrate de novo modeling approaches with sparse or easily accessible experimental data, including chemical shifts and amide and methyl group NOE data.

Applying our Research

Deeper understanding of macromolecular structures and their dynamic properties will improve our knowledge of how biology works at the molecular level and provide insights into complex diseases, including amyloidosis (such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and Parkinson’s), cancer, and many others. This will providing opportunities to intervene in such disease processes in a targeted manner.

Need for Further Study

Further technological improvements are needed at all levels, ranging from very fundamental issues such as the relation between chemical shift and local structure, enhanced methods to extract chemical shift and other structural restraints from complex NMR spectra, to the development of computationally sophisticated procedures at the interface between molecular modeling and classical experimental structure determination. Together, this will expedite the process and extend its applicability to ever larger and more complex systems.

Select Publications

Remarkable Rigidity of the Single α-Helical Domain of Myosin-VI As Revealed by NMR Spectroscopy.
Barnes CA, Shen Y, Ying J, Takagi Y, Torchia DA, Sellers JR, Bax A.
J Am Chem Soc (2019 Jun 5) 141:9004-9017. Abstract/Full Text
Study of protein folding under native conditions by rapidly switching the hydrostatic pressure inside an NMR sample cell.
Charlier C, Alderson TR, Courtney JM, Ying J, Anfinrud P, Bax A.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A (2018 May 1) 115:E4169-E4178. Abstract/Full Text
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Research in Plain Language

The molecules that medical researchers want to study the most are too small to be studied using light microscopes. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relies on the magnetic properties of the nucleus of certain atoms to determine physical and chemical properties of the molecules in which they are contained. Our lab is developing techniques that make the information derived from NMR more precise and that allow researchers to conduct a wider range of experiments to learn about the structure of important molecules, how they acquire the structures they have, and how alterations in their structures affect their function.

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