Len Stephens

Research Summary

The programmes of work in the laboratory are currently aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms and physiological significance of intracellular signalling networks which involve a family of enzymes called phosphoinositide 3OH-kinases (PI3Ks).

PI3Ks are now accepted to be critical regulators of numerous important and complex cell responses, including cell growth, division, survival and movement.

PI3Ks catalyse the formation of one or more critical phospholipid messenger molecules, which signal information by binding to specific domains in target proteins. Currently the best understood pathway involves the activation of Class I PI3Ks by cell surface receptors.

In recent years, the laboratory has increasingly focused on the role of PI3Ks in the signalling mechanisms which allow receptors on neutrophils (white blood cells) to control various aspects of neutrophil function.

Neutrophils are key players in the front line of our immune system, responsible primarily for the recognition and destruction of bacterial and fungal pathogens. However, they are also involved in the amplification cascades that underlie various inflammatory pathologies, e.g. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Latest Publications

PI3Kδ Forms Distinct Multiprotein Complexes at the TCR Signalosome in Naïve and Differentiated CD4 T Cells.
Luff DH, Wojdyla K, Oxley D, Chessa T, Hudson K, Hawkins PT, Stephens LR, Barry ST, Okkenhaug K

Phosphoinositide 3-kinases (PI3Ks) play a central role in adaptive immunity by transducing signals from the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) via production of PIP. PI3Kδ is a heterodimer composed of a p110δ catalytic subunit associated with a p85α or p85β regulatory subunit and is preferentially engaged by the TCR upon T cell activation. The molecular mechanisms leading to PI3Kδ recruitment and activation at the TCR signalosome remain unclear. In this study, we have used quantitative mass spectrometry, biochemical approaches and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to uncover the p110δ interactome in primary CD4 T cells. Moreover, we have determined how the PI3Kδ interactome changes upon the differentiation of small naïve T cells into T cell blasts expanded in the presence of IL-2. Our interactomic analyses identified multiple constitutive and inducible PI3Kδ-interacting proteins, some of which were common to naïve and previously-activated T cells. Our data reveals that PI3Kδ rapidly interacts with as many as seven adaptor proteins upon TCR engagement, including the Gab-family proteins, GAB2 and GAB3, a CD5-CBL signalosome and the transmembrane proteins ICOS and TRIM. Our results also suggest that PI3Kδ pre-forms complexes with the adaptors SH3KBP1 and CRKL in resting cells that could facilitate the localization and activation of p110δ at the plasma membrane by forming ternary complexes during early TCR signalling. Furthermore, we identify interactions that were not previously known to occur in CD4 T cells, involving BCAP, GAB3, IQGAP3 and JAML. We used CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene knockout in primary T cells to confirm that BCAP is a positive regulator of PI3K-AKT signalling in CD4 T cell blasts. Overall, our results provide evidence for a large protein network that regulates the recruitment and activation of PI3Kδ in T cells. Finally, this work shows how the PI3Kδ interactome is remodeled as CD4 T cells differentiate from naïve T cells to activated T cell blasts. These activated T cells upregulate additional PI3Kδ adaptor proteins, including BCAP, GAB2, IQGAP3 and ICOS. This rewiring of TCR-PI3K signalling that occurs upon T cell differentiation may serve to reduce the threshold of activation and diversify the inputs for the PI3K pathway in effector T cells.

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Frontiers in immunology, 12, 1, 2021

PMID: 33763075

Gβγ is a direct regulator of endogenous p101/p110γ and p84/p110γ PI3Kγ complexes in mouse neutrophils.
Rynkiewicz NK, Anderson KE, Suire S, Collins DM, Karanasios E, Vadas O, Williams R, Oxley D, Clark J, Stephens LR, Hawkins PT

The PI3Kγ isoform is activated by Gi-coupled GPCRs in myeloid cells, but the extent to which the two endogenous complexes of PI3Kγ, p101/p110γ and p84/p110γ, receive direct regulation through Gβγ or indirect regulation through RAS and the sufficiency of those inputs is controversial or unclear. We generated mice with point mutations that prevent Gβγ binding to p110γ (RK552DD) or to p101 (VVKR777AAAA) and investigated the effects of these mutations in primary neutrophils and in mouse models of neutrophilic inflammation. Loss of Gβγ binding to p110γ substantially reduced the activation of both p101/p110γ and p84/p110γ in neutrophils by various GPCR agonists. Loss of Gβγ binding to p101 caused more variable effects, depending on both the agonist and cellular response, with the biggest reductions seen in PIP production by primary neutrophils in response to LTB4 and MIP-2 and in the migration of neutrophils during thioglycolate-induced peritonitis or MIP2-induced ear pouch inflammation. We also observed that p101 neutrophils showed enhanced p84-dependent ROS responses to MLP and C5a, suggesting that competition may exist between p101/p110γ and p84/p110γ for Gβγ subunits downstream of GPCR activation. GPCRs did not activate p110γ in neutrophils from mice lacking both the p101 and p84 regulatory subunits, indicating that RAS binding to p110γ is insufficient to support GPCR activation in this cell type. These findings define a direct role for Gβγ subunits in activating both of the endogenous PI3Kγ complexes and indicate that the regulatory PI3Kγ subunit biases activation toward different GPCRs.

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Science signaling, 13, 656, 03 Nov 2020

PMID: 33144519

How is the acyl chain composition of phosphoinositides created and does it matter?
Barneda D, Cosulich S, Stephens L, Hawkins P

The phosphoinositide (PIPn) family of signalling phospholipids are central regulators in membrane cell biology. Their varied functions are based on the phosphorylation pattern of their inositol ring, which can be recognized by selective binding domains in their effector proteins and be modified by a series of specific PIPn kinases and phosphatases, which control their interconversion in a spatial and temporal manner. Yet, a unique feature of PIPns remains largely unexplored: their unusually uniform acyl chain composition. Indeed, while most phospholipids present a range of molecular species comprising acyl chains of diverse length and saturation, PIPns in several organisms and tissues show the predominance of a single hydrophobic backbone, which in mammals is composed of arachidonoyl and stearoyl chains. Despite evolution having favoured this specific PIPn configuration, little is known regarding the mechanisms and functions behind it. In this review, we explore the metabolic pathways that could control the acyl chain composition of PIPns as well as the potential roles of this selective enrichment. While our understanding of this phenomenon has been constrained largely by the technical limitations in the methods traditionally employed in the PIPn field, we believe that the latest developments in PIPn analysis should shed light onto this old question.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 47, 5, 31 10 2019

DOI: 10.1042/BST20190205

PMID: 31657437