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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
I am a senior lecturer in Cell Bilogy and a member of the plant biology group. My research focuses on the nuclear envelope in plants. I first became interested in this research area during my PhD studies (2005-2008) in the lab of Prof David Evans. Previous to this I completed my BSc in Cell and Human Biology here at Oxford Brookes University.
In eukaryotic cells the genetic material is surrounded by a membrane system called the nuclear envelope (NE). In plants, this membrane is poorly understood in terms of how it functions and what it consists of. My research focuses on studying protein components of the plant NE. During my PhD studies I identified two such proteins – the Sad1/Unc84 (SUN) domain proteins. I’m using cell and molecular biology techniques, biochemistry as well as microscopy to characterise the plant SUN proteins. This includes finding out what other proteins the SUNs bind to and what functions they have during cell division.
Plant Cell Biology Research Group
The linker of nucleoskeleton and cytoskeleton (LINC) complex is an essential multi-protein structure spanning the eukaryotic nuclear envelope. The LINC complex functions to maintain nuclear architecture, positioning, and mobility, along with specialized functions in meiotic prophase and chromosome segregation. Members of the LINC complex were recently identified in maize, an important scientific and agricultural grass species. Here we characterized Maize LINC KASH AtSINE-like2, MLKS2, which encodes a highly conserved SINE-group plant KASH protein with characteristic N-terminal armadillo repeats (ARM). Using a heterologous expression system, we showed that actively expressed GFP-MLKS2 is targeted to the nuclear periphery and colocalizes with F-actin and the endoplasmic reticulum, but not microtubules in the cell cortex. Expression of GFP-MLKS2, but not GFP-MLKS2ΔARM, resulted in nuclear anchoring. Genetic analysis of transposon-insertion mutations, mlks2-1 and mlks2-2, showed that the mutant phenotypes were pleiotropic, affecting root hair nuclear morphology, stomatal complex development, multiple aspects of meiosis, and pollen viability. In male meiosis, the mutants showed defects for bouquet-stage telomere clustering, nuclear repositioning, perinuclear actin accumulation, dispersal of late prophase bivalents, and meiotic chromosome segregation. These findings support a model in which the nucleus is connected to cytoskeletal F-actin through the ARM-domain, predicted alpha solenoid structure of MLKS2. Functional conservation of MLKS2 was demonstrated through genetic rescue of the misshapen nuclear phenotype of an Arabidopsis (triple-WIP) KASH mutant. This study establishes a role for the SINE-type KASH proteins in affecting the dynamic nuclear phenomena required for normal plant growth and fertility.
Protein targeting to the inner nuclear membrane (INM) is one of the least understood protein targeting pathways. INM proteins are important for chromatin organization, nuclear morphology and movement, meiosis, and have been implicated in human diseases. In opisthokonts, one mechanism is transport-factor mediated trafficking, in which nuclear localization signals (NLSs) function in nuclear import of transmembrane proteins. To explore if this pathway exists in plants, we fused the SV40 NLS to a plant ER tail-anchored protein and showed that the GFP-tagged fusion protein was significantly enriched at the NE of leaf epidermal cells. Airyscan sub-diffraction limited confocal microscopy showed that it displays localization consistent with an INM protein. Nine different monopartite and bipartite NLSs from plants and opisthokonts, fused to a chimeric tail-anchored membrane protein, were all sufficient for NE enrichment and both monopartite or bipartite NLSs were sufficient for trafficking to the INM. Tolerance for different linker lengths and protein conformations suggests that INM trafficking rules might differ from those in opisthokonts. The INM proteins developed here can be used to target new functionalities to the plant nuclear periphery.
Mitosis and meiosis in higher plants involves significant reconfiguration of the nuclear envelope and the proteins that interact with it. The dynamic series of events involves a range of interactions, movement, breakdown and reformation of this complex system. Recently, progress has been made in identifying and characterising the protein and membrane interactome that performs these complex tasks, including constituents of the nuclear envelope, the cytoskeleton, nucleoskeleton and chromatin. This review will present current understanding of these interactions and advances in knowledge of the processes for the breakdown and reformation of the nuclear envelope during cell divisions in plants.
