The Babraham Institute Publications database contains details of all publications resulting from our research groups and scientific facilities. Pre-prints by Institute authors can be viewed on the Institute's bioRxiv channel. We believe that free and open access to the outputs of publicly‐funded research offers significant social and economic benefits, as well as aiding the development of new research. We are working to provide Open Access to as many publications as possible and these can be identified below by the padlock icon. Where this hasn't been possible, subscriptions may be required to view the full text.
Embryonic development involves massive proliferation and differentiation of cell lineages. This must be supported by chromosome replication and epigenetic reprogramming, but how proliferation and cell fate acquisition are balanced in this process is not well understood. Here we use single cell Hi-C to map chromosomal conformations in post-gastrulation mouse embryo cells and study their distributions and correlations with matching embryonic transcriptional atlases. We find that embryonic chromosomes show a remarkably strong cell cycle signature. Despite that, replication timing, chromosome compartment structure, topological associated domains (TADs) and promoter-enhancer contacts are shown to be variable between distinct epigenetic states. About 10% of the nuclei are identified as primitive erythrocytes, showing exceptionally compact and organized compartment structure. The remaining cells are broadly associated with ectoderm and mesoderm identities, showing only mild differentiation of TADs and compartment structures, but more specific localized contacts in hundreds of ectoderm and mesoderm promoter-enhancer pairs. The data suggest that while fully committed embryonic lineages can rapidly acquire specific chromosomal conformations, most embryonic cells are showing plastic signatures driven by complex and intermixed enhancer landscapes.
Rac-GTPases and their Rac-GEF activators play important roles in neutrophil-mediated host defence. These proteins control the adhesion molecules and cytoskeletal dynamics required for neutrophil recruitment to inflamed and infected organs, and the neutrophil effector responses that kill pathogens.
Vaccination is an excellent strategy to limit the morbidity and mortality associated with infectious disease. Vaccination creates protective, long-lived antibody-mediated immunity by inducing the germinal centre response, an intricate immune reaction that produces memory B cells and long-lived antibody-secreting plasma cells that provide protection against (re)infection. The magnitude and quality of the germinal centre response declines with age, contributing to poor vaccine-induced immunity in older individuals. T follicular helper cells are essential for the formation and function of the germinal centre response. This review will discuss how age-dependent changes in T follicular helper cells influence the germinal centre response, and the evidence that age-dependent changes need not be a barrier to successful vaccination in the later years of life.
Mucosal barrier integrity and pathogen clearance is a complex process influenced by both Th17 and Treg cells. Previously, we had described the DNA methylation profile of Th17 cells and identified Zinc finger protein (Zfp)362 to be uniquely demethylated. Here, we generated Zfp362 mice to unravel the role of Zfp362 for Th17 cell biology. Zfp362 mice appeared clinically normal, showed no phenotypic alterations in the T-cell compartment, and upon colonization with segmented filamentous bacteria, no effect of Zfp362 deficiency on Th17 cell differentiation was observed. By contrast, Zfp362 deletion resulted in increased frequencies of colonic Foxp3 Treg cells and IL-10 and RORγt Treg cell subsets in mesenteric lymph nodes. Adoptive transfer of naïve CD4 T cells from Zfp362 mice into Rag2 mice resulted in a significantly lower weight loss when compared with controls receiving cells from Zfp362 littermates. However, this attenuated weight loss did not correlate with alterations of Th17 cells but instead was associated with an increase of effector Treg cells in mesenteric lymph nodes. Together, these results suggest that Zfp362 plays an important role in promoting colonic inflammation; however, this function is derived from constraining the effector function of Treg cells rather than directly promoting Th17 cell differentiation.
