News

New Paper Published: MASTL overexpression promotes chromosome instability and metastasis in breast cancer

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Very excited to announce that our latest paper entitled “MASTL overexpression promotes chromosome instability and metastasis in breast cancer” has just been published online with Oncogene. You can access the full article for free here:https://www.nature.com/articles/s41388-018-0295-z

Abstract

MASTL kinase is essential for correct progression through mitosis, with loss of MASTL causing chromosome segregation errors, mitotic collapse and failure of cytokinesis. However, in cancer MASTL is most commonly amplified and overexpressed. This correlates with increased chromosome instability in breast cancer and poor patient survival in breast, ovarian and lung cancer. Global phosphoproteomic analysis of immortalised breast MCF10A cells engineered to overexpressed MASTL revealed disruption to desmosomes, actin cytoskeleton, PI3K/AKT/mTOR and p38 stress kinase signalling pathways. Notably, these pathways were also disrupted in patient samples that overexpress MASTL. In MCF10A cells, these alterations corresponded with a loss of contact inhibition and partial epithelial–mesenchymal transition, which disrupted migration and allowed cells to proliferate uncontrollably in 3D culture. Furthermore, MASTL overexpression increased aberrant mitotic divisions resulting in increased micronuclei formation. Mathematical modelling indicated that this delay was due to continued inhibition of PP2A-B55, which delayed timely mitotic exit. This corresponded with an increase in DNA damage and delayed transit through interphase. There were no significant alterations to replication kinetics upon MASTL overexpression, however, inhibition of p38 kinase rescued the interphase delay, suggesting the delay was a G2 DNA damage checkpoint response. Importantly, knockdown of MASTL, reduced cell proliferation, prevented invasion and metastasis of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo, indicating the potential of future therapies that target MASTL. Taken together, these results suggest that MASTL overexpression contributes to chromosome instability and metastasis, thereby decreasing breast cancer patient survival.

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Research Position (Full-time) Available Now.

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Great news, we are looking for a full-time research assistant or junior post-doctoral researcher.

We are seeking a highly motivated BSc (Hons) graduate who is interested in pursuing a career in biomedical research with particular focus on cancer cell biology. The successful applicant will have demonstrated a high level of undergraduate achievement and applicants graduating with Honours will be highly regarded. The successful applicant will work closely with the Principal Hospital Scientist and perform a variety of advanced molecular and cellular biology techniques to elucidate novel mechanisms that drive chromosome instability and drug resistance in breast and lung cancer. Essential criteria include experience in mammalian cell culture, cellular and molecular biology techniques, with experience with mass spectrometry, and/or microscopy and flow cytometry viewed favourably. Candidates should have excellent written and verbal communication skill and a history of publication would be viewed favourably.

The ANZAC Research Institute is situated on the Concord Hospital campus and is affiliated academically with the University of Sydney. The ANZAC Research institute is a multidisciplinary facility, for more information about the institute please see http://www.anzac.edu.au.

This position is open to Australian and New Zealand citizens, permanent residency or people with valid working visa status. It is available for one (1) year initially with prospect of renewal for 3-yrs total, subject to progress and grant applications. Level of appointment will be according to qualifications and experience.

Please apply online via seek and submit the following

Current CV, copy of academic transcript, a cover letter addressing the selection criteria below, provide two current referees, and evidence of work rights within Australia.

Selection Criteria

  • Minimum BSc (Hons I preferred) with a focus on cancer cell biology.
  • Experience in in mammalian tissue culture (transfection, stable cell line production, 3D spheroid culture, gene knockdown/out, CRISPR etc).
  • Experience in molecular and cellular biology techniques (western blotting, PCR, cloning, etc).
  • Experience in Mass Spectrometry (phosphoproteomics), confocal microscopy or flow cytometry will be viewed favourably.
  • Demonstrated capacity to work independently and collaboratively in a team environment
  • Must possess excellent time management, organisational and analytical problem-solving skills.
  • Demonstrate excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Strong computer software literacy and an understanding of statistics.
  • A history of publication and/or an interest in completing a PhD would be highly regarded.

New Co-author Publication: Hic1 maintains chromosomal stability independent of p53

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Great news, we have a new co-author publication out in the journal Oncogene! The work was lead by Professor Neil Watkins, and is titled “The tumor suppressor Hic1 maintains chromosomal stability independent of Tp53”.