Protein targeting to the inner nuclear membrane (INM) is one of the least understood protein targeting pathways. INM proteins are important for chromatin organization, nuclear morphology and movement, and meiosis, and have been implicated in human diseases. In opisthokonts, one mechanism for INM targeting is transport factor-mediated trafficking, in which nuclear localization signals (NLSs) function in nuclear import of transmembrane proteins. To explore whether this pathway exists in plants, we fused the SV40 NLS to a plant ER tail-anchored protein and showed that the GFP-tagged fusion protein was significantly enriched at the nuclear envelope (NE) of leaf epidermal cells. Airyscan subdiffraction limited confocal microscopy showed that this protein displays a localization consistent with an INM protein. Nine different monopartite and bipartite NLSs from plants and opisthokonts, fused to a chimeric tail-anchored membrane protein, were all sufficient for NE enrichment, and both monopartite and bipartite NLSs were sufficient for trafficking to the INM. Tolerance for different linker lengths and protein conformations suggests that INM trafficking rules might differ from those in opisthokonts. The INM proteins developed here can be used to target new functionalities to the plant nuclear periphery.
The LINC (Linker of Nucleoskeleton to Cytoskeleton) complex is an essential multi protein structure spanning the nuclear envelope. It connects the cytoplasm to the nucleoplasm, functions to maintain nuclear shape and architecture, and regulates chromosome dynamics during cell division. Knowledge of LINC complex composition and function in the plant kingdom is primarily limited to Arabidopsis, but critically missing from the evolutionarily distant monocots which include grasses, the most important agronomic crops worldwide. To fill this knowledge gap, we identified and characterized 22 maize genes, including a new grass-specific KASH gene family. Using bioinformatic, biochemical, and cell biological approaches, we provide evidence that representative KASH candidates localize to the nuclear periphery and interact with ZmSUN2 in vivo. FRAP experiments using domain-deletion constructs verified that this SUN-KASH interaction was dependent on the SUN but not the coiled-coil domain of ZmSUN2. A summary working model is proposed for the entire maize LINC complex encoded by conserved and divergent gene families. These findings expand our knowledge of the plant nuclear envelope in a model grass species, with implications for both basic and applied cellular research.
The movement of chromosomes during meiosis involves location of their telomeres at the inner surface of the nuclear envelope. Sad1/UNC-84 (SUN) domain proteins are inner nuclear envelope proteins that are part of complexes linking cytoskeletal elements with the nucleoskeleton, connecting telomeres to the force-generating mechanism in the cytoplasm. These proteins play a conserved role in chromosome dynamics in eukaryotes. Homologues of SUN domain proteins have been identified in several plant species. In Arabidopsis thaliana, two proteins that interact with each other, named AtSUN1 and AtSUN2, have been identified.
Immunolocalization using antibodies against AtSUN1 and AtSUN2 proteins revealed that they were associated with the nuclear envelope during meiotic prophase I. Analysis of the double mutant Atsun1-1 Atsun2-2 has revealed severe meiotic defects, namely a delay in the progression of meiosis, absence of full synapsis, the presence of unresolved interlock-like structures, and a reduction in the mean cell chiasma frequency. We propose that in Arabidopsis thaliana, overlapping functions of SUN1 and SUN2 ensure normal meiotic recombination and synapsis.