The totipotent embryo initiates transcription during zygotic or embryonic genome activation (EGA, ZGA). ZGA occurs at the 8-cell stage in humans and its failure leads to developmental arrest. Understanding the molecular pathways underlying ZGA and totipotency is essential to comprehend human development. Recently, human 8-cell-like cells (8CLCs) have been discovered in vitro that resemble the 8-cell embryo. 8CLCs exist among naive pluripotent stem cells and can be induced genetically or chemically. Their ZGA-like transcriptome, transposable element activation, 8-cell embryo-specific protein expression, and developmental properties make them an exceptional model system to study early embryonic cell-state transitions and human totipotency programs in vitro.
Endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT), a process initiated by activation of endothelial TGF-β signaling, underlies numerous chronic vascular diseases and fibrotic states. Once induced, EndMT leads to a further increase in TGF-β signaling, thus establishing a positive-feedback loop with EndMT leading to more EndMT. Although EndMT is understood at the cellular level, the molecular basis of TGF-β-driven EndMT induction and persistence remains largely unknown. Here, we show that metabolic modulation of the endothelium, triggered by atypical production of acetate from glucose, underlies TGF-β-driven EndMT. Induction of EndMT suppresses the expression of the enzyme PDK4, which leads to an increase in ACSS2-dependent Ac-CoA synthesis from pyruvate-derived acetate. This increased Ac-CoA production results in acetylation of the TGF-β receptor ALK5 and SMADs 2 and 4 leading to activation and long-term stabilization of TGF-β signaling. Our results establish the metabolic basis of EndMT persistence and unveil novel targets, such as ACSS2, for the potential treatment of chronic vascular diseases.
No abstract available
Recent years have seen exciting progress across human embryo research, including new methods for culturing embryos, transcriptional profiling of embryogenesis and gastrulation, mapping lineage trajectories, and experimenting on stem cell-based embryo models. These advances are beginning to define the dynamical principles of development across stages, tissues and organs, enabling a better understanding of human development before birth in health and disease, and potentially leading to improved treatments for infertility and developmental disorders. However, there are still significant roadblocks en route to this goal. Here, we highlight technical challenges to studying early human development and propose ways and means to overcome some of these constraints.
As a maturing field that continues to provide fundamental insights into cell physiology, autophagy is also beginning to attract considerable interest from the biotechnology/pharmaceutical sector. For this Editor's corner, I thought it would be both useful and interesting to talk with somebody who has spent a lot of time in the commercial sphere, working on autophagy and related processes. I was fortunate that Dr. Leon Murphy, Chief Scientific Officer at Casma therapeutics, was willing and able to answer my questions. In addition to his insights on the commercial interest for autophagy, Dr. Murphy also shared his personal experience on the scientific life working in large and small pharmaceutical companies.
Autophagy is a specialized catabolic process that selectively degrades cytoplasmic components, including proteins and damaged organelles. Autophagy allows cells to physiologically respond to stress stimuli and, thus, maintain cellular homeostasis. Cancer cells might modulate their autophagy levels to adapt to adverse conditions such as hypoxia, nutrient deficiency, or damage caused by chemotherapy. Ductal pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the deadliest types of cancer. Pancreatic cancer cells have high autophagy activity due to the transcriptional upregulation and post-translational activation of autophagy proteins. Here, the PANC-1 cell line was used as a model of pancreatic human cancer cells, and the AR42J pancreatic acinar cell line was used as a physiological model of highly differentiated mammalian cells. This study used the immunofluorescence of microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3) as an indicator of the status of autophagy activation. LC3 is an autophagy protein that, in basal conditions, shows a diffuse pattern of distribution in the cytoplasm (known as LC3-I in this condition). Autophagy induction triggers the conjugation of LC3 to phosphatidylethanolamine on the surface of newly formed autophagosomes to form LC3-II, a membrane-bound protein that aids in the formation and expansion of autophagosomes. To quantify the number of labeled autophagic structures, the open-source software FIJI was utilized with the aid of the "3D Objects Counter" tool. The measure of the autophagic levels both in physiological conditions and in cancer cells allows us to study the modulation of autophagy under diverse conditions such as hypoxia, chemotherapy treatment, or the knockdown of certain proteins.
