Research | Publications

Ubiquitination is initiated by transfer of ubiquitin (Ub) from a ubiquitin-activating enzyme (E1) to a ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (E2), producing a covalently linked intermediate (E2-Ub) 1 . Ubiquitin ligases (E3s) of the 'really interesting new gene' (RING) class recruit E2-Ub via their RING domain and then mediate direct transfer of ubiquitin to substrates 2 . By contrast, 'homologous to E6-AP carboxy terminus' (HECT) E3 ligases undergo a catalytic cysteine-dependent transthiolation reaction with E2-Ub, forming a covalent E3-Ub intermediate3,4. Additionally, RING-between-RING (RBR) E3 ligases have a canonical RING domain that is linked to an ancillary domain. This ancillary domain contains a catalytic cysteine that enables a hybrid RING-HECT mechanism 5 . Ubiquitination is typically considered a post-translational modification of lysine residues, as there are no known human E3 ligases with non-lysine activity. Here we perform activity-based protein profiling of HECT or RBR-like E3 ligases and identify the neuron-associated E3 ligase MYCBP2 (also known as PHR1) as the apparent single member of a class of RING-linked E3 ligase with esterification activity and intrinsic selectivity for threonine over serine. MYCBP2 contains two essential catalytic cysteine residues that relay ubiquitin to its substrate via thioester intermediates. Crystallographic characterization of this class of E3 ligase, which we designate RING-Cys-relay (RCR), provides insights into its mechanism and threonine selectivity. These findings implicate non-lysine ubiquitination in cellular regulation of higher eukaryotes and suggest that E3 enzymes have an unappreciated mechanistic diversity.

Principal Investigator(s):
Pao KC, Wood NT, Knebel A, Rafie K, Stanley M, Mabbitt PD, Sundaramoorthy R, Hofmann K, van Aalten DMF, Virdee S Nature 556(7701), 381-385 (2018)

The BMP and Wnt signalling pathways determine axis specification during embryonic development. Our previous work has shown that PAWS1 (also known as FAM83G) interacts with SMAD1 and modulates BMP signalling. Here, surprisingly, we show that overexpression of PAWS1 in Xenopus embryos activates Wnt signalling and causes complete axis duplication. Consistent with these observations in Xenopus, Wnt signalling is diminished in U2OS osteosarcoma cells lacking PAWS1, while BMP signalling is unaffected. We show that PAWS1 interacts and co-localises with the α isoform of casein kinase 1 (CK1), and that PAWS1 mutations incapable of binding CK1 fail both to activate Wnt signalling and to elicit axis duplication in Xenopus embryos.

Principal Investigator(s):
Bozatzi P, Dingwell KS, Wu KZ, Cooper F, Cummins TD, Hutchinson LD, Vogt J, Wood NT, Macartney TJ, Varghese J, Gourlay R, Campbell DG1, Smith JC, Sapkota GP EMBO Rep. 19(4), pii: e44807 (2018)

The best characterized signaling pathway downstream of transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) is through SMAD2 and SMAD3. However, TGF-β also induces phosphorylation of SMAD1 and SMAD5, but the mechanism of this phosphorylation and its functional relevance is not known. Here, we show that TGF-β-induced SMAD1/5 phosphorylation requires members of two classes of type I receptor, TGFBR1 and ACVR1, and establish a new paradigm for receptor activation where TGFBR1 phosphorylates and activates ACVR1, which phosphorylates SMAD1/5. We demonstrate the biological significance of this pathway by showing that approximately a quarter of the TGF-β-induced transcriptome depends on SMAD1/5 signaling, with major early transcriptional targets being the ID genes. Finally, we show that TGF-β-induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition requires signaling via both the SMAD3 and SMAD1/5 pathways, with SMAD1/5 signaling being essential to induce ID1. Therefore, combinatorial signaling via both SMAD pathways is essential for the full TGF-β-induced transcriptional program and physiological responses.

