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1.  Spatial Exclusivity Combined with Positive and Negative Selection of Phosphorylation Motifs Is the Basis for Context-Dependent Mitotic Signaling 
Science signaling  2011;4(179):ra42.
The timing and localization of events during mitosis is controlled by the regulated phosphorylation of proteins by the mitotic kinases, which include Aurora A, Aurora B, Nek2, Plk1, and the cyclin-dependent kinase complex Cdk1/cyclin B. Although mitotic kinases can have overlapping subcellular localizations, each kinase appears to phosphorylate its substrates on distinct sites. To gain insight into the relative importance of local sequence context in kinase selectivity, identify previously unknown substrates of these five mitotic kinases, and explore potential mechanisms for substrate discrimination, we determined the optimal substrate motifs of these major mitotic kinases by Positional Scanning Oriented Peptide Library Screening (PS-OPLS). We verified individual motifs with in vitro peptide kinetic studies and used structural modeling to rationalize the kinase-specific selection of key motif-determining residues at the molecular level. Cross comparisons among the phosphorylation site selectivity motifs of these kinases revealed an evolutionarily conserved mutual exclusion mechanism in which the positively and negatively selected portions of the phosphorylation motifs of mitotic kinases, together with their subcellular localizations, result in proper substrate targeting in a coordinated manner during mitosis.
PMCID: PMC3939359  PMID: 21712545
2.  Panta rhei: The APC/C at steady state 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2013;201(2):177-189.
The anaphase-promoting complex or cyclosome (APC/C) is a conserved, multisubunit E3 ubiquitin (Ub) ligase that is active both in dividing and in postmitotic cells. Its contributions to life are especially well studied in the domain of cell division, in which the APC/C lies at the epicenter of a regulatory network that controls the directionality and timing of cell cycle events. Biochemical and structural work is shedding light on the overall organization of APC/C subunits and on the mechanism of substrate recognition and Ub chain initiation and extension as well as on the molecular mechanisms of a checkpoint that seizes control of APC/C activity during mitosis. Here, we review how these recent advancements are modifying our understanding of the APC/C.
PMCID: PMC3628523  PMID: 23589490
3.  Bub3 reads phosphorylated MELT repeats to promote spindle assembly checkpoint signaling 
eLife  2013;2:e01030.
Regulation of macromolecular interactions by phosphorylation is crucial in signaling networks. In the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), which enables errorless chromosome segregation, phosphorylation promotes recruitment of SAC proteins to tensionless kinetochores. The SAC kinase Mps1 phosphorylates multiple Met-Glu-Leu-Thr (MELT) motifs on the kinetochore subunit Spc105/Knl1. The phosphorylated MELT motifs (MELTP) then promote recruitment of downstream signaling components. How MELTP motifs are recognized is unclear. In this study, we report that Bub3, a 7-bladed β-propeller, is the MELTP reader. It contains an exceptionally well-conserved interface that docks the MELTP sequence on the side of the β-propeller in a previously unknown binding mode. Mutations targeting the Bub3 interface prevent kinetochore recruitment of the SAC kinase Bub1. Crucially, they also cause a checkpoint defect, showing that recognition of phosphorylated targets by Bub3 is required for checkpoint signaling. Our data provide the first detailed mechanistic insight into how phosphorylation promotes recruitment of checkpoint proteins to kinetochores.
eLife digest
The cell cycle is the process by which a cell divides to produce two near-identical daughter cells. Two crucial parts of the cell cycle are the duplication of the chromosomes in the original cell, and the segregation of these chromosomes between the two daughter cells. These and other parts of the cell cycle are strictly regulated to prevent errors, which can lead to cancer and other diseases.
After chromosome duplication has taken place, the pairs of identical chromosomes, known as sister chromatids, remain tightly bound to each other. These sister chromatids line up in the middle of the cell, with protein filaments called microtubules connecting them to a bipolar structure called the spindle. For the cell to divide correctly, the sister chromatids in each pair must be connected to opposite poles of the spindle. A signalling network known as the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) ensures that the sister chromatids have enough time to line up correctly and to correct possible problems. Once everything is in place, the SAC releases its ‘break’, and the microtubules then pull the sister chromatids away from each other. This way, each daughter cell receives the same complement of chromosomes that was present in the mother cell.
The microtubules are not directly attached to the sister chromatids but to protein complexes called kinetochores that assemble on each sister chromatid. In particular, each microtubule binds to a very large protein complex called the KMN network. Knl1, which is part of this network, recruits two SAC proteins–Bub1 and Bub3–to the kinetochore. It is known that a phosphate group is added to Knl1 when the SAC is active, and that Knl1 can only recruit Bub1 and Bub3 after it has been phosphorylated. However, the details of the interactions between Knl1, Bub1 and Bub3 are not understood, and it is not clear whether these interactions are essential for the SAC.
