Simon has a BSc in Biochemistry from Hertiot-Watt University (Edinburgh) and a PhD from the University of East Anglia (Norwich). Simon studied for his PhD at the John Innes Centre in Norwich under the supervision of Prof. J. Allan Downie, investigating the role of calcium signalling during legume symbiosis. It was during this time that Simon first used a confocal microscope, sparking an interest in microscopy and imaging technology.
Following his PhD, Simon went to work as a postdoc in Pete Cullen's lab in the Department of Biochemistry at Bristol University, investigating Ras GTPase-activating proteins. These studies required the use of various microscopy systems and cemented Simon’s passion for biological imaging. Simon moved to the Babraham Institute in 2004 where he established the Institute’s core Imaging Facility.
The Imaging Facility now provides state-of-the-art microscopy services essential for the delivery of Institute science and is an important Babraham Research Campus resource supporting the commercial research community.
Rac GTPases are required for neutrophil adhesion and migration, and for the neutrophil effector responses that kill pathogens. These Rac-dependent functions are impaired when neutrophils lack the activators of Rac, Rac-GEFs from the Prex, Vav, and Dock families. In this study, we demonstrate that Tiam1 is also expressed in neutrophils, governing focal complexes, actin cytoskeletal dynamics, polarisation, and migration, in a manner depending on the integrin ligand to which the cells adhere. Tiam1 is dispensable for the generation of reactive oxygen species but mediates degranulation and NETs release in adherent neutrophils, as well as the killing of bacteria. , Tiam1 is required for neutrophil recruitment during aseptic peritonitis and for the clearance of during pulmonary infection. However, Tiam1 functions differently to other Rac-GEFs. Instead of promoting neutrophil adhesion to ICAM1 and stimulating β2 integrin activity as could be expected, Tiam1 restricts these processes. In accordance with these paradoxical inhibitory roles, Tiam1 limits the fMLP-stimulated activation of Rac1 and Rac2 in adherent neutrophils, rather than activating Rac as expected. Tiam1 promotes the expression of several regulators of small GTPases and cytoskeletal dynamics, including αPix, Psd4, Rasa3, and Tiam2. It also controls the association of Rasa3, and potentially αPix, Git2, Psd4, and 14-3-3ζ/δ, with Rac. We propose these latter roles of Tiam1 underlie its effects on Rac and β2 integrin activity and on cell responses. Hence, Tiam1 is a novel regulator of Rac-dependent neutrophil responses that functions differently to other known neutrophil Rac-GEFs.
The PIP/PI3K network is a central regulator of metabolism and is frequently activated in cancer, commonly by loss of the PIP/PI(3,4)P phosphatase, PTEN. Despite huge research investment, the drivers of the PI3K network in normal tissues and how they adapt to overactivation are unclear. We find that in healthy mouse prostate PI3K activity is driven by RTK/IRS signaling and constrained by pathway feedback. In the absence of PTEN, the network is dramatically remodeled. A poorly understood YXXM- and PIP/PI(3,4)P-binding PH domain-containing adaptor, PLEKHS1, became the dominant activator and was required to sustain PIP, AKT phosphorylation, and growth in PTEN-null prostate. This was because PLEKHS1 evaded pathway-feedback and experienced enhanced PI3K- and Src-family kinase-dependent phosphorylation of YXXM, eliciting PI3K activation. hPLEKHS1 mRNA and activating Y phosphorylation of hSrc correlated with PI3K pathway activity in human prostate cancers. We propose that in PTEN-null cells receptor-independent, Src-dependent tyrosine phosphorylation of PLEKHS1 creates positive feedback that escapes homeostasis, drives PIP signaling, and supports tumor progression.
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.