Principal Investigator(s):
Ramachandran A, Vizán P, Das D, Chakravarty P, Vogt J, Rogers KW, Müller P, Hinck AP, Sapkota GP, Hill CS Elife. 7, pii: e31756 (2018)

Our previous studies of PAWS1 (protein associated with SMAD1; also known as FAM83G) have suggested that this molecule has roles beyond BMP signalling. To investigate these roles, we have used CRISPR/Cas9 to generate PAWS1-knockout U2OS osteosarcoma cells. Here, we show that PAWS1 plays a role in the regulation of the cytoskeletal machinery, including actin and focal adhesion dynamics, and cell migration. Confocal microscopy and live cell imaging of actin in U2OS cells indicate that PAWS1 is also involved in cytoskeletal dynamics and organization. Loss of PAWS1 causes severe defects in F-actin organization and distribution as well as in lamellipodial organization, resulting in impaired cell migration. PAWS1 interacts in a dynamic fashion with the actin/cytoskeletal regulator CD2AP at lamellae, suggesting that its association with CD2AP controls actin organization and cellular migration. Genetic ablation of CD2AP from U2OS cells instigates actin and cell migration defects reminiscent of those seen in PAWS1-knockout cells.This article has an associated First Person interview with the first authors of the paper.

Principal Investigator(s):
Cummins TD, Wu KZL, Bozatzi P, Dingwell KS, Macartney TJ, Wood NT, Varghese J, Gourlay R, Campbell DG, Prescott A, Griffis E, Smith JC, Sapkota GP J Cell Sci. 131(1), pii: jcs202390 (2018)

Mutations in PINK1, which impair its catalytic kinase activity, are causal for autosomal recessive early-onset Parkinson's disease (PD). Various studies have indicated that the activation of PINK1 could be a useful strategy in treating neurodegenerative diseases, such as PD. Herein, it is shown that the anthelmintic drug niclosamide and its analogues are capable of activating PINK1 in cells through the reversible impairment of the mitochondrial membrane potential. With these compounds, for the first time, it is demonstrated that the PINK1 pathway is active and detectable in primary neurons. These findings suggest that niclosamide and its analogues are robust compounds for the study of the PINK1 pathway and may hold promise as a therapeutic strategy in PD and related disorders.

Principal Investigator(s):
Erica Barini, Ageo Miccoli, Federico Tinarelli, Katie Mulholland, Hachemi Kadri, Farhat Khanim, Laste Stojanovski, Kevin D Read, Kerry Burness, Julian J Blow, Youcef Mehellou, Miratul MK Muqit Chembiochem. 19(5), 425-429 (2018)

Faithful chromosome segregation and genome maintenance requires the removal of all DNA bridges that physically link chromosomes before cells divide. Using C. elegans embryos we show that the LEM-3/Ankle1 nuclease defines a previously undescribed genome integrity mechanism by processing DNA bridges right before cells divide. LEM-3 acts at the midbody, the structure where abscission occurs at the end of cytokinesis. LEM-3 localization depends on factors needed for midbody assembly, and LEM-3 accumulation is increased and prolonged when chromatin bridges are trapped at the cleavage plane. LEM-3 locally processes chromatin bridges that arise from incomplete DNA replication, unresolved recombination intermediates, or the perturbance of chromosome structure. Proper LEM-3 midbody localization and function is regulated by AIR-2/Aurora B kinase. Strikingly, LEM-3 acts cooperatively with the BRC-1/BRCA1 homologous recombination factor to promote genome integrity. These findings provide a molecular basis for the suspected role of the LEM-3 orthologue Ankle1 in human breast cancer.