Now Primorac et al. have shown that Bub3 binds directly to Knl1 through a region that contains multiple MELT motifs (where M, E, L and T are all amino acids), and that this interaction only happens if these ‘MELT repeats’ have been phosphorylated. Moreover, once bound to the Knl1, Bub3 then recruits Bub1 to the kinetochore. By showing that the recognition of phosphorylated Knl1 by the Bub1-Bub3 complex has a central role in the spindle assembly checkpoint, these results highlight the importance of phosphorylation as a way of regulating the timing of events during the cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC3779320  PMID: 24066227
spindle assembly checkpoint; kinetochore; Bub3; Bub1; Mad3; Knl1; S. cerevisiae
4.  A small-molecule inhibitor of Haspin alters the kinetochore functions of Aurora B 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;199(2):269-284.
A chemical biology study characterizes the role of Haspin kinase in centromere recruitment of the chromosome passenger complex and in spindle assembly checkpoint function.
By phosphorylating Thr3 of histone H3, Haspin promotes centromeric recruitment of the chromosome passenger complex (CPC) during mitosis. Aurora B kinase, a CPC subunit, sustains chromosome bi-orientation and the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC). Here, we characterize the small molecule 5-iodotubercidin (5-ITu) as a potent Haspin inhibitor. In vitro, 5-ITu potently inhibited Haspin but not Aurora B. Consistently, 5-ITu counteracted the centromeric localization of the CPC without affecting the bulk of Aurora B activity in HeLa cells. Mislocalization of Aurora B correlated with dephosphorylation of CENP-A and Hec1 and SAC override at high nocodazole concentrations. 5-ITu also impaired kinetochore recruitment of Bub1 and BubR1 kinases, and this effect was reversed by concomitant inhibition of phosphatase activity. Forcing localization of Aurora B to centromeres in 5-ITu also restored Bub1 and BubR1 localization but failed to rescue the SAC override. This result suggests that a target of 5-ITu, possibly Haspin itself, may further contribute to SAC signaling downstream of Aurora B.
PMCID: PMC3471222  PMID: 23071153
5.  Crystal Structure of Human Aurora B in Complex with INCENP and VX-680 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(17):7841-7848.
We present the structure of the human Aurora B kinase domain in complex with the C-terminal Aurora-binding region of human INCENP and the Aurora kinase inhibitor VX-680. The structure unexpectedly reveals a dimeric arrangement of the Aurora B:INCENP complex, which was confirmed to exist in solution by analytical ultracentrifugation. The dimerization involves a domain swap of the activation loop, resulting in a different conformation of the DFG motif as compared to that seen in other kinase complexes with VX-680. The binding of INCENP differs significantly from that seen in the Xenopus laevis Aurora B:INCENP complex currently used as a model for structure-based design for this important oncology target.
PMCID: PMC3621106  PMID: 22920039
6.  Structural organization of the kinetochore-microtubule interface 
Successful mitosis depends on the stable, yet regulated attachment of chromosomes to spindle microtubules. The kinetochore, a large macromolecular structure assembled at sites of centromeric heterochromatin, is responsible for generating and regulating these essential attachments. Over the last several years, concerted experimental efforts have brought the structural view of the kinetochore-microtubule interface more clearly into focus. Here, we review important recent advancements and discuss several unresolved questions regarding how kinetochores dynamically bridge mitotic chromosomes to spindle microtubules.
PMCID: PMC3294040  PMID: 22154944
kinetochore; cell cycle; cell division; chromosome segregation; KMN network; centromere; Ndc80; Hec1; Mis12; microtubule
7.  Selective Aurora kinase inhibitors identified using a Taxol-induced checkpoint sensitivity screen 
ACS Chemical Biology  2011;7(1):185-196.
The members of the Aurora kinase family play critical roles in the regulation of the cell cycle and mitotic spindle assembly and have been intensively investigated as potential targets for a new class of anti-cancer drugs. We describe a new highly potent and selective class of Aurora kinase inhibitors discovered using a phenotypic cellular screen. Optimized inhibitors display many of the hallmarks of Aurora inhibition including endoreduplication, polyploidy, and loss of cell viability in cancer cells. Structure-activity relationships with respect to kinome-wide selectivity and guided by an Aurora B co-crystal structure resulted in the identification of key selectivity determinants and discovery of a sub-series with selectivity towards Aurora A. A direct comparison of biochemical and cellular profile with respect to published Aurora inhibitors including VX-680, AZD1152, MLN8054, and a pyrimidine-based compound from Genentech demonstrates that compounds 1 and 3 will become valuable additional pharmacological probes of Aurora dependent functions.
