MCB Faculty Maxim Prigozhin has been awarded funding through the Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research. Each year, the Star-Friedman Challenge invites Harvard faculty to propose interdisciplinary research projects and awards seed funding to a select few.
“I’m super happy to see Max’s work recognized by the Star-Friedman award,” says MCB Chair Sean Eddy. “The award recognizes interdisciplinary high-risk, high reward projects, which is exactly the sort of difficult and exciting work that Max does at the interface of applied physics and molecular biology.”
Prigozhin’s project will delve into what happens in neurons that encounter opioid painkillers. The team will focus on an opioid receptor called mu and other proteins mu interacts with. Figuring out the exact timing and locations of protein signaling events has proved tricky, but Prigozhin and his colleagues have developed a set of techniques called “time-resolved cryo-vitrification” that can capture images at ~10 nanometer resolution and can pinpoint the moments when events occur down to ~10 milliseconds.
“These tools allow freezing cells and tissues after defined time delays following stimulation with a ligand for subsequent high-resolution imaging,” Prigozhin explains. “This process can be repeated for a series of time points. Since many cellular processes are initiated by ligands, our tools will be broadly useful for revealing previously invisible molecular interactions.”
Opioid receptors like mu belong to a broader class of proteins that straddle cell membranes called G-coupled protein receptors (GCPRs), which Prigozhin’s lab studies. A deeper understanding of how protein interactions involving the mu opioid receptor occur may yield insights into opioid pharmacology.