Tino obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Göttingen in Germany. He did his graduate work with Dirk Görlich, Ph.D at the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences. During his time at Max Planck, Tino established an on-site alpaca farm and developed techniques to engineer alpaca-derived nanobodies as precision tools for structural and cellular biology. For example, he developed anti-IgG secondary nanobodies that replace conventional animal-derived secondary antibodies. This work was awarded the ‘animal welfare research prize’ by the German government. Tino then went on to join the lab of Rebecca Voorhees, Ph.D, at the California Institute of Technology as her first postdoc to study membrane protein biogenesis and assembly at the human endoplasmic reticulum (ER). His work was supported by a Caltech Ross fellowship and a postdoc fellowship of the German Research Foundation (DFG). In collaboration with other lab members, his work resulted in the first structure of the ER membrane protein complex (EMC), which is crucial for the biogenesis of a vast set of different endogenous as well as viral membrane proteins. He also used the EMC as a model system to understand the regulation of membrane protein complex assembly and discovered a moonlighting, regulatory role for the kinase WNK1 as an EMC assembly factor.

His lab combines molecular, cellular and structural biology to study the pathways and molecular machines that regulate protein homeostasis, with a particular focus on membrane proteins. The Pleiner lab also develops nanobodies as tools to study and reverse failure of protein homeostasis under disease conditions. Tino is a First Generation college graduate and provides mentorship to other First Generation students as part of Stanford's First Generation Mentorship program.

Academic Appointments

Honors & Awards

  • Baxter Faculty Scholar, Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation (2024)
  • Postdoctoral fellowship of the German research foundation, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2019)
  • 37th Animal welfare research prize, German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (2018)
  • Ross postdoctoral fellowship, California Institute of Technology (2018)
  • Fellowship by International Max Planck Research School, IMPRS for Molecular Biology Göttingen (2010)
  • Study prize for best Bachelor of Science Biochemistry degree, University of Leipzig (2010)
  • Fellowship of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation, Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (2009)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Member, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) (2023 - Present)
  • Member, German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM) (2008 - Present)

Professional Education

  • B.Sc., University of Leipzig, Biochemistry (2010)
  • M.Sc., Georg-August-University Göttingen (Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences), Molecular Biology (2012)
  • PhD, Georg-August-University Göttingen (Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences), Molecular Biology (2016)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

The Pleiner lab combines mechanistic cell biology, structural biochemistry and protein engineering to dissect the pathways and molecular machines that mature human membrane proteins to a fully functional state. We also develop alpaca-derived and synthetic nanobodies as tools to modulate intracellular pathways that globally regulate protein homeostasis in health and disease.

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • A checkpoint function for Nup98 in nuclear pore formation suggested by novel inhibitory nanobodies. The EMBO journal Solà Colom, M., Fu, Z., Gunkel, P., Güttler, T., Trakhanov, S., Srinivasan, V., Gregor, K., Pleiner, T., Görlich, D. 2024


    Nuclear pore complex (NPC) biogenesis is a still enigmatic example of protein self-assembly. We now introduce several cross-reacting anti-Nup nanobodies for imaging intact nuclear pore complexes from frog to human. We also report a simplified assay that directly tracks postmitotic NPC assembly with added fluorophore-labeled anti-Nup nanobodies. During interphase, NPCs are inserted into a pre-existing nuclear envelope. Monitoring this process is challenging because newly assembled NPCs are indistinguishable from pre-existing ones. We overcame this problem by inserting Xenopus-derived NPCs into human nuclear envelopes and using frog-specific anti-Nup nanobodies for detection. We further asked whether anti-Nup nanobodies could serve as NPC assembly inhibitors. Using a selection strategy against conserved epitopes, we obtained anti-Nup93, Nup98, and Nup155 nanobodies that block Nup-Nup interfaces and arrest NPC assembly. We solved structures of nanobody-target complexes and identified roles for the Nup93 α-solenoid domain in recruiting Nup358 and the Nup214·88·62 complex, as well as for Nup155 and the Nup98 autoproteolytic domain in NPC scaffold assembly. The latter suggests a checkpoint linking pore formation to the assembly of the Nup98-dominated permeability barrier.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s44318-024-00081-w

