Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Simon Cook

Research Summary

One of the keys to understanding lifelong health is to understand the signalling pathways that operate inside cells and govern key fate decisions such as cell death, cell survival, cell division or cell senescence (collectively cell longevity).  These signalling pathways involve enzymes called ‘protein kinases’ that attach phosphate groups to specific cellular proteins, thereby controlling their activity, location or abundance. In this way protein kinases orchestrate the cellular response to growth factors, nutrient availability or stress and damage.

Ageing results in part from the imbalance between cellular damage, accrued throughout life, and the progressive decline in stress response and repair pathways. We are interested in how protein kinases function in stress responses, the removal of damaged cellular components (e.g. autophagy, see also Nicholas Ktistakis and Oliver Florey) and the control of cellular lifespan. We believe this will enhance our understanding of how the normal declines in these processes drive ageing.

Signalling pathways are frequently de-regulated in certain age-related diseases – notably in cancer, inflammation and neurodegeneration – and many protein kinases are attractive drug targets. Consequently we translate our basic knowledge of signalling through collaborations with charities and pharmaceutical companies (e.g. AstraZeneca and MISSION Therapeutics).

Latest Publications

ERK1/2 inhibitors: New weapons to inhibit the RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway.
Kidger AM, Sipthorp J, Cook SJ

The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is de-regulated in a variety of cancers due to mutations in receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), negative regulators of RAS (such as NF1) and core pathway components themselves (RAS, BRAF, CRAF, MEK1 or MEK2). This has driven the development of a variety of pharmaceutical agents to inhibit RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling in cancer and both RAF and MEK inhibitors are now approved and used in the clinic. There is now much interest in targeting at the level of ERK1/2 for a variety of reasons. First, since the pathway is linear from RAF-to-MEK-to-ERK then ERK1/2 are validated as targets per se. Second, innate resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors involves relief of negative feedback and pathway re-activation with all signalling going through ERK1/2, validating the use of ERK inhibitors with RAF or MEK inhibitors as an up-front combination. Third, long-term acquired resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors involves a variety of mechanisms (KRAS or BRAF amplification, MEK mutation, etc.) which re-instate ERK activity, validating the use of ERK inhibitors to forestall acquired resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors. The first potent highly selective ERK1/2 inhibitors have now been developed and are entering clinical trials. They have one of three discrete mechanisms of action - catalytic, "dual mechanism" or covalent - which could have profound consequences for how cells respond and adapt. In this review we describe the validation of ERK1/2 as anti-cancer drug targets, consider the mechanism of action of new ERK1/2 inhibitors and how this may impact on their efficacy, anticipate factors that will determine how tumour cells respond and adapt to ERK1/2 inhibitors and consider ERK1/2 inhibitor drug combinations.

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Pharmacology & therapeutics, , 1879-016X, , 2018

PMID: 29454854

De-RSKing ERK - regulation of ERK1/2-RSK dissociation by phosphorylation within a disordered motif.
Kidger AM, Cook SJ

The protein kinases ERK1/2 and RSK associate in unstimulated cells but must separate to target other substrates. In this issue, Gógl et al. show that phosphorylation of RSK by active ERK1/2 culminates in the formation of an intramolecular charge clamp between Lys729 and the phosphate group on Ser732. This promotes the dissociation of ERK1/2 from RSK allowing them to engage with other targets.

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The FEBS journal, 285, 1742-4658, 42-45, 2018

PMID: 29314599

Calcium phosphate particles stimulate interleukin-1β release from human vascular smooth muscle cells: A role for spleen tyrosine kinase and exosome release.
Dautova Y, Kapustin AN, Pappert K, Epple M, Okkenhaug H, Cook SJ, Shanahan CM, Bootman MD, Proudfoot D

Calcium phosphate (CaP) particle deposits are found in several inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis and osteoarthritis. CaP, and other forms of crystals and particles, can promote inflammasome formation in macrophages leading to caspase-1 activation and secretion of mature interleukin-1β (IL-1β). Given the close association of small CaP particles with vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) in atherosclerotic fibrous caps, we aimed to determine if CaP particles affected pro-inflammatory signalling in human VSMCs.

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Journal of molecular and cellular cardiology, , 1095-8584, , 2017

PMID: 29274344

Group Members

Latest Publications

Control of cell death and mitochondrial fission by ERK1/2 MAP Kinase signalling.

Cook SJ, Stuart K, Gilley R

The FEBS journal
1742-4658: (2017)

PMID: 28548464

Visualisation of Endogenous ERK1/2 in Cells with a Bioorthogonal Covalent Probe.

Sipthorp J, Lebraud H, Gilley R

Bioconjugate chemistry
1520-4812: (2017)

PMID: 28449575

RNA-binding proteins ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 promote cell quiescence.

Galloway A, Saveliev A, Łukasiak S

Science (New York, N.Y.)
352 1095-9203:453-9 (2016)

PMID: 27102483

Tumor cells with KRAS or BRAF mutations or ERK5/MAPK7 amplification are not addicted to ERK5 activity for cell proliferation.

Lochhead PA, Clark J, Wang LZ

Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
15 1551-4005:506-18 (2016)

PMID: 26959608

Maternal DNA Methylation Regulates Early Trophoblast Development.

Branco MR, King M, Perez-Garcia V

Developmental cell
36 1878-1551:152-63 (2016)

PMID: 26812015

MEK1 and MEK2 inhibitors and cancer therapy: the long and winding road.

Caunt CJ, Sale MJ, Smith PD

Nature reviews. Cancer
15 1474-1768:577-92 (2015)

PMID: 26399658

Identification of DYRK1B as a substrate of ERK1/2 and characterisation of the kinase activity of DYRK1B mutants from cancer and metabolic syndrome.

Ashford AL, Dunkley TP, Cockerill M

Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS
1420-9071: (2015)

PMID: 26346493