Date: January 6, 2014

Ana Monica Nunes v3The American Heart Association has awarded Rutgers University Chemistry Postdoctoral Researcher Ana Monica Nunes a two-year fellowship to study novel biological interactions critical to the development of improved treatments for the hardening of the arteries or atherothrombosis, also known as cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Nunes research focuses on the interaction between blood vessel wall collagens and the integrin alpha2-beta1 (α2β1) located on the platelet surface, a process fundamental to clot formation inside blood vessels. The body uses platelets to form a clot to prevent blood loss after blood vessel injury. The integrin α2β1protein is critical in platelet adhesion, but does not consistently bind collagens – an interaction that is not fully understood.

“We are studying this interaction on the molecular level, trying to understand how α2β1integrin chooses to bind collagen,” said Nunes, a structural biology researcher under the direction of Rutgers Chemistry Distinguished Professor Jean Baum. “Understanding the process is extremely important to platelet adhesion, activation and aggregation, and is a key process in clot formation.”

Collagen-protein interaction is one of the research focuses of Baum’s lab. Collagen is the most abundant protein of the human body, providing structural integrity and managing multiple interactions with cells and other matrix molecules.

“In order to design safer therapeutics to prevent or treat heart diseases it is important to understand α2β1-collagen interaction and to identify the crucial residues involved in the process,” said Baum. “The research will allow for the future design of second-generation drugs highly specific and potent, without secondary effects.”

Baum’s team uses an integrated approach based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in conjunction with computational, biophysical and biological methods to provide unique structural and dynamic insight into protein recognition of collagen and to understand the molecular basis of collagen diseases arising from mutations.

Nunes research utilizes integrated molecular biology and NMR to grant insight into the structure and motion of integrin α2I-domain when unbound and bound to collagen. NMR is unique, providing not only structural, but also dynamic information of proteins. The study will produce the α2I-domain, responsible for the direct binding to collagen in the parent integrin, and characterize its dynamic behavior in the presence and absence of collagen peptide models. Understanding how integrins select and bind collagen will grant insight on the process of clot formation.

Nunes received a Ph.D. in Bioinorganic Chemistry from the University of Ioannina, Greece; and a B.S. in Technological Chemistry and a Specialization Degree in Biomedical and Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Lisbon, Portugal. In addition to her work at Rutgers, she conducted postdoctoral biophysics research at the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics, Estonia.

Nunes research takes place at the Rutgers Center for Integrative Proteomics Research, a four-story, 75,000-square-foot-facility on the Busch Campus, dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary structure-function studies of complex biomolecular phenomena. The Center houses state-of-the-art instrumentation for protein NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and protein/nucleic acid physical chemistry, and hardware for high performance computing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, one out of every four deaths, with coronary heart disease being the most common, killing more than 385,000 people annually and alone costing the United States $108.9 billion each year in health care services, medications and lost productivity.

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