Work in the Straube lab aims to understand how microtubules control cell migration and cell shape changes. Cell migration is driven by the assembly of actin filaments at the front of the cell and the contraction of actin-myosin fibres in the cell body. Adhesion sites transmit the forces generated by the actin cytoskeleton to the extracellular environment. Microtubules regulate adhesion sites and actin turnover, but how this is achieved remains to be understood. Microtubules are the main tracks for intracellular long-distance transport and allow the asymmetric distribution of molecules in the cell. Polymerising and depolymerising microtubule filaments can perform work and can collect and release signalling molecules. A particularly interesting group of proteins binds to both microtubules and actin filaments. The Straube lab uses quantitative optical microscopy of cytoskeletal dynamics in live human cells, and in in vitro systems reconstituted from purified components, to address questions about the mechanisms of this class of dual microtubule and actin regulatory interactors.
Cell migration is of fundamental importance to human life. The formation and positioning of organs requires cell migration, as does the protection of our body from infections and the repair of injuries. Chronic inflammation and cancer metastasis are caused by deregulated cell migration. Microtubule-targeting drugs such as Taxol and Colchicine are used daily in the clinic to treat gout and various cancers despite causing severe side effects. Understanding the molecules that mediate microtubule functions in cell migration might allow us to design better drugs that are equally effective but have fewer side effects.