Dr Alan Brown – Harvard Medical School

26/09/2023 12:00 pm - 26/09/2023 1:00 pm

WEHI Special Structural Biology Seminar hosted by Dr Shabih Shakeel

Dr Alan Brown
Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School


Modeling the machine responsible for ciliary motility in atomic detail


Online via Microsoft Teams only

Join via TEAMS

Including Q&A session


Motile cilia are responsible for the movement of many unicellular organisms, and in the human body, for the swimming of sperm cells and the movement of liquids, such as mucus and cerebrospinal fluid. Defective ciliary motility can lead to male infertility and a rare genetic disorder called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), where impaired mucociliary clearance leads to progressive respiratory failure. Ciliary motility is generated by the axoneme, a molecular machine so large it occupies almost the entire volume of each cilium. Each axoneme consists of geometrically complex arrangement of microtubules, ATP-powered dynein motors, and their mechanoregulatory complexes. The size and complexity of the axoneme has long impeded an atomic model, hindering efforts to understand how all the components are integrated together to orchestrate the beating of a cilium. Here, I will describe how we exploited recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled structure prediction to determine the 96-nm modular repeats of axonemes from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii flagella and human respiratory cilia. Our atomic models provide insights into the conservation and specialization of axonemes, the interconnectivity between dyneins and their regulators, and the mechanisms that maintain axonemal periodicity and regulate motility. Cryo-EM structures of respiratory cilia doublet microtubules from organoids derived from individuals with PCD reveal how the loss of individual docking factors can selectively eliminate periodically repeating structures, and provide a roadmap for the future of personalized structural biology


Dr. Alan Brown is an Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Brown received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Cambridge in 2010 where he studied fibroblast growth factors by X-ray crystallography under Prof. Sir Tom L. Blundell. He then completed a short postdoc with Dr. Matthew K. Higgins (now Professor of Molecular Parasitology at the University of Oxford) while his laboratory was located at the University of Cambridge studying cerebral malaria. In 2012, he joined Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan’s group at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) as a Career Development Fellow to study ribosome structure and function by cryo-EM. Since 2017, Dr. Brown’s research has focused on understanding fundamental mechanisms related to ciliary biology.

All welcome!

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