The metabolome encompasses all small molecules that are present in a biological system. Unlike genes and proteins, the functions of which are subject to epigenetic regulation and post-translational modifications, respectively, metabolites serve as direct signatures of biochemical activity and tightly correlate with phenotype. The hydrophobic molecules of the metabolome -also named the lipidome- constitute a major part of the entire metabolome. Novel technologies show the existence of a staggering number of individual lipid species, the biological functions of which are, with the exception of only a few lipid species, unknown. Currently over 40.000 different lipid species have been annotated in LIPID MAPS, the largest public lipid-only database in the world. It has been estimated that approximately 180.000 lipid species exist. The enormous structural diversity of lipids requires complex regulation at multiple spatial and temporal scales and we are only beginning to understand the biological role of individual lipid species.
Our research focusses on lipid & membrane dynamics and the application of lipidomic techniques to study the function of lipids and lipid droplets in the pathogenesis of veterinary and human diseases:
a) Membrane dynamics of lipid droplets in liver regeneration: Activation of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) has been recognized as one of the first steps in liver injury and regeneration. During activation, HSCs transform into myofibroblasts with concomitant loss of their large amounts of lipid droplets (LDs) and production of excessive extracellular matrix. To obtain more insight in the mechanism of LD loss and its role in HSC activation, we investigate the lipid droplet dynamics in primary HSCs.
b) Membrane dynamics during fertilization: Molecules involved in the process of activation of gametes and fertilization are largely unknown. Central topics in this research line are the dynamics in adhesive and fusion properties, molecular composition and architecture of the two gamete’s membranes as well as membrane derived signaling ultimately leading to embryo development.
c) Lipidomics is the large-scale study of pathways and networks of cellular lipids in biological systems. Mass spectrometry MS-based lipidomic analysis is rapidly advancing this field. We develop new lipidomics techniques in order to allow comprehensive high-throughput, automated lipid analyses and sample comparison as well as semi-quantitative determination of the lipid composition