    View details for PubMedID 38649536

    View details for PubMedCentralID 1170459

  • Role of a holo-insertase complex in the biogenesis of biophysically diverse ER membrane proteins. bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology Page, K. R., Nguyen, V. N., Pleiner, T., Tomaleri, G. P., Wang, M. L., Guna, A., Wang, T. Y., Chou, T. F., Voorhees, R. M. 2023


    Mammalian membrane proteins perform essential physiologic functions that rely on their accurate insertion and folding at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Using forward and arrayed genetic screens, we systematically studied the biogenesis of a panel of membrane proteins, including several G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). We observed a central role for the insertase, the ER membrane protein complex (EMC), and developed a dual-guide approach to identify genetic modifiers of the EMC. We found that the back of sec61 (BOS) complex, a component of the 'multipass translocon', was a physical and genetic interactor of the EMC. Functional and structural analysis of the EMC•BOS holocomplex showed that characteristics of a GPCR's soluble domain determine its biogenesis pathway. In contrast to prevailing models, no single insertase handles all substrates. We instead propose a unifying model for coordination between the EMC, multipass translocon, and Sec61 for biogenesis of diverse membrane proteins in human cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1101/2023.11.28.569054

    View details for PubMedID 38076791

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10705394

  • A nanobody-based strategy for rapid and scalable purification of human protein complexes. Nature protocols Stevens, T. A., Tomaleri, G. P., Hazu, M., Wei, S., Nguyen, V. N., DeKalb, C., Voorhees, R. M., Pleiner, T. 2023


    The isolation of proteins in high yield and purity is a major bottleneck for the analysis of their three-dimensional structure, function and interactome. Here, we present a streamlined workflow for the rapid production of proteins or protein complexes using lentiviral transduction of human suspension cells, combined with highly specific nanobody-mediated purification and proteolytic elution. Application of the method requires prior generation of a plasmid coding for a protein of interest (POI) fused to an N- or C-terminal GFP or ALFA peptide tag using a lentiviral plasmid toolkit we have designed. The plasmid is then used to generate human suspension cell lines stably expressing the tagged fusion protein by lentiviral transduction. By leveraging the picomolar affinity of the GFP and ALFA nanobodies for their respective tags, the POI can be specifically captured from the resulting cell lysate even when expressed at low levels and under a variety of conditions, including detergents and mild denaturants. Finally, rapid and specific elution of the POI (in its tagged or untagged form) under native conditions is achieved within minutes at 4 °C, using the engineered SUMO protease SENPEuB. We demonstrate the wide applicability of the method by purifying multiple challenging soluble and membrane protein complexes to high purity from human cells. Our strategy is also directly compatible with many widely used GFP-expression plasmids, cell lines and transgenic model organisms. Finally, our method is faster than alternative approaches, requiring only 8 d from plasmid to purified protein, and results in substantially improved yields and purity.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41596-023-00904-w

    View details for PubMedID 37974029

  • A selectivity filter in the ER membrane protein complex limits protein misinsertion at the ER JOURNAL OF CELL BIOLOGY Pleiner, T., Hazu, M., Tomaleri, G., Nguyen, V. N., Januszyk, K., Voorhees, R. M. 2023; 222 (8)


    Tail-anchored (TA) proteins play essential roles in mammalian cells, and their accurate localization is critical for proteostasis. Biophysical similarities lead to mistargeting of mitochondrial TA proteins to the ER, where they are delivered to the insertase, the ER membrane protein complex (EMC). Leveraging an improved structural model of the human EMC, we used mutagenesis and site-specific crosslinking to map the path of a TA protein from its cytosolic capture by methionine-rich loops to its membrane insertion through a hydrophilic vestibule. Positively charged residues at the entrance to the vestibule function as a selectivity filter that uses charge-repulsion to reject mitochondrial TA proteins. Similarly, this selectivity filter retains the positively charged soluble domains of multipass substrates in the cytosol, thereby ensuring they adopt the correct topology and enforcing the "positive-inside" rule. Substrate discrimination by the EMC provides a biochemical explanation for one role of charge in TA protein sorting and protects compartment integrity by limiting protein misinsertion.