Principal Investigator(s):
Hong Y, Sonneville R, Wang B, Scheidt V, Meier B, Woglar A, Demetriou S, Labib K, Jantsch V, Gartner A Nat Commun. 9(1), 728 (2018)

Deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs) are important regulators of ubiquitin signaling. Here, we report the discovery of deubiquitinating activity in ZUFSP/C6orf113. High-resolution crystal structures of ZUFSP in complex with ubiquitin reveal several distinctive features of ubiquitin recognition and catalysis. Our analyses reveal that ZUFSP is a novel DUB with no homology to any known DUBs, leading us to classify ZUFSP as the seventh DUB family. Intriguingly, the minimal catalytic domain does not cleave polyubiquitin. We identify two ubiquitin binding domains in ZUFSP: a ZHA (ZUFSP helical arm) that binds to the distal ubiquitin and an atypical UBZ domain in ZUFSP that binds to polyubiquitin. Importantly, both domains are essential for ZUFSP to selectively cleave K63-linked polyubiquitin. We show that ZUFSPlocalizes to DNA lesions, where it plays an important role in genome stability pathways, functioning to prevent spontaneous DNA damage and also promote cellular survival in response to exogenous DNA damage.

Principal Investigator(s):
Dominika Kwasna, Syed Arif Abdul Rehman, Jayaprakash Natarajan, Stephen Matthews, Ross Madden, Virginia De Cesare, Simone Weidlich, Satpal Virdee, Ivan Ahel, Ian Gibbs-Seymour, Yogesh Kulathu Mol Cell. 70(1), 150-164.e6 (2018)

Deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs) are important regulators of ubiquitin signaling. Here, we report the discovery of deubiquitinating activity in ZUFSP/C6orf113. High-resolution crystal structures of ZUFSP in complex with ubiquitin reveal several distinctive features of ubiquitin recognition and catalysis. Our analyses reveal that ZUFSP is a novel DUB with no homology to any known DUBs, leading us to classify ZUFSP as the seventh DUB family. Intriguingly, the minimal catalytic domain does not cleave polyubiquitin. We identify two ubiquitin binding domains in ZUFSP: a ZHA (ZUFSP helical arm) that binds to the distal ubiquitin and an atypical UBZ domain in ZUFSP that binds to polyubiquitin. Importantly, both domains are essential for ZUFSP to selectively cleave K63-linked polyubiquitin. We show that ZUFSPlocalizes to DNA lesions, where it plays an important role in genome stability pathways, functioning to prevent spontaneous DNA damage and also promote cellular survival in response to exogenous DNA damage.

Principal Investigator(s):
Dominika Kwasna, Syed Arif Abdul Rehman, Jayaprakash Natarajan, Stephen Matthews, Ross Madden, Virginia De Cesare, Simone Weidlich, Satpal Virdee, Ivan Ahel, Ian Gibbs-Seymour, Yogesh Kulathu Mol Cell. 70(1), 150-164.e6 (2018)

Protein ubiquitylation is a dynamic post-translational modification that can be reversed by deubiquitylating enzymes (DUBs). It is unclear how the small number of ∼100 DUBs present in mammalian cells regulates the thousands of different ubiquitylation events. Here we analysed annotated transcripts of human DUBs and find ∼300 ribosome-associated transcripts annotated as protein coding, which thus increase the total number of DUBs. Using USP35, a poorly studied DUB, as a case study we provide evidence that alternative isoforms contribute to the functional expansion of DUBs. We show the existence of two different USP35 isoforms that localise to different intracellular compartments and have distinct functions. Our results reveal that isoform 1 is an anti-apoptotic factor that inhibits staurosporine- and TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis. In contrast, USP35 isoform 2 is an integral membrane protein of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) present also at lipid droplets. Manipulations of isoform 2 levels cause rapid ER stress likely through deregulation of lipid homeostasis and lead to cell death. Our work highlights how alternative isoforms provide functional expansion of DUBs and sets directions for future research.