In non-plant systems, chromatin association with the nuclear periphery affects gene expression, where interactions with nuclear envelope proteins can repress and interactions with nucleoporins can enhance transcription. In plants, both hetero- and euchromatin can localise at the nuclear periphery, but the effect of proximity to the nuclear periphery on gene expression remains largely unknown. This study explores the putative function of Seh1 and Nup50a nucleoporins on gene expression by using the Lac Operator / Lac Repressor (LacI-LacO) system adapted to Arabidopsis thaliana. We used LacO fused to the luciferase reporter gene (LacO:Luc) to investigate whether binding of the LacO:Luc transgene to nucleoporin:LacI protein fusions alters luciferase expression. Two separate nucleoporin-LacI-YFP fusions were introduced into single insert, homozygous LacO:Luc Arabidopsis plants. Homozygous plants carrying LacO:Luc and a single insert of either Seh1-LacI-YFP or Nup50a-LacI-YFP were tested for luciferase activity and compared to plants containing LacO:Luc only. Seh1-LacI-YFP increased, while Nup50a-LacI-YFP decreased luciferase activity. Seh1-LacI-YFP accumulated at the nuclear periphery as expected, while Nup50a-LacI-YFP was nucleoplasmic and was not selected for further study. Protein and RNA levels of luciferase were quantified by western blotting and RT-qPCR, respectively. Increased luciferase activity in LacO:Luc+Seh1-LacI-YFP plants was correlated with increased luciferase protein and RNA levels. This change of luciferase expression was abolished by disruption of LacI-LacO binding by treating with IPTG in young seedlings, rosette leaves and inflorescences. This study suggests that association with the nuclear periphery is involved in the regulation of gene expression in plants.
Sad1/UNC84 (SUN) domain proteins are a highly conserved family of inner nuclear membrane localised proteins in eukaryotes. One of their main functions is as key components of nucleo-cytoskeletal bridging complexes, in which SUN proteins associate with nucleoskeletal elements. In metazoans these are the lamins, which form a supportive structural network termed the lamina. Plants lack sequence homologs of lamins but have a similar nucleoplasmic structural network to support the plant NE. Putative components of this plant lamina-like structure are Little Nuclei (LINC) proteins, which bear structural resemblance to lamins and fulfil similar functions. This work explores the associations between AtLINC1, AtSUN1 and AtSUN2. AtLINC1 is recruited to the NE by SUN proteins and is immobilised therein. This recruitment and the immobile properties are likely due to AtSUN1/2-AtLINC1 protein interactions occurring in planta. In addition, the SUN N-terminus appears to play an important role in mediating these interactions. The associations between AtLINC1 and plant SUN proteins are a first indicator of how the nucleoskeleton may be anchored to the nuclear membrane in plants. Building on the previous characterisation of Klarsicht/Anc1/Syne1 homology (KASH) like proteins in plants, this study advances the identification and characterisation of nucleo-cytoskeletal bridging complexes in plants.
SUN-domain proteins belong to a gene family including classical Cter-SUN and mid-SUN subfamilies differentiated by the position of the SUN domain within the protein. Although present in animal and plant species, mid-SUN proteins have so far remained poorly described. Here, we used a combination of genetics, yeast two-hybrid and in planta transient expression methods to better characterize the SUN family in Arabidopsis thaliana. First, we validated the mid-SUN protein subfamily as a monophyletic group conserved from yeast to plant. Arabidopsis Cter-SUN (AtSUN1 and AtSUN2) and mid-SUN (AtSUN3 and AtSUN4) proteins expressed as fluorescent protein fusions are membrane-associated and localize to the nuclear envelope (NE) and endoplasmic reticulum. However, only the Cter-SUN subfamily is enriched at the NE. We investigated interactions in and between members of the two subfamilies and identified the coiled-coil domain as necessary for mediating interactions. The functional significance of the mid-SUN subfamily was further confirmed in mutant plants as essential for early seed development and involved in nuclear morphology. Finally, we demonstrated that both subfamilies interact with the KASH domain of AtWIP1 and identified a new root-specific KASH-domain protein, AtTIK. AtTIK localizes to the NE and affects nuclear morphology. Our study indicates that Arabidopsis Cter-SUN and mid-SUN proteins are involved in a complex protein network at the nuclear membranes, reminiscent of the LInker of Nucleoskeleton and Cytoskeleton (LINC) complex found in other kingdoms.
