May 2010

ASBMB’s International Flavor

A view of the Weizmann Institute campus featuring the futuristic Koffler nuclear accelerator in the background.

Futerman’s graduate studies centered on GPI-anchored proteins, but after completing his degree, he attended a Federation of the Societies of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (FEBS) summer school and spoke to a number of lipid scientists who stimulated his interests in lipid cell biology. This eventually led to his postdoctoral position with Pagano as well as his first taste of sphingolipid research.

Since returning to Israel in 1990, Futerman’s lab has focused on two main areas: understanding the mechanistic basis for lysosomal storage diseases to identify new therapeutic applications and characterizing the biosynthesis of sphingolipids, particularly ceramides. His group has brought forth some important contributions in this arena, such as determining the first crystal structure of the enzyme mutated in Gaucher disease, acid β-glucosidase (together with Weizmann colleagues Joel Sussman and Israel Silman) and discovering that glycosphingolipids can regulate calcium homeostasis in neurons.

Currently, he’s looking at how the accumulation of specific sphingolipid species translates to specific diseases and phenotypes, as well as examining how the length and saturation of sphingolipid acyl chains— the molecular tails that range from 14 to 32 carbons long— affect function in signaling activity and membrane fluidity.

Futerman also has been a member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board since 2000. “Since I started, I’ve noticed the board has been becoming more international, which I think is very important,” he says. “The JBC may be American-published, but in looking at the articles each week, it’s clearly an international journal, and it’s nice for these authors to know that their international colleagues are involved in the selection process.”

Nick Zagorski ( is a science writer at ASBMB.


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