Obesity is associated with an increased risk of severe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection and mortality. COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes; however, their effectiveness in people with obesity is incompletely understood. We studied the relationship among body mass index (BMI), hospitalization and mortality due to COVID-19 among 3.6 million people in Scotland using the Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 (EAVE II) surveillance platform. We found that vaccinated individuals with severe obesity (BMI > 40 kg/m) were 76% more likely to experience hospitalization or death from COVID-19 (adjusted rate ratio of 1.76 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.60-1.94). We also conducted a prospective longitudinal study of a cohort of 28 individuals with severe obesity compared to 41 control individuals with normal BMI (BMI 18.5-24.9 kg/m). We found that 55% of individuals with severe obesity had unquantifiable titers of neutralizing antibody against authentic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus compared to 12% of individuals with normal BMI (P = 0.0003) 6 months after their second vaccine dose. Furthermore, we observed that, for individuals with severe obesity, at any given anti-spike and anti-receptor-binding domain (RBD) antibody level, neutralizing capacity was lower than that of individuals with a normal BMI. Neutralizing capacity was restored by a third dose of vaccine but again declined more rapidly in people with severe obesity. We demonstrate that waning of COVID-19 vaccine-induced humoral immunity is accelerated in individuals with severe obesity. As obesity is associated with increased hospitalization and mortality from breakthrough infections, our findings have implications for vaccine prioritization policies.
FOXP3 deficiency results in severe multisystem autoimmunity in both mice and humans, driven by the absence of functional regulatory T cells. Patients typically present with early and severe autoimmune polyendocrinopathy, dermatitis, and severe inflammation of the gut, leading to villous atrophy and ultimately malabsorption, wasting, and failure to thrive. In the absence of successful treatment, FOXP3-deficient patients usually die within the first 2 years of life. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation provides a curative option but first requires adequate control over the inflammatory condition. Due to the rarity of the condition, no clinical trials have been conducted, with widely unstandardized therapeutic approaches. We sought to compare the efficacy of lead therapeutic candidates rapamycin, anti-CD4 antibody, and CTLA4-Ig in controlling the physiological and immunological manifestations of Foxp3 deficiency in mice.
The ability of cells to store and rapidly mobilize energy reserves in response to nutrient availability is essential for survival. Breakdown of carbon stores produces acetyl-coenzyme-A (AcCoA), which fuels essential metabolic pathways and is also the acyl donor for protein lysine acetylation. Histones are abundant and highly acetylated proteins, accounting for 40% - 75% of cellular protein acetylation. Notably, histone acetylation is sensitive to AcCoA availability and nutrient replete conditions induce a substantial accumulation of acetylation on histones. Deacetylation releases acetate, which can be recycled to AcCoA, suggesting that deacetylation could be mobilized as an AcCoA source to feed downstream metabolic processes under nutrient depletion. While the notion of histones as a metabolic reservoir has been frequently proposed, experimental evidence has been lacking. Therefore, to test this concept directly, we used acetate-dependent ATP citrate lyase-deficient fibroblasts (Acly MEFs) and designed a pulse-chase experimental system to trace deacetylation-derived acetate and its incorporation into AcCoA. We found that dynamic protein deacetylation in Acly MEFs contributed carbons to AcCoA and proximal downstream metabolites. However, deacetylation had no significant effect on acyl-CoA pool sizes, and even at maximal acetylation, deacetylation transiently supplied less than 10% of cellular AcCoA. Together, our data reveal that although histone acetylation is dynamic and nutrient-sensitive, its potential for maintaining cellular AcCoA-dependent metabolic pathways is limited compared to cellular demand.
