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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
+44 (0)1865 484171
I gained my PhD in plant cell biology from Oxford Brookes University in 2004, which was provided great training in different imaging techniques which I continue to use today. I have since worked in a number of groups within the university, firstly continuing in the Plant Endomembrane Research Group working on pharmaceutical protein production in plants. Then moving to the Genomic Instability Research Group in 2008, looking at non-targeted effects in cells exposed to low levels of radiation. From here I moved to the Insect Virus Research Group where I study virus-host cell interactions.
Communication between irradiated and un-irradiated (bystander) cells can cause damage in cells that are not directly targeted by ionizing radiation, a process known as the bystander effect. Bystander effects can also lead to chromosomal/genomic instability within the progeny of bystander cells, similar to the progeny of directly irradiated cells. The factors that mediate this cellular communication can be transferred between cells via gap junctions or released into the extracellular media following irradiation, but their nature has not been fully characterized. In this study we tested the hypothesis that the bystander effect mediator contains an RNA molecule that may be carried by exosomes. MCF7 cells were irradiated with 2 Gy of X rays and the extracellular media was harvested. RNase treatment abrogated the ability of the media to induce early and late chromosomal damage in bystander cells. Furthermore, treatment of bystander cells with exosomes isolated from this media increased the levels of genomic damage. These results suggest that the bystander effect, and genomic instability, are at least in part mediated by exosomes and implicate a role for RNA.
This work investigates the hypothesis that genetic background plays a significant role in the signalling mechanisms underlying induction and perpetuation of genomic instability following radiation exposure.
Bone marrow from two strains of mice (CBA and C57) were exposed to a range of X-ray doses (0, 0.01, 0.1, 1 and 3 Gy). Different cellular signalling endpoints: Apoptosis, cytokine levels and calcium flux, were evaluated at 2 h, 24 h and 7 d post-irradiation to assess immediate and delayed effects.
In CBA (radiosensitive) elevated apoptosis levels were observed at 24 h post X-irradiation, and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) levels which increased with time and dose. C57 showed a higher background level of apoptosis, and sustained apoptotic levels 7 days after radiation exposure. Levels of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α were increased in C57 at day 7 for higher X-ray doses. TGF-β levels were higher in CBA, whilst C57 exhibited a greater TNF-α response. Calcium flux was induced in reporter cells on exposure to conditioned media from both strains.
These results show genetic and dose specific differences in radiation-induced signalling in the initiation and perpetuation of the instability process, which have potential implications on evaluation of non-targeted effects in radiation risk assessment.
Mechanical vector-less transmission of viruses, as well as vector-mediated non-circulative virus transmission, where the virus attaches only to the exterior of the vector during the passage to a new host, are apparently simple processes: the viruses are carried along with the wind, the food or by the vector to a new host. We discuss here, using the examples of the non-circulatively transmittedCauliflower mosaic virus that binds to its aphid vector's exterior mouthparts, and that of the mechanically (during feeding activity) transmitted Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus, that transmission of these viruses is not so simple as previously thought. Rather, these viruses prepare their transmission carefully and long before the actual acquisition event. Host–virus interactions play a pivotal and specialised role in the future encounter with the vector or the new host. This ensures optimal propagation and enlarges the tremendous bottleneck transmission presents for viruses and other pathogens.
P>The B-cell antigen receptor (BCR), displayed on the plasma membrane of mature B cells of the mammalian immune system, is a multimeric complex consisting of a membrane-bound immunoglobulin (mIg) noncovalently associated with the Ig alpha/Ig beta heterodimer. In this study, we engineered transgenic tobacco plants expressing all four chains of the BCR. ELISA, Western blotting and confocal microscopy demonstrated that the BCR was correctly assembled in plants, predominantly in the plasma membrane, and that the noncovalent link was detergent sensitive. This is the first example of a noncovalently assembled plasma membrane-retained heterologous receptor in plants. In B cells of the mammalian immune system, following antigen binding to mIg, BCR is internalized and tyrosine residues on Ig alpha and Ig beta are phosphorylated activating a signaling cascade through interaction with protein kinases that ultimately leads to the initiation of gene expression. Expression of the BCR may therefore be an important tool for the study of plant endocytosis and the identification of previously unknown plant tyrosine kinases. The specificity and diversity of the antibody repertoire, coupled to the signal transduction capability of the Ig alpha/Ig beta heterodimer, also indicates that plants expressing BCR may in future be developed as environmental biosensors.
