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Protein structure and function I

Evolution works by selection of point mutations, but precisely how do these point mutations affect the molecular behaviour of the produced proteins

Botolinumtoxin struktur och kristaller
The botulinum neurotoxins are the most toxic substances known; they are one million times more toxic than the cobra toxin. In spite of their extreme toxicity there has been a rapid expansion of the medical applications for the botulinum neurotoxins The toxins are studied using variety of methods, including X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM.

Evolution starts by the random and natural generation of point mutations in protein encoding genes. They can be silent and they can be loud and are a natural consequence of replication in any organism where only favorable mutations are retained in the organism’s progeny. Depending on where these mutations are located in a protein’s three-dimensional structure they may llead to consequences for i.e. its folding, its activity, its intracellular interactions, its longevity in the cell and even a specific phenotype.

The function of a protein is tightly connected to its three-dimensional structure which can be determined using X-ray crystallography. In this course you will learn by doing.

You will learn how to determine a protein’s three-dimensional structure using X-ray crystallography structures from purified protein and subsequently explore how the protein’s property and function respond to point mutations.

The central focus is to understand how the detailed amino-acid interactions determine protein structural stability and binding. In this course you will be introduced to how theory, wet-labs and computing go hand-in-hand to solve real problems in protein chemistry.

In addition, application of basic chemical models and data quantification constitute a red thread throughout the teaching, and several common spectroscopic methods and experimental approaches are employed in depth.

Experimental results, progress and student conclusions will be presented/examined both in form of individual seminars and poster presentations.

  • Course structure

    The course deals with the structure and properties of proteins, with a focus on sequence content and the effect of mutations.
    During the course you will learn about the following:
    1. the ability for reductionist thinking and generalization
    2. quantitative description
    3. formulation and testing of hypotheses according to falsification
    4. proficiency in using laboratory techniques for problem solving
    5. proficiency in computer-based methods and bioinformatics.
    Expected learning outcome
    After completing the course the student is expected to be able to:
    • explain the molecular principles behind the structure of proteins 
    • describe entropy - enthalpy compensation in macromolecular systems and how it controls stability and structural properties
    • explain mutation effects on protein stability and function, as well as the principles of structural evolution
    • formulate and test hypotheses about the structure, stability and function of proteins, as well as demonstrate proficiency in quantitative description and interpretation of experimental results
    • independently solve problems through the design of equilibrium experiments


    • Theory, 5 ECTS
    • Laboratory exercises, 2.5 ECTS

    Teaching format

    • Lectures
    • Group projects
    • Seminars
    • Lab work


    Theory, thorugh a written exam

    Practical course, written and oral reports, mini conference presentation


    Ville Kaila


  • Contact

    Course responsible

    Ville Kaila


    Chemistry Section & Student Affairs Office:

    Office:        Chemical Practice Laboratory M345