Chemist Ralf Langen joined the Keck School Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in September.
He will work in a laboratory at the Institute for Genetic Medicine until the opening of the new Neurogenetic Institute building, now scheduled for December, 2001.
A Caltech Ph.D., Langen did graduate work in the USC chemistry department, receiving an M.S. in 1994, after undergraduate study in Germany. While working as a post-doctoral researcher in the UCLA laboratory of Wayne L. Hubbell, Langen helped to develop a new analytic technique called site-directed spin labeling.
The procedure will speed and simplify the now slow and tricky process of determining the complex, multiply folded shapes of the molecular assemblies that handle and deliver neurotransmitters in the brain, and of cell membrane proteins in the brain.
This information is crucial in predicting the behavior and effects of these key molecules, and in trying to design drugs to block or enhance their action.
In an intercontinental collaboration with Reinhold Jahn, director of the Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Goettingen, Germany, Langen is now attempting to solve the structure of so-called snare proteins, which allow packets of neurotransmitters to pass through a nerve cellps exterior membrane.
Langen is also trying to understand the process that leads to the formation of the brain plaques associated with Alzheimerps Disease.
According to Neurogenetic Institute director Brian Henderson, Langen will play a key role as a structural biologist at the Institute.
Ralf is an outstanding young scientist who brings us a unique mix of skills, Henderson said.