You can access the full article here [Link]

ABSTRACT: Hypermethylated-in-Cancer 1 (Hic1) is a tumor suppressor gene frequently inactivated by epigenetic silencing and loss-of- heterozygosity in a broad range of cancers. Loss of HIC1, a sequence-specific zinc finger transcriptional repressor, results in deregulation of genes that promote a malignant phenotype in a lineage-specific manner. In particular, upregulation of the HIC1 target gene SIRT1, a histone deacetylase, can promote tumor growth by inactivating TP53. An alternate line of evidence suggests that HIC1 can promote the repair of DNA double strand breaks through an interaction with MTA1, a component of the nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase (NuRD) complex. Using a conditional knockout mouse model of tumor initiation, we now show that inactivation of Hic1 results in cell cycle arrest, premature senescence, chromosomal instability and spontaneous transformation in vitro. This phenocopies the effects of deleting Brca1, a component of the homologous recombination DNA repair pathway, in mouse embryonic fibroblasts. These effects did not appear to be mediated by deregulation of Hic1 target gene expression or loss of Tp53 function, and rather support a role for Hic1 in maintaining genome integrity during sustained replicative stress. Loss of Hic1 function also cooperated with activation of oncogenic KRas in the adult airway epithelium of mice, resulting in the formation of highly pleomorphic adenocarcinomas with a micropapillary phenotype in vivo. These results suggest that loss of Hic1 expression in the early stages of tumor formation may contribute to malignant transformation through the acquisition of chromosomal instability.

 

New Co-Author Publication in Gut: CDK4 inhibitors for treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

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More great news, we have another co-author publication in the outstanding journal Gut. This fabulous work was pioneered by the very talented Dr Marina Pajic and her group at the Garvan Institute. We were very honoured to be involved in such amazing work.

The title of the publication is “Tailored first-line and second-line CDK4-targeting treatment combinations in mouse models of pancreatic cancer”. You can read and access the full article for free here [Link]

Abstract

Objective Extensive molecular heterogeneity of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), few effective therapies and high mortality make this disease a prime model for advancing development of tailored therapies. The p16-cyclin D-cyclin-dependent kinase 4/6-retinoblastoma (RB) protein (CDK4) pathway, regulator of cell proliferation, is deregulated in PDA. Our aim was to develop a novel personalised treatment strategy for PDA based on targeting CDK4.

Design Sensitivity to potent CDK4/6 inhibitor PD-0332991 (palbociclib) was correlated to protein and genomic data in 19 primary patient-derived PDA lines to identify biomarkers of response. In vivo efficacy of PD-0332991 and combination therapies was determined in subcutaneous, intrasplenic and orthotopic tumour models derived from genome-sequenced patient specimens and genetically engineered model. Mechanistically, monotherapy and combination therapy were investigated in the context of tumour cell and extracellular matrix (ECM) signalling. Prognostic relevance of companion biomarker, RB protein, was evaluated and validated in independent PDA patient cohorts (>500 specimens).

Results Subtype-specific in vivo efficacy of PD-0332991-based therapy was for the first time observed at multiple stages of PDA progression: primary tumour growth, recurrence (second-line therapy) and metastatic setting and may potentially be guided by a simple biomarker (RB protein). PD-0332991 significantly disrupted surrounding ECM organisation, leading to increased quiescence, apoptosis, improved chemosensitivity, decreased invasion, metastatic spread and PDA progression in vivo. RB protein is prevalent in primary operable and metastatic PDA and may present a promising predictive biomarker to guide this therapeutic approach.

Conclusion This study demonstrates the promise of CDK4 inhibition in PDA over standard therapy when applied in a molecular subtype-specific context.

New Co-Author Publication! Ensa controls S-phase length by modulating Treslin levels.

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Great news, we have published a co-authored paper entitled ‘Ensa controls S-phase length by modulating Treslin levels’ in the prestigious journal ‘Nature Communications’. This work was started back in 2011 when I was a Post-Doc in the laboratory of Anna Castro in France. It’s exciting to see those inital discoveries transition into the finished paper.
The article is Open Access and free to download, which you can do so here: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-00339-4

 

ABSTRACT

The Greatwall/Ensa/PP2A-B55 pathway is essential for controlling mitotic substrate phos- phorylation and mitotic entry. Here, we investigate the effect of the knockdown of the Gwl substrate, Ensa, in human cells. Unexpectedly, Ensa knockdown promotes a dramatic extension of S phase associated with a lowered density of replication forks. Notably, Ensa depletion results in a decrease of Treslin levels, a pivotal protein for the firing of replication origins. Accordingly, the extended S phase in Ensa-depleted cells is completely rescued by the overexpression of Treslin. Our data herein reveal a new mechanism by which normal cells regulate S-phase duration by controlling the ubiquitin-proteasome degradation of Treslin in a Gwl/Ensa-dependent pathway.

New Publication in Cell! The Phosphoregulation of Mitosis

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We are incredibly excited to announce that our SnapShot is out today in Cell!
This snapshot of mitosis collates hundreds of phosphorylation events and directly links them with their regulatory kinases and counterbalancing phosphatases, in both time and space, in a highly innovative ‘circtanglar’ cell layout. More importantly, the static PDF version is accompanied by an interactive website that enables users to access direct links to PubMed, UniProt, and Aquaria 3D protein structures for each and every phosphorylation event shown. The pop-up boxes also contain over 100 additional phosphorylation sites on dozens of proteins essential for mitosis. You can access the interactive web version here:  http://www.cell.com/cell/enhanced/odonoghue2
Even better news is that until August 04, 2017 the PDF version of the SnapShot is freely accessible for everyone at the following link https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1VDWh_278yyILK
A big thank-you to Jenny, Sam, Marcos and Sean for helping me put together what I hope will be an amazing resource for anyone interested in how cells divide and phosphorylation in general.