    View details for DOI 10.1083/jcb.202212007

    View details for Web of Science ID 001006684400001

    View details for PubMedID 37199759

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10200711

  • WNK1 is an assembly factor for the human ER membrane protein complex. Molecular cell Pleiner, T., Hazu, M., Tomaleri, G. P., Januszyk, K., Oania, R. S., Sweredoski, M. J., Moradian, A., Guna, A., Voorhees, R. M. 2021; 81 (13): 2693-2704.e12


    The assembly of nascent proteins into multi-subunit complexes is a tightly regulated process that must occur at high fidelity to maintain cellular homeostasis. The ER membrane protein complex (EMC) is an essential insertase that requires seven membrane-spanning and two soluble cytosolic subunits to function. Here, we show that the kinase with no lysine 1 (WNK1), known for its role in hypertension and neuropathy, functions as an assembly factor for the human EMC. WNK1 uses a conserved amphipathic helix to stabilize the soluble subunit, EMC2, by binding to the EMC2-8 interface. Shielding this hydrophobic surface prevents promiscuous interactions of unassembled EMC2 and directly competes for binding of E3 ubiquitin ligases, permitting assembly. Depletion of WNK1 thus destabilizes both the EMC and its membrane protein clients. This work describes an unexpected role for WNK1 in protein biogenesis and defines the general requirements of an assembly factor that will apply across the proteome.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.04.013

    View details for PubMedID 33964204

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8254792

  • Structural basis for membrane insertion by the human ER membrane protein complex. Science (New York, N.Y.) Pleiner, T., Tomaleri, G. P., Januszyk, K., Inglis, A. J., Hazu, M., Voorhees, R. M. 2020; 369 (6502): 433-436


    A defining step in the biogenesis of a membrane protein is the insertion of its hydrophobic transmembrane helices into the lipid bilayer. The nine-subunit endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane protein complex (EMC) is a conserved co- and posttranslational insertase at the ER. We determined the structure of the human EMC in a lipid nanodisc to an overall resolution of 3.4 angstroms by cryo-electron microscopy, permitting building of a nearly complete atomic model. We used structure-guided mutagenesis to demonstrate that substrate insertion requires a methionine-rich cytosolic loop and occurs via an enclosed hydrophilic vestibule within the membrane formed by the subunits EMC3 and EMC6. We propose that the EMC uses local membrane thinning and a positively charged patch to decrease the energetic barrier for insertion into the bilayer.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.abb5008

    View details for PubMedID 32439656

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7547852

  • Xpo7 is a broad-spectrum exportin and a nuclear import receptor. The Journal of cell biology Aksu, M., Pleiner, T., Karaca, S., Kappert, C., Dehne, H. J., Seibel, K., Urlaub, H., Bohnsack, M. T., Görlich, D. 2018; 217 (7): 2329-2340


    Exportins bind cargo molecules in a RanGTP-dependent manner inside nuclei and transport them through nuclear pores to the cytoplasm. CRM1/Xpo1 is the best-characterized exportin because specific inhibitors such as leptomycin B allow straightforward cargo validations in vivo. The analysis of other exportins lagged far behind, foremost because no such inhibitors had been available for them. In this study, we explored the cargo spectrum of exportin 7/Xpo7 in depth and identified not only ∼200 potential export cargoes but also, surprisingly, ∼30 nuclear import substrates. Moreover, we developed anti-Xpo7 nanobodies that acutely block Xpo7 function when transfected into cultured cells. The inhibition is pathway specific, mislocalizes export cargoes of Xpo7 to the nucleus and import substrates to the cytoplasm, and allowed validation of numerous tested cargo candidates. This establishes Xpo7 as a broad-spectrum bidirectional transporter and paves the way for a much deeper analysis of exportin and importin function in the future.