Following the description of SAD1/UNC84 (SUN) domain proteins in higher plants, evidence has rapidly increased that plants contain a functional linker of nucleoskeleton and cytoskeleton (LINC) complex bridging the nuclear envelope (NE). While the SUN domain proteins appear to be highly conserved across kingdoms, other elements of the complex are not and some key components and interactions remain to be identified. This mini review examines components of the LINC complex, including proteins of the SUN domain family and recently identified plant Klarsicht/Anc/Syne-1 homology (KASH) domain proteins. First of these to be described were WIPs (WPP domain interacting proteins), which act as protein anchors in the outer NE. The plant KASH homologs are C-terminally anchored membrane proteins with the extreme C-terminus located in the nuclear periplasm; AtWIPs contain a highly conserved X-VPT motif at the C-terminus in contrast to PPPX in opisthokonts. The role of the LINC complex in organisms with a cell wall, and description of further LINC complex components will be considered, together with other potential plant-specific functions.
Although a plethora of nuclear envelope (NE) transmembrane proteins (NETs) have been identified in opisthokonts, plant NETs are largely unknown. The only known NET homologues in plants are Sad1/UNC-84 (SUN) proteins, which bind Klarsicht/ANC-1/Syne-1 homology (KASH) proteins. Therefore, de novo identification of plant NETs is necessary. Based on similarities between opisthokont KASH proteins and the only known plant KASH proteins, WPP domain–interacting proteins, we used a computational method to identify the KASH subset of plant NETs. Ten potential plant KASH protein families were identified, and five candidates from four of these families were verified for their NE localization, depending on SUN domain interaction. Of those, Arabidopsis thaliana SINE1 is involved in actin-dependent nuclear positioning in guard cells, whereas its paralogue SINE2 contributes to innate immunity against an oomycete pathogen. This study dramatically expands our knowledge of plant KASH proteins and suggests that plants and opisthokonts have recruited different KASH proteins to perform NE regulatory functions.
The nuclear periphery is a dynamic, structured environment, whose precise functions are essential for global processes-from nuclear, to cellular, to organismal. Its main components-the nuclear envelope (NE) with inner and outer nuclear membranes (INM and ONM), nuclear pore complexes (NPC), associated cytoskeletal and nucleoskeletal components as well as chromatin are conserved across eukaryotes (Fig. 1). In metazoans in particular, the structure and functions of nuclear periphery components are intensely researched partly because of their involvement in various human diseases. While far less is known about these in plants, the last few years have seen a significant increase in research activity in this area. Plant biologists are not only catching up with the animal field, but recent findings are pushing our advances in this field globally. In recognition of this developing field, the Annual Society of Experimental Biology Meeting in Salzburg kindly hosted a session co-organized by Katja Graumann and David E. Evans (Oxford Brookes University) highlighting new insights into plant nuclear envelope proteins and their interactions. This session brought together leading researchers with expertise in topics such as epigenetics, meiosis, nuclear pore structure and functions, nucleoskeleton and nuclear envelope composition. An open and friendly exchange of ideas was fundamental to the success of the meeting, which resulted in founding the International Plant Nucleus Consortium. This review highlights new developments in plant nuclear envelope research presented at the conference and their importance for the wider understanding of metazoan, yeast and plant nuclear envelope functions and properties.
In yeasts and animals, premature entry into mitosis is prevented by the inhibitory phosphorylation of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) by WEE1 kinase, and, at mitosis, WEE1 protein is removed through the action of the 26S proteasome. Although in higher plants WEE1 function has been confirmed in the DNA replication checkpoint, Arabidopsis wee1 insertion mutants grow normally, and a role for the protein in the G2/M transition during an unperturbed plant cell cycle is yet to be confirmed. Here data are presented showing that the inhibitory effect of WEE1 on CDK activity in tobacco BY-2 cell cultures is cell cycle regulated independently of the DNA replication checkpoint: it is high during S-phase but drops as cells traverse G2 and enter mitosis. To investigate this mechanism further, a yeast two-hybrid screen was undertaken to identify proteins interacting with Arabidopsis WEE1. Three F-box proteins and a subunit of the proteasome complex were identified, and bimolecular fluorescence complementation confirmed an interaction between AtWEE1 and the F-box protein SKP1 INTERACTING PARTNER 1 (SKIP1). Furthermore, the AtWEE1–green fluorescent protein (GFP) signal in Arabidopsis primary roots treated with the proteasome inhibitor MG132 was significantly increased compared with mock-treated controls. Expression of AtWEE1–YFPC (C-terminal portion of yellow fluorescent protein) or AtWEE1 per se in tobacco BY-2 cells resulted in a premature increase in the mitotic index compared with controls, whereas co-expression of AtSKIP1–YFPN negated this effect. These data support a role for WEE1 in a normal plant cell cycle and its removal at mitosis via the 26S proteasome.