Principal Investigator(s):
Pawel Leznicki, Jayaprakash Natarajan, Gerd Bader, Walter Spevak, Andreas Schlattl, Syed Arif Abdul Rehman, Deepika Pathak, Simone Weidlich, Andreas Zoephel, Marie C Bordone, Nuno L Barbosa-Morais, Guido Boehmelt, Yogesh Kulathu J Cell Sci. pii: jcs.212753, (2018)
The autophagic turnover of mitochondria, termed mitophagy, is thought to play an essential role in not only maintaining the health of the mitochondrial network but also that of the cell and organism as a whole. We have come a long way in identifying the molecular components required for mitophagy through extensive in vitro work and cell line characterisation, yet the physiological significance and context of these pathways remain largely unexplored. This is highlighted by the recent development of new mouse models that have revealed a striking level of variation in mitophagy, even under normal conditions. Here, we focus on programmed mitophagy and summarise our current understanding of why, how and where this takes place in mammals.
Principal Investigator(s):
Catherine E Rodger, Thomas G McWilliams, Ian G Ganley The FEBS journal 285 (7), 1185-1202 (2018)

Our understanding of autophagy and lysosomal function has been greatly enhanced by the discovery of natural product structures that can serve as chemical probes to reveal new patterns of signal transduction in cells. Coibamide A is a cytotoxic marine natural product that induces mTOR-independent autophagy as an adaptive stress response that precedes cell death. Autophagy-related (ATG) protein 5 (ATG5) is required for coibamide-induced autophagy but not required for coibamide-induced apoptosis. Using wild-type and autophagy-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) we demonstrate that coibamide-induced toxicity is delayed in ATG5-/- cells relative to ATG5+/+ cells. Time-dependent changes in annexin V staining, membrane integrity, metabolic capacity and caspase activation indicated that MEFs with a functional autophagy pathway are more sensitive to coibamide A. This pattern could be distinguished from autophagy modulators that induce acute ER stress (thapsigargin, tunicamycin), ATP depletion (oligomycin A) or mTORC1 inhibition (rapamycin), but was shared with the Sec61 inhibitor apratoxin A. Coibamide- or apratoxin-induced cell stress was further distinguished from the action of thapsigargin by a pattern of early LC3-II accumulation in the absence of CHOP or BiP expression. Time-dependent changes in ATG5-ATG12, PARP1 and caspase-3 expression patterns were consistent with the conversion of ATG5 to a pro-death signal in response to both compounds.

Principal Investigator(s):
Xuemei Wan, Jeffrey D Serrill, Ian R Humphreys, Michelle Tan, Kerry L McPhail, Ian G Ganley, Jane E Ishmael Marine drugs 16 (3), 77 (2018)

Dysregulated mitophagy has been linked to Parkinson's disease (PD) due to the role of PTEN-induced kinase 1 (PINK1) in mediating depolarization-induced mitophagy in vitro. Elegant mouse reporters have revealed the pervasive nature of basal mitophagy in vivo, yet the role of PINK1 and tissue metabolic context remains unknown. Using mito-QC, we investigated the contribution of PINK1 to mitophagy in metabolically active tissues. We observed a high degree of mitophagy in neural cells, including PD-relevant mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons and microglia. In all tissues apart from pancreatic islets, loss of Pink1 did not influence basal mitophagy, despite disrupting depolarization-induced Parkin activation. Our findings provide the first in vivo evidence that PINK1 is detectable at basal levels and that basalmammalian mitophagy occurs independently of PINK1. This suggests multiple, yet-to-be-discovered pathways orchestrating mammalian mitochondrial integrity in a context-dependent fashion, and this has profound implications for our molecular understanding of vertebrate mitophagy.

Principal Investigator(s):
Thomas G McWilliams, Alan R Prescott, Lambert Montava-Garriga, Graeme Ball, François Singh, Erica Barini, Miratul MK Muqit, Simon P Brooks, Ian G Ganley Cell metabolism 27(2), 439-449.e5 (2018)

Dysregulated mitophagy has been linked to Parkinson's disease (PD) due to the role of PTEN-induced kinase 1 (PINK1) in mediating depolarization-induced mitophagy in vitro. Elegant mouse reporters have revealed the pervasive nature of basal mitophagy in vivo, yet the role of PINK1 and tissue metabolic context remains unknown. Using mito-QC, we investigated the contribution of PINK1 to mitophagy in metabolically active tissues. We observed a high degree of mitophagy in neural cells, including PD-relevant mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons and microglia. In all tissues apart from pancreatic islets, loss of Pink1 did not influence basal mitophagy, despite disrupting depolarization-induced Parkin activation. Our findings provide the first in vivo evidence that PINK1 is detectable at basal levels and that basalmammalian mitophagy occurs independently of PINK1. This suggests multiple, yet-to-be-discovered pathways orchestrating mammalian mitochondrial integrity in a context-dependent fashion, and this has profound implications for our molecular understanding of vertebrate mitophagy.

