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Institute of Interdisciplinary Research in human and molecular Biology

Person in charge of the Unit : Oui

IRIBHM is part of the Medical School of the Univerité Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and one of the largest research structures of the university.
Founded in the nineteen sixties with the aim of applying an interdisciplinary approach to the study of thyroid pathophysiology, the Institute has thrived over the years into a number of independent groups with diversifying research interests. Presently, about 130 researchers and technicians are working in the Institute over a range of subjects encompassing signal transduction, development, neuroscience, and cancer, using cell and molecular biology approaches. Staff researchers include physicians, physicists, bioinformaticians, (bio)chemists and biologists. The activities of IRIBHM are mainly taking place on the Erasme campus of ULB, in the suburb of Brussels, although the Institute also contributes to the Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Médicale (IBMM) on the Gosselies campus. The heavy equipment is common to the whole Institute and often shared with other groups of the campus as technical platforms. This includes genomics, proteomics, transgenesis, FACS and confocal microscopy facilities.



Current research programs include the study of : the mechanisms of H2O2 production in thyrocytes, the regulation cAMP and inositolphosphate regulatory cascades by the TSH receptor, structure-function relationships of the TSH receptor, mechanisms of activation of the TSH receptor by the autoantibodies of Graves'disease, control of the proliferation of thyrocytes by cAMP- and growth factor-dependent mechanisms, the regulation of gene expression in thyrocytes by cAMP, the mechanisms responsible for the development of congenital hypothyroidism.

Gene expression

Studies aim to the characterization of molecular mechanisms involved in the control of gene expression mainly, but not only, in the thyroid.  The identification of transcripts and regulatory proteins is carried out, as well as the detailed study of their function at the molecular level. Emphasis is put on the investigation of the role of cAMP and tissue-specific factors in the transcriptional control of genes involved in thyroid cell proliferation and differentiation. Extension of this work to the identification of differentially expressed genes between normal and tumor thyroid cells might help to identify new molecular markers for diagnosis as well as new pharmacological targets. 

G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs)

After having pioneered the cloning by homology of rhodopsin-like GPCRs in the late eighties, the Institute has built expertise in the study of a variety of GPCR subfamilies. These include mainly the glycoprotein hormone receptors, receptors for chemokines and other leucocyte chemoattractants, adenosine receptors, P2Y nucleotide receptors, cannabinoid receptors. Studies include structure-function relationships (glycoprotein hormone receptors, chemokine receptors, purinergic receptors), regulation of downstream cascades and gene expression by microarrays (leucocyte receptors), in vivo phenotypic studies of mice with invalidated receptor genes (adenosine A2a receptor, cannabinoid CB1 receptor, prolactin-releasing peptide receptor, P2Y4, P2Y6 and P2Y13 receptors, orphan receptors). The group studies also GPCR dimerization and the pharmacological and functional consequences of this process. In addition, a strong emphasis is put on the identification of the natural agonists of a wide diversity of orphan GPCRs, and the functional characterization of these receptors in physiology, human diseases and animal models. 

Biology of stem cells

Stem cells (SCs) have the unique capacity to self-renew and to differentiate into the cell lineages that constitute their tissue of origin.  SCs are found in many adult tissues, including skin epidermis. SCs are critical for replenishing and maintaining the balance of cells (homeostasis) within the tissue, and for regenerating tissue damaged during injury. Study of SCs opens new therapeutic avenues for degenerative diseases and cancer. Several kinds of cancer harbour cells with characteristics typical of SCs, including high capacity for self-renewal and ability to reform a tumour after transplantation. Our group is studying the role of SC from an onclogic perspective (skin and breast tumors) and in embryonic development of the heart.