James A. Letts

James Letts

Position Title
Assistant Professor

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences

Briggs Hall 25A

Research Interests

Membrane protein electron transport complexes in bioenergetics and immunity

My research program focuses on how organisms use electron transport membrane proteins to convert energy from the food that we eat into a form that can be used by cells across many essential processes, as well as in cellular defense and signaling. I seek to characterize the structures and functions of these important membrane protein complexes in order to learn about how they work and how their dysfunction results in disease.

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Biophysics

Specialties / Focus

  • Membrane Protein Biochemistry
  • Structural Biology
  • Bioenergetics
  • Single Particle electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM)


  • TBA

Honors and Awards

  • CAMPOS Faculty Scholar
  • IST Award - Outstanding Scientific Achievement 2016
  • Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship
  • FEBS Long-Term Fellowship


    • The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA: PhD - September 2007 to November 2013
      • Advisor: Dr. Roderick MacKinnon
    • University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada: Bachelors of Science - September 2002 to August 2007
      • Biochemistry and Microbiology Major


    1. Letts, J.A., Sazanov, L.A. (2017) Clarifying the Supercomplex: The higher-order organization of the mitochondrial electron transport chain. Nature Structural and Molecular Biology 24; 800-808. Review article.
    2. Gagnon, S.M.L., Legg, M.S.G., Sindhuwinata, N., Letts, J.A., Johal, A.R., Schuman, B., Borisova, S.N., Palcic, M.M., Peters, T., Evans, S.V. (2017) High-resolution crystal structures and STD NMR mapping of human ABO(H) blood group glycosyltransferases in complex with trisaccharide reaction products suggest a molecular basis for product release. Glycobiology 27; 966-977.
    3. Blackler, R.J., Gagnon, S.M., Polakowski, R., Rose, N.L., Zheng, R.B., Letts, J.A., Johal, A.R., Schuman, B., Borisova, S.N., Palcic, M.M., Evans, S.V. (2017) Glycosyltransfer in mutants of putative catalytic residue Glu303 of the human ABO(H) A and B blood group glycosyltransferases GTA and GTB proceeds through a labile active site. Glycobiology 27; 370-380.
    4. Letts, J.A., Degliesposti, G., Fiedorczuk, K., Skehel, M., Sazanov, L.A. (2016) Purification of Ovine Respiratory Complex I Results in a Highly Active and Stable Preparation. Journal of Biological Chemistry 291; 24657-24675.
    5. Fiedorczuk, K., Letts, J.A., Degliesposti, G., Kaszuba, K., Skehel, M., Sazanov, L.A. (2016) Atomic structure of the entire mammalian mitochondrial complex I. Nature 538; 406-410. Letter, Oct 20. Citations: 116
    6. Letts, J.A., Fiedorczuk, K., Sazanov, L.A. (2016) The architecture of respiratory supercomplexes. Nature 537; 644-648. Article, Sept 29.
    7. Letts, J.A., Sazanov, L. A. (2015) Gaining Mass: the structure of respiratory complex I – from bacterial towards mitochondrial versions. Current Opinion in Structural Biology 33; 135-145. Review article.
    8. Letts, J.A. (2014) Functional and Structural Studies of the Human Voltage-Gated Proton Channel. The Rockefeller University DSPACE: http://hdl.handle.net/10209/554. PhD Thesis.
    9. Johal, A.R., Jarrell, H.C., Letts, J.A., Kheiu, N.H., Landry, R.C., Jachymek, W., Yang, Q., Jennings, H.J., Brisson, J-R., Evans, S.V. (2013) The antigen-binding site of an N-propionylated polysialic acid-specific antibody protective against group B meningococci is consistent wit extended epitopes. Glycobiology  23; 946-954.
    10. Lee, S.Y.*, Letts, J.A.*, MacKinnon, R. (2009) Functional reconstitution of purified human Hv1 H+ channels. Journal of Molecular Biology 387; 1055-1060. (*equal first author)
    11. Lee, S.Y., Letts, J.A., MacKinnon, R. (2008) Dimeric subunit stoichiometry of the human voltage-dependent proton channel Hv1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105; 7692-7695.
    12. Alfaro, J.A., Zheng, R.B., Persson, M., Letts, J.A., Polakowski, R., Bai, Y., Borisova, S.N., Seto, N.O., Lowary, T.L., Palcic, M.M., Evans, S.V. (2008) ABO(H) blood group A and B glycosyltransferases recognize substrate via specific conformational changes. Journal of Biological Chemistry 283; 10097-10108.
    13. Letts, J.A., Persson, M., Schuman, B., Borisova, S. N., Palcic, M.M., Evans, S.V. (2007) The effect of heavy atoms on the conformation of the active-site polypeptide loop in human ABO(H) blood-group glycosyltransferase B. Acta Crystallographica D Biological Crystallography. 63; 860-865.
    14. Hoseinni−Maaf, B., Letts, J.A., Persson, M., Smart, E., LePennec, P−Y., Hustinx, H., Zhao, Z., Palcic, M.M., Evans, S.V., Chester, M.A., Olsson, M.L. (2006) Structural basis for red cell phenotypic changes in newly−identified, naturally−occurring subgroup mutants of the human blood group B glycosyltransferase. Transfusion 47; 864-875.
    15. Persson, M., Letts, J.A., Hoseinni−Maaf, B., Borisova, S.N., Palcic, M.M., Evans, S.V., Olsson, M.L. (2006) Structural effects of naturally−occurring human blood group B galactosyltransferase mutations adjacent to the DXD motif.  Journal of Biological Chemistry 282; 9564-9570.
    16. Letts, J. A., Rose, N. L., Fang, Y. R., Barry, C. H., Borisova, S. N., Seto, N. O. L., Palcic, M. M., Evans, S. V. (2006) Differential Recognition of the Type I and Type II H−antigen Acceptors by the Human ABO(H) Blood Group A and B Glycosyltransferases. Journal of Biological Chemistry 281; 3625-3632.