Joris Messens Lab

Research focus

Understanding the redox language of the cell
The mission of the Redox Signaling Lab is to decipher how cells sense and respond to redox metabolites (i.e. transient small-molecules with the ability to oxidize or reduce biomolecules, like H2O2). The importance of redox signaling for the proper functioning of the cell is being increasingly recognized, and the elucidation of its precise mechanisms and players is becoming critical, as it will allow us to manipulate these pathways with a wide variety of implications, ranging from increasing stress resistance in plants to identifying therapeutic targets in diseases where aberrant redox signaling plays a role.​

Organellar signalling
In response to environmental stimuli, cells must coordinate and communicate metabolic states between organelles, like cytoplasm to the nucleus, or in plants, chloroplasts to the nucleus. This occurs via various signaling pathways that lead to (redox) metabolite exchange and/or protein translocation. These pathways ensure appropriate downstream cellular response and are often found to be dysregulated in disease states, thus proving them to be critical for homeostasis.

Thiol-based redox signalling
Today, we know that H2O2 can initiate various signaling cascades, but a long way remains towards a fully-characterized H2O2 signaling network. Full characterization requires more information regarding H2O2 perception, transduction, and regulation as well as knowledge of how this network intersects with other signaling networks such as those involving Ca2+ or phosphorylation. We aim to understand the structural and chemical microenvironment within redox-sensing proteins that determines the kinetic privilege of cysteines to detect and react with H2O2.
To address the question of H2O2 signal transduction and regulation, we will be investigating peroxiredoxins (Prdx). Prdx are highly efficient and highly abundant peroxide-scavenging enzymes, which have recently also been demonstrated to participate in redox-based protein-protein interactions with the possibility of transferring the oxidizing peroxide signal to other proteins that are less reactive towards oxidation by H2O2. Our objective is to explore the hypothesized protein scaffolding system which engenders specificity in this Prdx-mediated peroxide signaling.

Metabolite indicator tools
In order to be able to investigate cellular (redox) metabolite signaling between organelles and cells it is important to have proper tools enabling the visualization of metabolic fluxes in real time in living cells, with a subcellular resolution which mass spectrometry “omics” methods cannot afford. In response to this need, we are developing metabolite indicators which harness metabolite-responsive proteins to create sensitive and specific biosensors with a fluorescence read-out that could be used in various cell types and organisms.


Protein promiscuity in H2O2 signalingYoung D, Pérez B, Ezerina D, De Smet B, Lewandowska A, Tossounian M, Bodra N, Huang J, Rosado L, Van Breusegem F, Messens JANTIOXIDANTS & REDOX SIGNALING, e-pub, e-pub, 2019
In vivo detection of protein cysteine sulfenylation in plastidsDe Smet B, Willems P, Fernandez A, Alseekh S, Fernie A, Messens J, Van Breusegem FPLANT JOURNAL, 97, 765-778, 2019
Redox-regulated methionine oxidation of Arabidopsis thaliana glutathione transferase Phi9 induces H-site flexibilityTossounian M, Wahni K, Van Molle I, Vertommen D, Rosado L, Messens JPROTEIN SCIENCE, 28, 56-67, 2019
Structural snapshots of OxyR reveal the peroxidatic mechanism of H2O2 sensingPérez B* Young D* Charlier D Mourenza A Rosado L Marcos-Pascual L Wahni K Martens E De La Rubia A Belousov V Mateos L* Messens J*PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 115, E11623-E11632, 2018* These authors contributed equally
Pathways crossing mammalian and plant sulfenomic landscapesHuang J Willems P Van Breusegem F* Messens J*FREE RADICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE, 122, 193-201, 2018* These authors contributed equally

Job openings


Better understanding of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) regulation can lead to new insights into disease development

22/11/2018 - The team of Joris Messens at the VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology provided new insights into the regulation of an important intracellular messenger molecule whose dysregulation has been linked to the development of several diseases, including cancer.

Biologists discover bacterial defense mechanism against aggressive oxygen

19/11/2009 - ​Bacteria possess an ingenious mechanism for preventing oxygen from harming the building blocks of the cell. This is the new finding of a team of biologists.

Joris Messens

Joris Messens

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​PhD: John Moores University of Liverpool, UK, 2003
VIB Group Leader: since 2012

Contact Info

VIB-VUB Center for Structural BiologyBuilding EPleinlaan 2 1050 BRUSSELRoute description