Principal Investigator(s):
Thomas G McWilliams, Alan R Prescott, Lambert Montava-Garriga, Graeme Ball, François Singh, Erica Barini, Miratul MK Muqit, Simon P Brooks, Ian G Ganley Cell metabolism 27(2), 439-449.e5 (2018)

At the turn of the century it seemed that the golden era of signal transduction might be at an end. The protein kinase cascades that mediate the intracellular actions of mitogens and growth factors had been worked out, at least in outline, and no new mechanisms for transmitting the intracellular actions of extracellular signals had been identified for some years. It therefore came like a bolt from the blue when Zhijian Chen's two papers appeared, reporting that Lys63‑linked ubiquitin chains were operating like 'second messengers' to transmit the intracellular actions of the cytokine interleukin‑1. Similar to the way in which the other second messengers exert their effects, these ubiquitin chains interact with a regulatory subunit of an intracellular protein kinase (TAK1) to switch on its catalytic activity. Why did these two papers have such a wide impact?

Principal Investigator(s):
Philip Cohen Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 19 (4), 212 (2018)
Principal Investigator(s):
Alessi D.R. & Sammler, E. Science 360(6384), 36-37 (2018)

There is compelling evidence for the role of the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) and in particular its kinase function in Parkinson's disease. Orally bioavailable, brain penetrant and potent LRRK2 kinase inhibitors are in the later stages of clinical development. Here, we describe a facile and robust assay to quantify LRRK2 kinase pathway activity by measuring LRRK2-mediated phosphorylation of Rab10 in human peripheral blood neutrophils. We use the selective MJFF-pRab10 monoclonal antibody recognising the Rab10 Thr73 phospho-epitope that is phosphorylated by LRRK2. We highlight the feasibility and practicability of using our assay in the clinical setting by studying a few patients with G2019S LRRK2 associated and sporadic Parkinson's as well as healthy controls. We suggest that peripheral blood neutrophils are a valuable resource for LRRK2 research and should be considered for inclusion in Parkinson's bio-repository collections as they are abundant, homogenous and express relatively high levels of LRRK2 as well as Rab10. In contrast, the widely used peripheral blood mononuclear cells are heterogeneous and only a minority of cells (monocytes and contaminating neutrophils) express LRRK2. While our LRRK2 kinase pathway assay could assist in patient stratification based on LRRK2 kinase activity, we envision that it may find greater utility in pharmacodynamic and target engagement studies in future LRRK2 inhibitor trials.

Principal Investigator(s):
Fan, Y., Howden, A., Sarhan, A.R., Lis, P., Ito, G., Martinez, T.N., Brockmann, K., Gasser, T., Alessi D.R. & Sammler, E. Biochemical Journal 475, 23.44 (2018)

There is compelling evidence for the role of the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) and in particular its kinase function in Parkinson's disease. Orally bioavailable, brain penetrant and potent LRRK2 kinase inhibitors are in the later stages of clinical development. Here, we describe a facile and robust assay to quantify LRRK2 kinase pathway activity by measuring LRRK2-mediated phosphorylation of Rab10 in human peripheral blood neutrophils. We use the selective MJFF-pRab10 monoclonal antibody recognising the Rab10 Thr73 phospho-epitope that is phosphorylated by LRRK2. We highlight the feasibility and practicability of using our assay in the clinical setting by studying a few patients with G2019S LRRK2 associated and sporadic Parkinson's as well as healthy controls. We suggest that peripheral blood neutrophils are a valuable resource for LRRK2 research and should be considered for inclusion in Parkinson's bio-repository collections as they are abundant, homogenous and express relatively high levels of LRRK2 as well as Rab10. In contrast, the widely used peripheral blood mononuclear cells are heterogeneous and only a minority of cells (monocytes and contaminating neutrophils) express LRRK2. While our LRRK2 kinase pathway assay could assist in patient stratification based on LRRK2 kinase activity, we envision that it may find greater utility in pharmacodynamic and target engagement studies in future LRRK2 inhibitor trials.