    View details for DOI 10.1083/jcb.201712013

    View details for PubMedID 29748336

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6028547

  • A toolbox of anti-mouse and anti-rabbit IgG secondary nanobodies. The Journal of cell biology Pleiner, T., Bates, M., Görlich, D. 2018; 217 (3): 1143-1154


    Polyclonal anti-immunoglobulin G (anti-IgG) secondary antibodies are essential tools for many molecular biology techniques and diagnostic tests. Their animal-based production is, however, a major ethical problem. Here, we introduce a sustainable alternative, namely nanobodies against all mouse IgG subclasses and rabbit IgG. They can be produced at large scale in Escherichia coli and could thus make secondary antibody production in animals obsolete. Their recombinant nature allows fusion with affinity tags or reporter enzymes as well as efficient maleimide chemistry for fluorophore coupling. We demonstrate their superior performance in Western blotting, in both peroxidase- and fluorophore-linked form. Their site-specific labeling with multiple fluorophores creates bright imaging reagents for confocal and superresolution microscopy with much smaller label displacement than traditional secondary antibodies. They also enable simpler and faster immunostaining protocols, and allow multitarget localization with primary IgGs from the same species and of the same class.

    View details for DOI 10.1083/jcb.201709115

    View details for PubMedID 29263082

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5839796

  • Strong signal increase in STED fluorescence microscopy by imaging regions of subdiffraction extent. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Göttfert, F., Pleiner, T., Heine, J., Westphal, V., Görlich, D., Sahl, S. J., Hell, S. W. 2017; 114 (9): 2125-2130


    Photobleaching remains a limiting factor in superresolution fluorescence microscopy. This is particularly true for stimulated emission depletion (STED) and reversible saturable/switchable optical fluorescence transitions (RESOLFT) microscopy, where adjacent fluorescent molecules are distinguished by sequentially turning them off (or on) using a pattern of light formed as a doughnut or a standing wave. In sample regions where the pattern intensity reaches or exceeds a certain threshold, the molecules are essentially off (or on), whereas in areas where the intensity is lower, that is, around the intensity minima, the molecules remain in the initial state. Unfortunately, the creation of on/off state differences on subdiffraction scales requires the maxima of the intensity pattern to exceed the threshold intensity by a large factor that scales with the resolution. Hence, when recording an image by scanning the pattern across the sample, each molecule in the sample is repeatedly exposed to the maxima, which exacerbates bleaching. Here, we introduce MINFIELD, a strategy for fundamentally reducing bleaching in STED/RESOLFT nanoscopy through restricting the scanning to subdiffraction-sized regions. By safeguarding the molecules from the intensity of the maxima and exposing them only to the lower intensities (around the minima) needed for the off-switching (on-switching), MINFIELD largely avoids detrimental transitions to higher molecular states. A bleaching reduction by up to 100-fold is demonstrated. Recording nanobody-labeled nuclear pore complexes in Xenopus laevis cells showed that MINFIELD-STED microscopy resolved details separated by <25 nm where conventional scanning failed to acquire sufficient signal.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1621495114

    View details for PubMedID 28193881

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5338502

  • Nanobodies: site-specific labeling for super-resolution imaging, rapid epitope-mapping and native protein complex isolation. eLife Pleiner, T., Bates, M., Trakhanov, S., Lee, C. T., Schliep, J. E., Chug, H., Böhning, M., Stark, H., Urlaub, H., Görlich, D. 2015; 4: e11349