Genomes are inherently unstable and require constant DNA repair to maintain their genetic information. However, selective pressure has optimized repair mechanisms in somatic cells only to allow transmitting genetic information to the next generation, not to maximize sequence integrity long beyond the reproductive age. Recent studies have confirmed that somatic mutations, due to errors during genome repair and replication, accumulate in tissues and organs of humans and model organisms. Here, we describe recent advances in the quantitative analysis of somatic mutations in vivo. We also review evidence for or against a possible causal role of somatic mutations in aging. Finally, we discuss options to prevent, delay or eliminate de novo, random somatic mutations as a cause of aging.
Cellular metabolism is tightly regulated by growth factor signaling, which promotes metabolic rewiring to support growth and proliferation. While growth factor-induced transcriptional and post-translational modes of metabolic regulation have been well defined, whether post-transcriptional mechanisms impacting mRNA stability regulate this process is less clear. Here, we present the ZFP36/L1/L2 family of RNA-binding proteins and mRNA decay factors as key drivers of metabolic regulation downstream of acute growth factor signaling. We quantitatively catalog metabolic enzyme and nutrient transporter mRNAs directly bound by ZFP36 following growth factor stimulation-many of which encode rate-limiting steps in metabolic pathways. Further, we show that ZFP36 directly promotes the mRNA decay of Enolase 2 (Eno2), altering Eno2 protein expression and enzymatic activity, and provide evidence of a ZFP36/Eno2 axis during VEGF-stimulated developmental retinal angiogenesis. Thus, ZFP36-mediated mRNA decay serves as an important mode of metabolic regulation downstream of growth factor signaling within dynamic cell and tissue states.
Innate or acquired resistance to small molecule BRAF or MEK1/2 inhibitors (BRAFi or MEKi) typically arises through mechanisms that sustain or reinstate ERK1/2 activation. This has led to the development of a range of ERK1/2 inhibitors (ERKi) that either inhibit kinase catalytic activity (catERKi) or additionally prevent the activating pT-E-pY dual phosphorylation of ERK1/2 by MEK1/2 (dual-mechanism or dmERKi). Here we show that eight different ERKi (both catERKi or dmERKi) drive the turnover of ERK2, the most abundant ERK isoform, with little or no effect on ERK1. Thermal stability assays show that ERKi do not destabilise ERK2 (or ERK1) in vitro, suggesting that ERK2 turnover is a cellular consequence of ERKi binding. ERK2 turnover is not observed upon treatment with MEKi alone, suggesting it is ERKi binding to ERK2 that drives ERK2 turnover. However, MEKi pre-treatment, which blocks ERK2 pT-E-pY phosphorylation and dissociation from MEK1/2, prevents ERK2 turnover. ERKi treatment of cells drives the poly-ubiquitylation and proteasome-dependent turnover of ERK2 and pharmacological or genetic inhibition of Cullin-RING E3 ligases prevents this. Our results suggest that ERKi, including current clinical candidates, act as 'kinase degraders', driving the proteasome-dependent turnover of their major target, ERK2. This may be relevant to the suggestion of kinase-independent effects of ERK1/2 and the therapeutic use of ERKi.
Pre-existing but untranslated or 'poised' mRNA exists as a means to rapidly induce the production of specific proteins in response to stimuli and as a safeguard to limit the actions of these proteins. The translation of poised mRNA enables immune cells to express quickly genes that enhance immune responses. The molecular mechanisms that repress the translation of poised mRNA and, upon stimulation, enable translation have yet to be elucidated. They likely reflect intrinsic properties of the mRNAs and their interactions with trans-acting factors that direct poised mRNAs away from or into the ribosome. Here, I discuss mechanisms by which this might be regulated.
Cognitive decline is a common pathological outcome during aging, with an ill-defined molecular and cellular basis. In recent years, the concept of inflammaging, defined as a low-grade inflammation increasing with age, has emerged. Infiltrating T cells accumulate in the brain with age and may contribute to the amplification of inflammatory cascades and disruptions to the neurogenic niche observed with age. Recently, a small resident population of regulatory T cells has been identified in the brain, and the capacity of IL2-mediated expansion of this population to counter neuroinflammatory disease has been demonstrated. Here, we test a brain-specific IL2 delivery system for the prevention of neurological decline in aging mice. We identify the molecular hallmarks of aging in the brain glial compartments and identify partial restoration of this signature through IL2 treatment. At a behavioral level, brain IL2 delivery prevented the age-induced defect in spatial learning, without improving the general decline in motor skill or arousal. These results identify immune modulation as a potential path to preserving cognitive function for healthy aging.
