Speck and Heyder awarded by Ernst and Berta Scharrer Prize

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In recognition of their outstanding work in the field of neuroendocrinology, David Speck and Dr. rer. nat. Nicolas Andreas Heyder (both from the research group Structural Biology of Cellular Signaling led by Dr. rer. nat. Patrick Scheerer at the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin) have been awarded this year’s Ernst and Berta Scharrer Prize 2024 by the “German Society of Endocrinology”. This prize has been awarded annually since 1999 for
outstanding, unpublished publications and results in this field and is dedicated to the two scientists Ernst and Berta Scharrer, who are considered the founders of neuroendocrinological research.

The melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) is a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) and plays a key role in the hypothalamic regulation of metabolic processes and appetite. It is therefore a promising target for anti-obesity drugs. Using cryo-electron microscopy, David Speck and Dr. Nicolas Heyder have succeeded in elucidating the structure of the MC4R in complexes with two natural ligands (α- and β-MSH) and their cognate heterotrimeric G-protein, which contributes to a deeper understanding of the molecular functioning of the receptor. In addition, their studies led to the identification of a new,
synthetic ligand with improved binding properties, which could be used pharmacologically. A first important publication on this topic was already carried out in 2021, when the research group successfully determined the structure of the MC4R in complexes with two approved drugs (NDP-
α-MSH und Setmelanotide) (1).

David Speck is currently a PhD student and works on the structural elucidation of the melanocortin 4 receptor and other GPCRs in his dissertation. Dr. Nicolas Heyder completed his doctoral thesis in 2022 with “summa cum laude” in the Scheerer group and is now employed as a scientist in the Protein Technologies department at Nuvisan in Berlin. Both are or were members of the Collaborative Research Centre SFB1423 “Structural Dynamics of GPCR Activation and Signaling” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the subprojects A01 and A05.

(1) Heyder NA, Kleinau G, Speck D, Schmidt A, Paisdzior S, Szczepek M, Bauer B, Koch A, Gallandi M, Kwiatkowski D, Bürger J, Mielke T, Beck-Sickinger AG, Hildebrand PW, Spahn CMT, Hilger D, Schacherl M, Biebermann H, Hilal T, Kühnen P, Kobilka BK, Scheerer P. Structures of active melanocortin-4 receptor-Gs-protein complexes with NDP-α-MSH and setmelanotide. Cell Res. 2021 Nov;31(11):1176-1189. doi: 10.1038/s41422-021-00569-8.


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