PMCID: PMC3262907  PMID: 21992004
8.  Structural analysis reveals features of the spindle checkpoint kinase Bub1–kinetochore subunit Knl1 interaction 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;196(4):451-467.
Structure–function studies reveal that the tetratricopeptide repeats of Bub1 and BubR1 are important for interaction with Kln1, but a distinct Bub3-binding domain is critical for kinetochore recruitment of Bub1.
The function of the essential checkpoint kinases Bub1 and BubR1 requires their recruitment to mitotic kinetochores. Kinetochore recruitment of Bub1 and BubR1 is proposed to rely on the interaction of the tetratricopeptide repeats (TPRs) of Bub1 and BubR1 with two KI motifs in the outer kinetochore protein Knl1. We determined the crystal structure of the Bub1 TPRs in complex with the cognate Knl1 KI motif and compared it with the structure of the equivalent BubR1TPR–KI motif complex. The interaction developed along the convex surface of the TPR assembly. Point mutations on this surface impaired the interaction of Bub1 and BubR1 with Knl1 in vitro and in vivo but did not cause significant displacement of Bub1 and BubR1 from kinetochores. Conversely, a 62-residue segment of Bub1 that includes a binding domain for the checkpoint protein Bub3 and is C terminal to the TPRs was necessary and largely sufficient for kinetochore recruitment of Bub1. These results shed light on the determinants of kinetochore recruitment of Bub1.
PMCID: PMC3283998  PMID: 22331848
9.  Direct binding of Cenp-C to the Mis12 complex joins the inner and outer kinetochore 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(5):391-398.
Kinetochores are proteinaceous scaffolds implicated in the formation of load-bearing attachments of chromosomes to microtubules during mitosis. Kinetochores contain distinct chromatin- and microtubule-binding interfaces, generally defined as inner and outer kinetochore, respectively [reviewed in 1]. The constitutive centromere-associated network (CCAN) and the Knl1-Mis12-Ndc80 complexes (KMN) network are the main multi-subunit protein assemblies in the inner and outer kinetochore, respectively. The point of contact between the CCAN and the KMN network is unknown. Cenp-C is a conserved CCAN component whose central and C-terminal regions have been implicated in chromatin binding and dimerization [2–10]. Here, we show that a conserved motif in the N-terminal region of Cenp-C binds directly and with high affinity to the Mis12 complex. Expression in HeLa cells of the isolated N-terminal motif of Cenp-C prevents outer kinetochore assembly, causing chromosome mis-segregation. The KMN network is also responsible for kinetochore recruitment of the components of the spindle assembly checkpoint, and we observe checkpoint impairment in cells expressing the Cenp-C N-terminal segment. Our studies unveil a crucial and likely universal link between the inner and outer kinetochore.
PMCID: PMC3074538  PMID: 21353556
Kinetochore; centromere; CENP-C; Mis12; Mtw1; Ndc80; Knl1; Dsn1; CENP-A
10.  The Ndc80 kinetochore complex forms oligomeric arrays along microtubules 
Nature  2010;467(7317):805-810.
The Ndc80 complex is a key site of regulated kinetochore-microtubule attachment, but the molecular mechanism underlying its function remains unknown. Here we present a subnanometer resolution cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction of the human Ndc80 complex bound to microtubules, sufficient for precise docking of crystal structures of the component proteins. We find that Ndc80 binds the microtubule with a tubulin monomer repeat, recognizing α- and β-tubulin at both intra- and inter-dimer interfaces in a manner that is sensitive to tubulin conformation. Furthermore, Ndc80 complexes self-associate along protofilaments via interactions mediated by the amino-terminal tail of the Ndc80 protein, the site of phospho-regulation by the Aurora B kinase. Ndc80's mode of interaction with the microtubule and its oligomerization suggest a mechanism by which Aurora B could regulate the stability of load-bearing Ndc80-microtubule attachments.
PMCID: PMC2957311  PMID: 20944740
11.  Evidence that Aurora B is implicated in spindle checkpoint signalling independently of error correction 
The EMBO Journal  2011;30(8):1508-1519.
Evidence that Aurora B is implicated in spindle checkpoint signalling independently of error correction
Aurora B kinase corrects aberrant microtubule-chromosome attachments during mitosis. This function derives from Aurora B's role in the spindle assembly checkpoint, independently of its established role in the tension dependent microtubule-chromosome error correction mechanism.