New Publication: Hedgehog signaling in small cell lung cancer

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Great news we have a new co-author publication in Oncogene!

This work was in collaboration with Prof. Neil Wakins here at the Garvan Institute and focuses on the role of Hedgehog (Hh)  signaling in small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Small cell lung cancer is a common, aggressive malignancy with universally poor prognosis.

Full details can be found here [link]

TITLE: “The role of canonical and non-canonical Hedgehog signaling in tumor progression in a mouse model of small cell lung cancer”

ABSTRACT:

Hedgehog (Hh) signaling regulates cell fate and self-renewal in development and cancer. Canonical Hh signaling is mediated by Hh ligand binding to the receptor Patched (Ptch), which in turn activates Gli-mediated transcription through Smoothened (Smo), the molecular target of the Hh pathway inhibitors used as cancer therapeutics. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a common, aggressive malignancy with universally poor prognosis. Although preclinical studies have shown that Hh inhibitors block the self-renewal capacity of SCLC cells, the lack of activating pathway mutations have cast doubt over the significance of these observations. In particular, the existence of autocrine, ligand-dependent Hh signaling in SCLC has been disputed. In a conditional Tp53;Rb1 mutant mouse model of SCLC, we now demonstrate a requirement for the Hh ligand Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) for the progression of SCLC. Conversely, we show that conditional Shh overexpression activates canonical Hh signaling in SCLC cells, and markedly accelerates tumor progression. When compared to mouse SCLC tumors expressing an activating, ligand-independent Smo mutant, tumors overexpressing Shh exhibited marked chromosomal instability and Smoothened-independent upregulation of Cyclin B1, a putative non-canonical arm of the Hh pathway. In turn, we show that overexpression of Cyclin B1 induces chromosomal instability in mouse embryonic fibroblasts lacking both Tp53 and Rb1. These results provide strong support for an autocrine, ligand-dependent model of Hh signaling in SCLC pathogenesis, and reveal a novel role for non-canonical Hh signaling through the induction of chromosomal instability.

 

New Co-Author Publication – Attacking the tissue around Pancreatic Cancer

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It was a great pleasure to be apart of this amazing research by Claire Venin and Paul Timpson, which was recently published in Science Translational Medicine, one of the very best journals in the world.

Here is a brief intro into the research.

ROCK-ing pancreatic cancer to the core

Pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly and difficult-to-treat tumor types in patients, usually has a dense stroma that can be difficult for drugs to penetrate. Stromal characteristics can also affect multiple other aspects of tumor biology, including metastatic spread, vascular supply, and immune response. Vennin et al. used Fasudil, a drug that inhibits a protein called ROCK and is already used for some conditions in people, to demonstrate the feasibility including short-term tumor stroma remodeling as part of cancer treatment. In genetically engineered and patient-derived mouse models of pancreatic cancer, priming with Fasudil disrupted the tumors’ extracellular matrix and improved the effectiveness of subsequent treatment with standard-of-care chemotherapy for this disease.

If you would like to know more you can read the full article here:
Vennin, C. et al. 2017. Transient tissue priming via ROCK inhibition uncouples pancreatic cancer progression, sensitivity to chemotherapy, and metastasis. Science translational medicine. 9, 384 (Apr. 2017).

New Review Published “The role of MDM2 and MDM4 in breast cancer development and prevention”

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Great news, we have had a co-author review published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

You can check out the full review here.

Abstract

The major cause of death from breast cancer is not the primary tumour, but relapsing, drug-resistant, metastatic disease. Identifying factors that contribute to aggressive cancer offers important leads for therapy. Inherent defense against carcinogens depends on the individual molecular make-up of each person. Important molecular determinants of these responses are under the control of the mouse double minute (MDM) family: comprised of the proteins MDM2 and MDM4. In normal, healthy adult cells, the MDM family functions to critically regulate measured, cellular responses to stress and subsequent recovery. Proper function of the MDM family is vital for normal breast development, but also for preserving genomic fidelity. The MDM family members are best characterized for their negative regulation of the major tumour suppressor p53 to modulate stress responses. Their impact on other cellular regulators is emerging. Inappropriately elevated protein levels of the MDM family are highly associated with an increased risk of cancer incidence. Exploration of the MDM family members as cancer therapeutic targets is relevant for designing tailored anti-cancer treatments, but successful approaches must strategically consider the impact on both the target cancer and adjacent healthy cells and tissues. This review focuses on recent findings pertaining to the role of the MDM family in normal and malignant breast cells.