Inner nuclear membrane Sad1/UNC-84 (SUN) proteins interact with outer nuclear membrane (ONM) Klarsicht/ANC-1/Syne homology (KASH) proteins, forming linkers of nucleoskeleton to cytoskeleton conserved from yeast to human and involved in positioning of nuclei and chromosomes. Defects in SUN-KASH bridges are linked to muscular dystrophy, progeria, and cancer. SUN proteins were recently identified in plants, but their ONM KASH partners are unknown. Arabidopsis WPP domain interacting proteins (AtWIPs) are plant-specific ONM proteins that redundantly anchor Arabidopsis RanGTPase-activating protein 1 (AtRanGAP1) to the nuclear envelope (NE). In this paper, we report that AtWIPs are plant-specific KASH proteins interacting with Arabidopsis SUN proteins (AtSUNs). The interaction is required for both AtWIP1 and AtRanGAP1 NE localization. AtWIPs and AtSUNs are necessary for maintaining the elongated nuclear shape of Arabidopsis epidermal cells. Together, our data identify the first KASH members in the plant kingdom and provide a novel function of SUN-KASH complexes, suggesting that a functionally diverged SUN-KASH bridge is conserved beyond the opisthokonts.
Controlled movement Of the nucleus is important in a wide variety of plant cellular events Positioning involving intact nuclei occurs in cell division, development, tip growing systems such as the root hair and in response to stimuli, including light, touch and infection. Positioning is also essential in the division and replication of nuclear components, ranging from chromosome attachment to the breakdown and reformation of the nuclear envelope. Although description and understanding of the processes involved have advanced rapidly in recent years, significant gaps remain in our knowledge, especially concerning nuclear proteins involved in anchoring and interacting with cytoskeletal and nucleoskeletal elements involved in movement. In the present review, processes involving the movement and positioning of nuclei and nuclear components are described together with novel proteins implicated in nucleoskeletal and cytoskeletal interactions.
Sad1/UNC-84 (SUN)-domain proteins are inner nuclear membrane (INM) proteins that are part of bridging complexes linking cytoskeletal elements with the nucleoskeleton, and have been shown to be conserved in non-plant systems. In this paper, we report the presence of members of this family in the plant kingdom, and investigate the two Arabidopsis SUN-domain proteins, AtSUN1 and AtSUN2. Our results indicate they contain the highly conserved C-terminal SUN domain, and share similar structural features with animal and fungal SUN-domain proteins including a functional coiled-coil domain and nuclear localization signal. Both are expressed in various tissues with AtSUN2 expression levels relatively low but upregulated in proliferating tissues. Further, we found AtSUN1 and AtSUN2 expressed as fluorescent protein fusions, to localize to and show low mobility in the nuclear envelope (NE), particularly in the INM. Deletion of various functional domains including the N terminus and coiled-coil domain affect the localization and increase the mobility of AtSUN1 and AtSUN2. Finally, we present evidence that AtSUN1 and AtSUN2 are present as homomers and heteromers in vivo, and that the coiled-coil domains are required for this. The study provides evidence suggesting the existence of cytoskeletal-nucleoskeletal bridging complexes at the plant NE.
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 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 analysis of nuclear envelope components and their function has recently been progressed by the use of computational methods of analysis. The methods in this chapter provided by members of the International Plant Nucleus Consortium address the identification of novel nuclear envelope proteins and the study of structure and mobility of the nucleus. DORY2 is an upgrade of the KASH-finder DORY, and NucleusJ is used to characterize the three-dimensional structure of the nucleus in light microscope images. Finally, a method is provided for analysis of the migration of the nucleus, a key technique for exploring the function of plant nuclear proteins.
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.