HomeOur ScientistsKarolin Luger

Our Scientists

Karolin Luger, PhD
Investigator / 2005–Present

Scientific Discipline

Molecular Biology, Structural Biology

Host Institution

University of Colorado Boulder

Current Position

Dr. Luger holds the Jenny-Smoly-Caruthers Endowed Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Current Research

Structure and Dynamics of Chromatin

Karolin Luger is investigating the structural biology of genome organization. Luger hopes to understand the fundamental impact of chromatin architecture on genome-related processes such as regulated gene transcription, DNA replication, and DNA repair. Research in the Luger Lab focuses on the interaction of nucleosomes with nuclear factors, and on structural and mechanistic aspects of the cellular machinery that assembles and disassembles chromatin during transcription, replication, and DNA repair. The evolution of eukaryotic chromatin structure is investigated through structural studies of archaeal chromatin and chromatin-associated factors.
Nucleosomal array (assembled from pdb entry 1s32) interacts with the histone chaperone yNAP1 (pdb entry 2ayu)...

Biography

DNA carries the fundamental genetic information essential to life—but it is hardly a solo performer in the cell's nucleus. In fact, its billions of base pairs are tightly packed together with proteins into a complex called chromatin, whose…

DNA carries the fundamental genetic information essential to life—but it is hardly a solo performer in the cell's nucleus. In fact, its billions of base pairs are tightly packed together with proteins into a complex called chromatin, whose structure controls whether the cell can transcribe genes and replicate and repair DNA.

Scientists like Karolin Luger are constantly angling for better images of this central structure, and early in her career, she snapped one of the best. In 1997, Luger and her colleagues used x-ray crystallography to reveal the structure of a core chromatin particle with unprecedented detail. This work not only demonstrated how structural aspects of chromatin guide its role in DNA transcription, replication, and repair, but has also provided the foundation for further studies by others in the chromatin field.

Luger has used her structure of the nucleosome—a fundamental chromatin component made up of a disk of proteins surrounded by DNA—as merely a starting point. Since that achievement, she has shifted her focus from what the nucleosome is to what it does.

At the most fundamental level, the nucleosome is believed to regulate access to DNA during gene transcription. Luger's more ambitious goal is to understand how the structure varies, based on changes in its own proteins or interactions with outside molecules. Ultimately, she hopes to refine the overall view of how chromatin is organized at higher levels.

To address these issues, Luger complements her structural studies with biochemical and biophysical experiments, and the results have shed light on how the nucleosome changes shape and how chromatin interacts with the cell's transcription machinery. Variations in histones—the major protein component of the nucleosome—play a significant role in regulating gene expression, and Luger is carefully characterizing how subtle changes in these proteins can affect overall nucleosome structure.

Luger's recent work has concentrated on how histone "chaperones" promote structural changes in nucleosomes and facilitate the sliding of histones along the DNA. These proteins, which were previously thought of as chaperones in the true sense of the word—in that they guide histones to the DNA and prevent them from making "improper" interactions—now appear to also have a very active role in promoting nucleosome dynamics; the chaperones have joined the dance.

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Education

  • BS, microbiology, University of Innsbruck, Austria
  • MS, biochemistry, University of Innsbruck
  • PhD, biochemistry and biophysics, University of Basel, Switzerland

Awards

  • National Lecture, Biophysical Society
  • Monfort Professor Award, Colorado State University
  • State Science Prize, Vorarlberg, Austria

Memberships

  • Biophysical Society (Fellow)