Elite Network: Receptor Dynamics

Receptor Dynamics

The International Doctorate Program “Receptor Dynamics“ connects different life sciences like pharmacy, biochemistry, pharmacology, and physics in order to use their respective methods for elucidating the unknown processes of receptor dynamics within the cell membrane and for unraveling the processes inside the cells.

The International Doctorate Program at a glance

Duration of studySix semesters
Place of studyWürzburg, Erlangen, Regensburg
Admission requirementsMaster’s Degree in life sciences, State Exam in pharmacy (Germany), human medicine
Application deadlineAccording to advertisement
HeadProf. Dr. Michael Decker
Prof. Dr. Martin J. Lohse
CoordinatorDr. Ludwig Höllein
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Investigate receptor dynamics and make use for therapies

On their surface, cells have specialized structures, so-called receptors, which are able to communicate external stimuli into the inner com­part­ments of the cell. The group of G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) plays a very important role for such processes. Be­cause they represent the central switch for almost all functions and processes inside of the human body, nowadays about 40 per cent of all active pharmaceutical ingredients constitute chemical entities which are able to selectively activate or block GPCRs (“ligands”). However, only little is known about the dynamics of these processes. How are these processes mediated at all and why do certain ligands e.g. activate a single distince signaling pathway only?

To answer these and other questions, novel molecular tools are being developed and syn­the­sized chemically within the Graduate program “Receptor Dynamics”. They can be used for investigating a huge number of processes of signaling pathways, e.g. compounds which can be switched “on” and “off” by light or other ones being able to produce a single, distinct cell answer only. Besides such fundamental research activities, another type of molecules is being synthezied which is totally different from the aforementioned: so-calles isotope labeled ligands of the investigated GPCRs. They can be used for in vivo imaging in animals and humans, e.g. positron-emission tomography to visualize different types of receptors. Thus, dynamic processes being responsible for GPCR activation or attenuation during certain diseases could be used as diagnostic vehicles.

Dynamics on different levels

The scientific work is completed by developing novel techniques within the field of fluorescence microscopy or innovative biosensors. Con­se­quently, the term „Receptor Dy­nam­ics“ is being embraced at different levels and thoughout all of its mean­ings, i.e. on the molecular level as well as its role during the incidence of a disease. Research groups from the fields of pharmacy, nuclear medicine, biophysics, and bio­ana­ly­tics are working together closely to achieve these goals.

Portrait photo: Prof. Dr. Michael Decker

Of note, providing an international integration of all PhD students facilitates working on the actual are of research within an excellent and highly interdisciplinary surrounding and promotes the individual qualification of young up-and-coming scientists.

Prof. Dr. Michael Decker

Of note, the PhD students complement their studies with a stay abroad at leading re­search institutions, in the past e.g. in Vienna, Oxford, New York, or Barcelona. Regular national and international meetings, e.g. short “Retreats“ or “Summer Schools“ facilitate networking inside and outside of the group, like e.g. so far in Prague, Montpellier, and Rehovot in Israel.

Workshops, excursions, and seminars complete the Graduate Program, enabling the students to not only qualify themselves for responsibilities in the field of science.

Snippets of the program

Visualizing a receptor

Antonios Drakopoulos designed and synthesized novel compounds that are able to specifically bind to one receptor subtype of the opioid receptors, which is thus connected chemically to a fluorescent dye

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Zwei Männer schütteln sich während einer Preisverleihung die Hand.

PhD Award for Dr. Luca Agnetta

On October 8, 2020, the Lower Franconian Memorial Year Foundation for Science and the Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg awarded Dr. rer. nat. Luca Agnetta the doctoral award in recognition of his outstanding scientific work.

Read the report

Portrait photo of Dr. Luca Agnetta

Snippets of the research


During his PhD thesis, Luca Agnetta developed molecular tools for live imaging of cellular reactions in vital cells.

Signaling pathways
involving light

Timo Littmann’s defense was about developing methods for characterizing molecular tools which might exhibit different effects although having the same target structure (GPCR).

Treatment of Alzheimer

Daniela Volpato synthesized bitopic muscarinic receptor modulators and characterized them pharmacologically as main topic of her PhD thesis.