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Department of Pharmacology

Houston, Texas

BCM students are involved in research.
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Olivier Lichtarge, M.D., Ph.D.

Photograph of Dr. Lichtarge

Professor, Molecular & Human Genetics
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology;
Programs in Developmental Biology, Cell & Molecular Biology, and Structural & Computational Biology, and Molecular Biophysics

Lichtarge Computational Biology Lab Web Site

Education and Awards

  • B.S., McGill University, Canada, 1980
  • Ph.D., Stanford University, 1987
  • M.D., Stanford University, 1990
  • Resident in Internal Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, 1996
  • Fellow in Endocrinology, University of California at San Francisco, 1996
  • Postdoc, University of California at San Francisco, 1997

Our lab marries computation with experiments to study three areas of protein structure-function: the molecular basis of protein catalysis and interaction, the design of peptides and proteins, and the annotation of protein sequence and structure. In each case, our long-term goals are to engineer proteins or peptides to probe and then rationally disrupt protein pathways.

To guide experiments, we rely on an integrated computational analysis of the evolution of protein sequences, structures, and functions. This phylogenomic strategy is called the Evolutionary Trace (ET) and, most simply, it assigns to each sequence residue a relative score of “functional importance”. From this we can formulate hypotheses on the molecular determinants of activity and specificity, and rationally target experiments to the most relevant sites of a protein.

In the G protein signaling pathway, one example of this approach is a G protein-coupled receptor engineered to signal through the ERK/MAPK pathway but not through the typical G protein mechanism (Shenoy et al., 2006). Another example is an RGS7 mutant designed to shut off G protein signaling as if it were and RGS9 (Sowa et al., 2001). Likewise in nuclear hormone receptors and bHLH transcription factors, targeted mutations enabled us to swap DNA binding (Raviscioni et al., 2005) and in vivo proneural development (Quan et al., 2004), respectively. Finally, Evolutionary Trace-based peptides let us mimic a protein-protein interaction surface and disrupt normal binding in Germ Cell Nuclear Transcription Factor (GCNF4).

Thus while our computational aims are to improve the general annotation of function on a proteomic scale, our experimental projects aim to characterize molecular mechanisms in protein families of intense pharmaceutical interest. The hope is that computation and design, together, can lead to novel drug targets and to novel approaches for the development of therapeutics.

Selected Publications:

  1. Ribes-Zamora A, Mihalek I, Lichtarge O, Bertuch AA (2007). Distinct faces of the Ku heterodimer mediate DNA repair and telomeric functions. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 14: 301-307.
  2. Raviscioni M, He Q, Salicru EM, Smyth CL, Lichtarge O (2006). Evolutionary identification of a subtype specific functional site in the ligand binding domain of steroid receptors. Proteins 64:1046-1057.
  3. Shenoy SK, Drake MT, Nelson CD, Houtz DA, Xiao K, Madabushi S, Reiter E, Premont RT, Lichtarge O, Lefkowitz RJ (2006). Beta-arrestin-dependent, G protein-independent ERK1/2 activation by the beta2 adrenergic receptor. J. Biol. Chem. 281: 1261-1273.
  4. Raviscioni M, Gu P, Sattar M, Cooney AJ, Lichtarge O (2005). Correlated evolutionary pressure at interacting transcription factors and DNA response elements can guide the rational engineering of DNA binding specificity. J. Mol. Biol. 350: 402-415.
  5. Gu P, Morgan DH, Sattar M, Xu X, Wagner R, Ravisconi M, Lichtarge O, Cooney AJ (2005). Evolutionary trace-based peptides identify a novel asymmetric interaction that mediates oligomerization in nuclear receptors. J. Biol. Chem. 280: 31818-31829.
  6. Madabushi S, Gross AK, Philippi A, Meng EC, Wensel TG, Lichtarge O (2004). Signaling Determinants Reveal Functional Subdomains in the Transmembrane Region of G Protein-Coupled Receptors. J. Biol. Chem. 279: 8126-8132.
  7. Yao H*, Kristensen DM*, Mihalek I, Sowa ME, Shaw C, Kimmel M, Kavraki L, Lichtarge O (2003). An accurate, scalable method to identify functional sites in protein structures. J. Mol. Biol. 326: 255-261.
  8. Madabushi S, Yao H, Marsh M, Kristensen D, Philippi A, Sowa ME, Lichtarge O (2002). Structural Clusters of Evolutionary Trace Residues Are Statistically Significant and Common in Proteins. J. Mol. Biol. 316: 139-154.
  9. Lichtarge O, Sowa ME (2002). Evolutionary Predictions of Binding Surfaces and Interactions. Curr. Opin. Struct. Biol. 12: 21-27.
  10. Sowa ME, Wei He, Slep KC, Kercher MA, Lichtarge O, Wensel TG (2001). Prediction and confirmation of an allosteric pathway for regulation of RGS domain activity. Nat. Struct. Biol. 8: 234-237.

View additional publications by Dr. Lichtarge

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