Effective vaccines have reduced SARS-CoV-2 morbidity and mortality; however, the elderly remain the most at risk. Understanding how vaccines generate protective immunity, and how these mechanisms change with age is key for informing future vaccine design. Cytotoxic CD8 T cells are important for killing virally infected cells, and vaccines that induce antigen specific CD8 T cells in addition to humoral immunity provide an extra layer of immune protection. This is particularly important in cases where antibody titres are sub-optimal, as can occur in older individuals. Here, we show that in aged mice, spike-epitope specific CD8 T cells are generated in comparable numbers to younger animals after ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccination, although phenotypic differences exist. This demonstrates that ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 elicits a good CD8 T cell response in older bodies, but that typical age-associated features are evident on these vaccine reactive T cells.
An overview on the molecular and metabolic mechanisms behind individual cell differences in developmental timing in the segmentation clock and the central nervous system.
Arbovirus can cause diseases with a broad spectrum from mild to severe and long-lasting symptoms, affecting humans worldwide and therefore considered a public health problem with global and diverse socio-economic impacts. Understanding how they spread within and across different regions is necessary to devise strategies to control and prevent new outbreaks. Complex network approaches have widespread use to get important insights on several phenomena, as the spread of these viruses within a given region. This work uses the motif-synchronization methodology to build time varying complex networks based on data of registered infections caused by Zika, chikungunya, and dengue virus from 2014 to 2020, in 417 cities of the state of Bahia, Brazil. The resulting network sets capture new information on the spread of the diseases that are related to the time delay in the synchronization of the time series among different municipalities. Thus the work adds new and important network-based insights to previous results based on dengue dataset in the period 2001-2016. The most frequent synchronization delay time between time series in different cities, which control the insertion of edges in the networks, ranges 7 to 14 days, a period that is compatible with the time of the individual-mosquito-individual transmission cycle of these diseases. As the used data covers the initial periods of the first Zika and chikungunya outbreaks, our analyses reveal an increasing monotonic dependence between distance among cities and the time delay for synchronization between the corresponding time series. The same behavior was not observed for dengue, first reported in the region back in 1986, either in the previously 2001-2016 based results or in the current work. These results show that, as the number of outbreaks accumulates, different strategies must be adopted to combat the dissemination of arbovirus infections.
There is widespread interest in the three-dimensional chromatin conformation of the genome and its impact on gene expression. However, these studies frequently do not consider parent-of-origin differences, such as genomic imprinting, which result in monoallelic expression. In addition, genome-wide allele-specific chromatin conformation associations have not been extensively explored. There are few accessible bioinformatic workflows for investigating allelic conformation differences and these require pre-phased haplotypes which are not widely available.
At the time of its discovery and characterization in 1994, leptin was mostly considered a metabolic hormone able to regulate body weight and energy homeostasis. However, in recent years, a great deal of literature has revealed leptin's pleiotropic nature, through its involvement in numerous physiological contexts including the regulation of the female reproductive tract and ovarian function. Obesity has been largely associated with infertility, and leptin signalling is known to be dysregulated in the ovaries of obese females. Hence, the disruption of ovarian leptin signalling was shown to contribute to the pathophysiology of ovarian failure in obese females, affecting transcriptional programmes in the gamete and somatic cells. This review attempts to uncover the underlying mechanisms contributing to female infertility associated with obesity, as well as to shed light on the role of leptin in the metabolic dysregulation within the follicle, the effects on the oocyte epigenome, and the potential long-term consequence to embryo programming.