The ultimate aim of Luca Jovine’s research is to visualize how egg and sperm bind to each other at conception – a key moment in life that marks the beginning of every new individual. The work is focused on the zona pellucida (ZP), the extracellular matrix that surrounds mammalian eggs and acts as a gatekeeper for sperm. Using X-ray crystallography, Jovine’s group has determined the first three-dimensional structures of ZP components essential for egg-sperm interaction in mammals.
“An obvious extension of our basic science studies is to understand cases of human infertility linked to mutations in the genes encoding ZP subunits, as well as other proteins important for egg-sperm recognition. At the same time, these molecules constitute promising targets for future generations of non-hormonal contraceptive agents”, explains Luca Jovine.
In parallel with these studies, Jovine’s laboratory collaborates with the group of Professor Rune Toftgård at Karolinska Institutet. Together, they determined how SUFU and GLI, two hedgehog pathway proteins playing crucial roles in human development and cancer formation, interact with each other at the molecular level. “As drugs targeting more upstream components of the same pathway are only effective for a limited time, compounds directed at SUFU and/or GLI could potentially lead to more long-lasting anticancer therapies.”
Luca Jovine considers CIMED the perfect environment for high risk-high gain research, and looks forward to significant future developments in our understanding of both fertilization and hedgehog signaling.
Luca Jovine is presently a Professor of Structural Biology at Karolinska Institutet. After receiving his Ph.D. at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Cambridge, UK) in 2000, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York). He joined Karolinska Institutet in 2005 and has since received numerous awards for his studies of fertilization.
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