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GBS 736

Debasish Chattopadhyay, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Medicine

Areas of focus: Protein Structure Based Drug Discovery, Host Pathogen Interaction, Vaccine Design


Visit Dabasish's Lab

Contact Information
CBSE 250
(205) 934-0124



Structure-Function Analysis of Proteins

The main objective of our research is to define the relationship between the structure and function of biological macromolecules. Single crystal X-ray diffraction analysis combined with a variety of modern state-of-the-art techniques is used to investigate the structural basis of cellular functions. Research in our laboratory is focused in three main areas:


Parasitic diseases pose major public health threat worldwide. Research in our laboratory seeks to improve our understanding of the biochemical and biological processes regulating the life cycle of these parasites with the ultimate goal of identifying exploitable drug targets for developing chemotherapeutic strategy. Currently there are three projects under this program.

Folate metabolic pathway of Trypanosoma cruzi

Trypanosoma cruzi is a protozoan parasite which causes Chagas disease. The disease affects 16-18 million people and causes 50,000 deaths annually. Despite the enormous global burden of Chagas disease, no drug is effective in chronic stage and those used for treatment of acute disease result in toxic side effects. With more than 100 million people in 20 countries at risk, yet no hope for a vaccine in the foreseeable future, there is an urgent need for effective chemotherapy for millions of infected individuals. Drugs targeting folate metabolic enzymes have been remarkably successful in the treatment of infectious diseases including parasitic diseases such as malaria. Our research currently focuses on the application of a three dimensional structure-based approach for designing specific and potent inhibitors of T. cruzi dihydrofolate-thymidylate synthase enzyme. Crystal structures of the bifunctional enzyme in complex with substrates and inhibitor have been determined. We have identified a low nanomolar inhibitor of the enzyme as a potent inhibitor of the T. cruzi parasite.  A structure based drug design and development program is in progress.  

Protein trafficking machinery of Plasmodium falciparum

Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest form of the parasites that causes human malaria, a disease which kills more than one million people each year.  Soon after infecting the human host the malaria parasite enters the red blood cells where it multiplies and actively modifies the host cells. Most of the pathophysiological conditions of human malaria caused by P. falciparum are associated with this intraerythrocytic stage. Inside the erythrocyte the parasites are surrounded by three layers of membrane: the parasitophorous vacuole membrane (PVM), the parasites own plasma membrane and the red blood cells own membrane. Yet the parasite encoded proteins are able to transport from inside the parasite all the way to the outer surface of red blood cells. Proteins displayed on the surface of red blood cells are strategically important for the survival of the parasite and of great significance to the disease outcome. Understanding the mechanism of protein trafficking by P. falciparum is therefore of great interest. Our laboratory focuses on the vesicle mediated trafficking machinery of P. falciparum.


The goal of this program is to elucidate three dimensional structures of bacterial surface proteins and their receptor complexes. Structural information allows us to understand the interaction of these proteins with their receptors and their role in virulence and pathogenesis. This knowledge can be used for designing vaccines and therapeutic tools. One of the projects in this program aims at defining surface epitopes on the pneumococcal surface protein A of Streptococcus pneumonia which is a major virulence factor and a vaccine candidate and elucidating the molecular basis of its recognition and binding to lactoferrin. In the second project in this program we are studying the three dimensional structure of a major virulence factor, Psn, of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague. This outer membrane protein is a dual receptor for the siderophore, yersiniabactin and for the bacteriocin, pesticin.


Poxvirus is one of the largest DNA viruses.  Unique among DNA viruses poxvirus replicates in the host cytoplasm and depends on virally encoded proteins. The machinery used in the replication of virus is also unique.  Centerpiece of this replication apparatus is a DNA polymerase which interacts with several novel viral proteins.  Of particular interest are two proteins known as A20 and D4 which are essential for the formation of the processive polymerase complex. However, there are additional proteins that are also involved in binding to the complex. Crystal structure of D4 was determined in our laboratory.  We have also identified small molecule inhibitors of D4:A20 interaction which block viral replication.  Research in our laboratory is focused on understanding the structure function relation of the polymerase complex.


Dr. Debasish Chattopadhyay received his BS in Chemistry and MS in Biochemistry from Calcutta University, India. He obtained Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from Jadavpur University, India in 1989. He conducted his postdoctoral research at the Upjohn Company in Michigan. This work was part of an NIH funded collaborative effort involving several academic institutions and pharmaceutical industries for the discovery of potent antiretroviral drugs. Dr. Chattopadhyay’s work focuses on the structure-function analysis of target enzymes its application in drug development. Dr. Chattopadhyay joined the University of Alabama in 1994 and was recruited as an Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine in 1998. Dr. Chattopadhyay was promoted to the Associate Professor rank in 2007.