Principal Investigator(s):
Fan, Y., Howden, A., Sarhan, A.R., Lis, P., Ito, G., Martinez, T.N., Brockmann, K., Gasser, T., Alessi D.R. & Sammler, E. Biochemical Journal 475, 23.44 (2018)

This study explores the regulation and importance of System L amino acid transport in a murine model of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) caused by deletion of phosphatase and tensin homolog deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN). There has been a strong focus on glucose transport in leukemias but the present data show that primary T-ALL cells have increased transport of multiple nutrients. Specifically, increased leucine transport in T-ALL fuels mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) activity which then sustains expression of hypoxia inducible factor-1α (HIF1α) and c-Myc; drivers of glucose metabolism in T cells. A key finding is that PTEN deletion and phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5)-trisphosphate (PtdIns(3,4,5)P3) accumulation is insufficient to initiate leucine uptake, mTORC1 activity, HIF1α or c-Myc expression in T cells and hence cannot drive T-ALL metabolic reprogramming. Instead, a key regulator for leucine transport in T-ALL is identified as NOTCH. Mass spectrometry based proteomics identifies SLC7A5 as the predominant amino acid transporter in primary PTEN-/-T-ALL cells. Importantly, expression of SLC7A5 is critical for the malignant transformation induced by PTEN deletion. These data reveal the importance of regulated amino acid transport for T-cell malignancies, highlighting how a single amino acid transporter can have a key role.

Principal Investigator(s):
KM Grzes, M Swamy, JL Hukelmann, E Emslie, LV Sinclair, DA Cantrell Leukemia 31(12), 2771-2779 (2017)

Identification and characterization of large protein complexes is a mainstay of biochemical toolboxes. Utilization of cross-linking chemicals can facilitate the capture and identification of transient or weak interactions of a transient nature (Huang and Kim, PloS One 8:e61430, 2013; Gao et al., J Vis Exp doi: 10.3791/51387, 2014). Here we describe a detailed methodology for a cell culture-based proteomic approach. We describe the generation of cells stably expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged proteins under the tetracycline-inducible promoter and subsequent proteomic analysis of GFP-interacting proteins. We include a list of proteins that were identified as interactors of GFP.

Principal Investigator(s):
Cummins TD, Sapkota GP Methods Mol Biol. (2017)

Today, we are experiencing unprecedented growth and innovation within the pharmaceutical industry. Established protein therapeutic modalities, such as recombinant human proteins, monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), and fusion proteins, are being used to treat previously unmet medical needs. Novel therapies such as bispecific T cell engagers (BiTEs), chimeric antigen T cell receptors (CARTs), siRNA, and gene therapies are paving the path towards increasingly personalized medicine. This advancement of new indications and therapeutic modalities is paralleled by development of new analytical technologies and methods that provide enhanced information content in a more efficient manner. Recently, a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) multi-attribute method (MAM) has been developed and designed for improved simultaneous detection, identification, quantitation, and quality control (monitoring) of molecular attributes (Rogers et al. MAbs 7(5):881-90, 2015). Based on peptide mapping principles, this powerful tool represents a true advancement in testing methodology that can be utilized not only during product characterization, formulation development, stability testing, and development of the manufacturing process, but also as a platform quality control method in dispositioning clinical materials for both innovative biotherapeutics and biosimilars.

Principal Investigator(s):
Rogers RS, Abernathy M, Richardson DD, Rouse JC, Sperry JB, Swann P, Wypych J, Yu C, Zang L, Deshpande R AAPS J. 20(1):7, 7 (2017)