    Nanobodies are single-domain antibodies of camelid origin. We generated nanobodies against the vertebrate nuclear pore complex (NPC) and used them in STORM imaging to locate individual NPC proteins with <2 nm epitope-label displacement. For this, we introduced cysteines at specific positions in the nanobody sequence and labeled the resulting proteins with fluorophore-maleimides. As nanobodies are normally stabilized by disulfide-bonded cysteines, this appears counterintuitive. Yet, our analysis showed that this caused no folding problems. Compared to traditional NHS ester-labeling of lysines, the cysteine-maleimide strategy resulted in far less background in fluorescence imaging, it better preserved epitope recognition and it is site-specific. We also devised a rapid epitope-mapping strategy, which relies on crosslinking mass spectrometry and the introduced ectopic cysteines. Finally, we used different anti-nucleoporin nanobodies to purify the major NPC building blocks – each in a single step, with native elution and, as demonstrated, in excellent quality for structural analysis by electron microscopy. The presented strategies are applicable to any nanobody and nanobody-target.

    View details for DOI 10.7554/eLife.11349

    View details for PubMedID 26633879

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4755751

  • Crystal structure of the metazoan Nup62•Nup58•Nup54 nucleoporin complex. Science (New York, N.Y.) Chug, H., Trakhanov, S., Hülsmann, B. B., Pleiner, T., Görlich, D. 2015; 350 (6256): 106-10


    Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) conduct nucleocytoplasmic transport and gain transport selectivity through nucleoporin FG domains. Here, we report a structural analysis of the FG Nup62•58•54 complex, which is a crucial component of the transport system. It comprises a ≈13 nanometer-long trimerization interface with an unusual 2W3F coil, a canonical heterotrimeric coiled coil, and a kink that enforces a compact six-helix bundle. Nup54 also contains a ferredoxin-like domain. We further identified a heterotrimeric Nup93-binding module for NPC anchorage. The quaternary structure alternations in the Nup62 complex, which were previously proposed to trigger a general gating of the NPC, are incompatible with the trimer structure. We suggest that the highly elongated Nup62 complex projects barrier-forming FG repeats far into the central NPC channel, supporting a barrier that guards the entire cross section.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.aac7420

    View details for PubMedID 26292704

  • Well-defined biomimetic surfaces to characterize glycosaminoglycan-mediated interactions on the molecular, supramolecular and cellular levels. Biomaterials Migliorini, E., Thakar, D., Sadir, R., Pleiner, T., Baleux, F., Lortat-Jacob, H., Coche-Guerente, L., Richter, R. P. 2014; 35 (32): 8903-15


    Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are ubiquitously present at the cell surface and in extracellular matrix, and crucial for matrix assembly, cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. The supramolecular presentation of GAG chains, along with other matrix components, is likely to be functionally important but remains challenging to control and to characterize, both in vivo and in vitro. We present a method to create well-defined biomimetic surfaces that display GAGs, either alone or together with other cell ligands, in a background that suppresses non-specific binding. Through the design of the immobilization platform - a streptavidin monolayer serves as a molecular breadboard for the attachment of various biotinylated ligands - and a set of surface-sensitive in situ analysis techniques (including quartz crystal microbalance and spectroscopic ellipsometry), the biomimetic surfaces are tailor made with tight control on biomolecular orientation, surface density and lateral mobility. Analysing the interactions between a selected GAG (heparan sulphate, HS) and the HS-binding chemokine CXCL12α (also called SDF-1α), we demonstrate that these surfaces are versatile for biomolecular and cellular interaction studies. T-lymphocytes are found to adhere specifically to surfaces presenting CXCL12α, both when reversibly bound through HS and when irreversibly immobilized on the inert surface, even in the absence of any bona fide cell adhesion ligand. Moreover, surfaces which present both HS-bound CXCL12α and the intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) synergistically promote cell adhesion. Our surface biofunctionalization strategy should be broadly applicable for functional studies that require a well-defined supramolecular presentation of GAGs along with other matrix or cell-surface components.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2014.07.017

    View details for PubMedID 25088726