In order to further understand the production and intracellular trafficking of pharmaceutical proteins in plants, the light and heavy chains (LC and HC) of the human immunodeficiency virus neutralizing monoclonal antibody 2G12 were fused to fluorescent proteins [Venus and monomeric red fluorescent protein (mRFP)] to enable the visualization of their passage through the plant cell. Co- expression of LC and HC with various markers of the endomembrane system demonstrated that LC fusions were found in mobile punctate structures, which are likely to be pre-vacuolar compartments (PVCs) as a proportion of the LC fusions were found to be located in the vacuole. In addition, apoplast labelling was also observed with a 2G12LC-RFP fusion. The HC fusion expressed alone was found only in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). When the LC and HC fusions were expressed together, they were found to co-locate to larger punctate structures, which were morphologically distinct from any observed on expression of LC or HC alone. These structures appeared to be in close association with the ER and their labelling partially overlapped with PVC marker fluorescence, but no increase in apoplast labelling was observed. Co-immunoprecipitation data demonstrated that the presence of the fluorescent proteins did not affect the assembly of the antibody, and also showed the association of BiP with the antibody chains. The antigen-binding activity of the Venus- fused 2G12 antibody was confirmed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
A GFP fusion to the N-terminal 238 amino acids of the mammalian lamin B receptor (LBR) localises to the nuclear envelope (NE) when expressed in Nicotiana tabacum plants, showing properties expected of a native plant NE protein. In this study, we have used this chimaeric construct to explore evidence for common mechanisms of NE targeting and retention between plants and animals, given there is no plant homologue of the mammalian LBR or of one of its binding partners, lamin B. Binding mutants of LBR-GFP were created and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching of mutant and wild type constructs employed to examine their retention in the plant NE. Unmutated LBR-GFP was significantly less mobile in the NE than the lamin binding domain deletion mutant, which was also localised to theER and punctate structures in some cells. Mutation of the chromatin binding domain resulted in localisation of the protein in nuclear inclusions, in which it was immobile. Our findings, that expression of truncated LBR-GFP in plant cells results in altered targeting and retention relative to wt LBR-GFP, suggest that plant cells can recognize the INM-targeting motif of LBR. Altered mobility of the truncated probe indicates that not only do plant cells recognize this signal, but also have nuclear proteins that interact weakly with LBR.
The levels of accumulation of recombinant vaccines in transgenic plants are protein specific and strongly influenced by the subcellular compartment of destination. The human immunodeficiency virus protein Nef (negative factor), a promising target for the development of an antiviral vaccine, is a cytosolic protein that accumulates to low levels in transgenic tobacco and is even more unstable when introduced into the secretory pathway, probably because of folding defects in the non-cytosolic environment. To improve Nef accumulation, a new strategy was developed to anchor the molecule to the cytosolic face of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane. For this purpose, the Nef sequence was fused to the C-terminal domain of mammalian ER cytochrome b5, a long-lived, tail-anchored (TA) protein. This consistently increased Nef accumulation by more than threefold in many independent transgenic tobacco plants. Real-time polymerase chain reaction of mRNA levels and protein pulse-chase analysis indicated that the increase was not caused by higher transcript levels but by enhanced protein stability. Subcellular fractionation and immunocytochemistry indicated that Nef-TA accumulated on the ER membrane. Over-expression of mammalian or plant ER cytochrome b5 caused the formation of stacked membrane structures, as observed previously in similar experiments performed in mammalian cells; however, Nef-TA did not alter membrane organization in tobacco cells. Finally, Nef could be removed in vitro by its tail-anchor, taking advantage of an engineered thrombin cleavage site. These results open up the way to use tail-anchors to improve foreign protein stability in the plant cytosol without perturbing cellular functions.
The nuclear envelope (NE) is a double membrane system consisting of the inner nuclear envelope (INE), the outer nuclear envelope (ONE) and nuclear pore complexes (NPCs). Most of our knowledge about the NE proteome comes from studies in animal systems. Recent investigations in plant systems have shown that plants do not have homologues for the majority of animal NE proteins. In a previous study in our laboratory, a construct consisting of the N-terminus of the human lamin B receptor (LBR) fused to GFP was shown to target the plant INE. In mammalian cells, LBR is an intrinsic INE protein, whose targeting to the INE is facilitated by a nuclear localization signal and retention in the INE is achieved by LBR binding mainly to chromatin and lamins. In this study the targeting and retention of LBR–GFP in the plant NE has been investigated by introducing mutations in key domains of LBR and employing fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments. Mutation of the chromatin binding domain caused LBR to accumulate in nuclear inclusions in which it was immobile. Deletion of the lamin binding domain resulted in the construct being localized not only to the NE but also ER and to be significantly more mobile then the wild type LBR–GFP in the NE. In the case of both the lamin binding deletion and wild type LBR–GFP, mobility was found to be much greater than previously described in mammalian cells. (Abstracts of the Annual Main Meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology, Glasgow, Scotland, 31st March - 4th April, 2007)
The nuclear envelope (NE) is a double membrane system that forms a protective barrier around chromatin and organises intranuclear structures and activities. The outer nuclear membrane (ONM) is continuous with the ER and associates with cytoskeletal elements. The inner nuclear membrane (INM) interacts with chromatin and the nucleoskeleton and plays a fundamental role in orchestrating nuclear functions such as nucleic acid metabolism. Most of our knowledge of the NE proteome and its functions comes from studies in animal systems. Despite its importance, the plant NE remains poorly understood. Here we present the characterisation of two novel NE proteins, AtSUN1 and AtSUN2, plant homologues of a group of animal and yeast INM proteins containing a well conserved SUN (Sad1/UNC84 homology) domain important for nucleo-cytoskeletal linkage. Both proteins share a similar domain layout to their animal counterparts and appear to interact with each other as indicated by fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Confocal microscopy of fluorescent protein fusions and electron microscopy suggest localisation to the plant INM. Deletion of either the SUN domain or a nuclear localisation signal abolishes this localisation. These SUN domain proteins are the first true inner nuclear envelope proteins to be identified in plants and provide the first evidence for a plant Linker of Cytoskeleton and Nucleoskeleton Complex.