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“Crystallography enables us to see a single atom in the highest resolution now in existence. ”
Dirk Zajonc, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Division of Cellular Biology
cell-bullet1.jpg“Crystallography enables us to see a single atom in the highest resolution now in existence. Having this detailed, structured image is a significant advantage in combating disease because it’s easier to stop what you can see.” – Dirk Zajonc, Ph.D.

Dirk Zajonc, Ph.D.Dr. Zajonc is an Associate Professor in the Division of Cell Biology. Dr. Zajonc and his team determine the three-dimensional structures of immune system proteins at the atomic level using protein crystallography.

Dr. Zajonc received his M. Sc from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany) in 1998 and his Ph. D. in biochemistry in 2001. He completed his postdoctoral training at the Scripps Research Institute in 2006. Dr. Zajonc received an Investigator award from the Cancer Research institute in 2007.

Dr. Zajonc is an Editorial Board Member for two newly established open-access journals, Lipid Insights and Glycobiology Insights.

research focus
cell-bullet2.jpgOur group is primarily interested in the structural basis of immune recognition of lipids, how these lipids can modulate an immune response, or how lipid modification of immunologically important proteins can affect immune signalling.
selected publications

cell-bullet3.jpgHistamine-releasing factor has a proinflammatory role in mouse models of asthma and allergy. J Clin Invest. 2012

Structural Basis for the Recognition of C20:2-αGalCer by the Invariant Natural Killer T Cell Receptor-like Antibody L363. J Biol Chem. 2012

Glycolipids that Elicit IFN-γ-Biased Responses from Natural Killer. Chem Biol. 2011

Unique interplay between sugar and lipid in determining the antigenic potency of bacterial antigens for NKT cells. PLoS Biol. 2011

Divergent synthetic approach to 6"-modified alpha-GalCer analogues. Org Biomol Chem. 2011

NKT cell ligand recognition logic: molecular basis for a synaptic duet and transmission of inflammatory effectors. J Immunol. 2011

Invariant natural killer T cells recognize glycolipids from pathogenic Gram-positive bacteria.
Nat Immunol. 2011

Cutting Edge: Structural Basis for the Recognition of {beta}-Linked Glycolipid Antigens by Invariant NKT Cells. J Immunol. 2011

Galactose-modified iNKT cell agonists stabilized by an induced fit of CD1d prevent tumour metastasis. EMBO J. 2011 

Cardiolipin binds to CD1d and stimulates CD1d-restricted γδ T cells in the normal murine repertoire. J Immunol. 2011

IEDB-3D: structural data within the immune epitope database. Nucleic Acids Res. 2011 

The Vα14 invariant natural killer T cell TCR forces microbial glycolipids and CD1d into a conserved binding mode. J Exp Med. 2010

Crystal Structure of Bovine CD1b3 with Endogenously Bound Ligands. J Immunol. 2010

Synthesis and Evaluation of Amino-Modified alpha-GalCer Analogues. Org Lett. 2010 

Allosteric regulation of the ubiquitin:NIK and ubiquitin:TRAF3 E3 ligases by the lymphotoxin-beta receptor. J Biol Chem. 2010 

Structural basis for lipid-antigen recognition in avian immunity. J Immunol. 2010

Lipid binding orientation within CD1d affects recognition of Borrelia burgorferi antigens by NKT cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 

Mechanisms for glycolipid antigen-driven cytokine polarization by Valpha14i NKT cells.
J Immunol. 2010 

Adaptability of the semi-invariant natural killer T-cell receptor towards structurally diverse CD1d-restricted ligands. EMBO J. 2009

Synthesis of dideoxymycobactin antigens presented by CD1a reveals T cell fine specificity for natural lipopeptide structures. J Biol Chem. 2009 

Carbohydrate specificity of the recognition of diverse glycolipids by natural killer T cells. Immunol Rev. 2009

The crystal structure of avian CD1 reveals a smaller, more primordial antigen-binding pocket compared to mammalian CD1. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2008

pH-dependent interdomain tethers regulate antigen capturre by CD1b. Immunity. 2008

Crystal structures of mouse CD1d-iGb3 complex and its cognate Valpha14 T cell receptor suggest a model for duel recognition of foreign and self glycolipids. J Mol Biol. 2008

CD1 mediated T cell recognition of glycolipids. Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2007

Architecture of CD 1 proteins. Curr Top Microbiol Immunolo. 2007 

Structural characterization of mycobacterial phosphatidylinositol mannoside binding to mouse CD1d. J Immunol. 2006 

Natural killer T cells recognize diacylglycerol antigens from pathogenic bacteria. Nat Immunol. 2006

Role of lipid trimming and CD1 groove size in cellular antigen presentation. EMBO J. 2006

Design of natural killer T cell activators: structure and function of a microbial glycosphingolipid bound to mouse CD1d. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006

View all publications
The link above may include papers by scientists with the same or similar name.

staff list

Click researcher's name for e-mail. Dial 858-752-6500 to call.

upcoming seminars
    "Zinc-induced Polymerization of Receptor at the Plasma Membrane: A New Form of Regulated Signal Transduction?"
    Wednesday 05/18/16: 12:00 PM
    "Exploring the Roles of Type-2 Cytokine-producing Mucosal Mast Cells in Allergic Disorder"
    Wednesday 06/01/16: 12:00 PM
  • CRI Investigator Award from the Cancer Research Institute, 2007
  • Travel Award from the Society of Fellows at the TSRI Winter Research Symposium, February 3rd 2005. Best talk in the Immunology Section, 2005
  • Selected by the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology as a Skaggs Postdoctoral Fellow, 2002
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship of the German Research Foundation (DFG), 2001- 2003
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