Reza Vafabakhsh

PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences Program

Office Phone: 847-467-0435
Vafabakhsh Lab


The brain is a network of billions of neurons that are interconnected by synapses. Each synapse is made up of more than a thousand different proteins, that exist at a wide range of copy numbers from just a few to thousands, and ordered in a volume of micrometer in length scale. The focus of our lab is to acquire a quantitative mechanistic characterization of synaptic players at different length scales, from a single protein to the synapse level, to describe this complexity and towards understanding of the molecular nature of information processing in the brain. We do so by developing quantitative biophysical and cell biology analyses using cutting edge single molecule and high throughput approaches that draw from cell biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Ongoing research in the lab is focused on understanding the mechanism of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) which are the largest family of drug-targets in biology, at the single molecule level. The goal is to obtain a mechanistic picture of the activation of these receptors beyond their crystal structure. At a larger length scale, we are developing molecular and imaging tools to study how these receptors shape and modulate the architecture of synapses.

Selected Publications

  1. Structural dynamics of potassium-channel gating revealed by single-molecule FRET. Wang S, Vafabakhsh R, Borschel WF, Ha T, and Nichols CG. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. 2016; 23(1):31-36.
  2. Conformational dynamics of a class C G-protein-coupled receptor. Vafabakhsh R, Levitz J, and Isacoff EY. Nature. 2015; 524(7566):497-501.
  3. Single-molecule packaging initiation in real time by a viral DNA packaging machine from bacteriophage T4. Vafabakhsh R, Kondabagil K, Earnest T, Lee KS, Zhang Z, Dai L, Dahmen KA, Rao VB, and Ha T. PNAS.2014; 111(42):15096-15101.
  4. Extreme Bendability of DNA Less than 100 Base Pairs Long Revealed by Single-Molecule Cyclization. Vafabakhsh R and Ha T. Science. 2012; 337(6098):1097-1101.
  5. One influenza virus particle packages eight unique viral RNAs as shown by FISH analysis. Chou Y-Y, Vafabakhsh R, Doganay S, Gao Q, Ha T, and Palese P. PNAS. 2012;109(23):9101-9106.

Recent Photos

December 6, 2016