Fidelity of chromosome segregation is ensured by a tension-dependent error correction system that prevents stabilization of incorrect chromosome–microtubule attachments. Unattached or incorrectly attached chromosomes also activate the spindle assembly checkpoint, thus delaying mitotic exit until all chromosomes are bioriented. The Aurora B kinase is widely recognized as a component of error correction. Conversely, its role in the checkpoint is controversial. Here, we report an analysis of the role of Aurora B in the spindle checkpoint under conditions believed to uncouple the effects of Aurora B inhibition on the checkpoint from those on error correction. Partial inhibition of several checkpoint and kinetochore components, including Mps1 and Ndc80, strongly synergizes with inhibition of Aurora B activity and dramatically affects the ability of cells to arrest in mitosis in the presence of spindle poisons. Thus, Aurora B might contribute to spindle checkpoint signalling independently of error correction. Our results support a model in which Aurora B is at the apex of a signalling pyramid whose sensory apparatus promotes the concomitant activation of error correction and checkpoint signalling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3102279  PMID: 21407176
centromere; hesperadin; kinetochore; reversine; tension
12.  Structure of the HECT:ubiquitin complex and its role in ubiquitin chain elongation 
EMBO Reports  2011;12(4):342-349.
Structure of the HECT:ubiquitin complex and its role in ubiquitin chain elongation
Analysis of ubiquitin binding to the HECT domain of Nedd4 suggests that the ubiquitin chain being elongated is kept close to the catalytic cysteine to promote processivity. Together with the accompanying paper by the Huibregtse group, this study shows the catalysis of polyubiquitin chains by HECT E3 ligases.
Several mechanisms have been proposed for the synthesis of substrate-linked ubiquitin chains. HECT ligases directly catalyse protein ubiquitination and have been found to non-covalently interact with ubiquitin. We report crystal structures of the Nedd4 HECT domain, alone and in complex with ubiquitin, which show a new binding mode involving two surfaces on ubiquitin and both subdomains of the HECT N-lobe. The structures suggest a model for HECT-to-substrate ubiquitin transfer, in which the growing chain on the substrate is kept close to the catalytic cysteine to promote processivity. Mutational analysis highlights differences between the processes of substrate polyubiquitination and self-ubiquitination.
PMCID: PMC3077247  PMID: 21399620
catalysis; E3 ligase; polyubiquitination; structure; ubiquitin
13.  The MIS12 complex is a protein interaction hub for outer kinetochore assembly 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;190(5):835-852.
The NSL1 subunit structures interactions between the MIS12, NDC80, and KNL1 kinetochore complexes (see also a related paper by Maskell et al. in this issue).
Kinetochores are nucleoprotein assemblies responsible for the attachment of chromosomes to spindle microtubules during mitosis. The KMN network, a crucial constituent of the outer kinetochore, creates an interface that connects microtubules to centromeric chromatin. The NDC80, MIS12, and KNL1 complexes form the core of the KMN network. We recently reported the structural organization of the human NDC80 complex. In this study, we extend our analysis to the human MIS12 complex and show that it has an elongated structure with a long axis of ∼22 nm. Through biochemical analysis, cross-linking–based methods, and negative-stain electron microscopy, we investigated the reciprocal organization of the subunits of the MIS12 complex and their contacts with the rest of the KMN network. A highlight of our findings is the identification of the NSL1 subunit as a scaffold supporting interactions of the MIS12 complex with the NDC80 and KNL1 complexes. Our analysis has important implications for understanding kinetochore organization in different organisms.
PMCID: PMC2935574  PMID: 20819937
14.  The Ndc80 Loop Region Facilitates Formation of Kinetochore Attachment to the Dynamic Microtubule Plus End 
Current Biology  2011;21(3):207-213.
Proper chromosome segregation in mitosis relies on correct kinetochore-microtubule (KT-MT) interactions. The KT initially interacts with the lateral surface of a single MT (lateral attachment) extending from a spindle pole and is subsequently anchored at the plus end of the MT (end-on attachment) [1]. The conversion from lateral to end-on attachment is crucial because end-on attachment is more robust [2–4] and thought to be necessary to sustain KT-MT attachment when tension is applied across sister KTs upon their biorientation [1]. The mechanism for this conversion is still elusive. The Ndc80 complex is an essential component of the KT-MT interface [1, 5], and here we studied a role of the Ndc80 loop region, a distinct motif looping out from the coiled-coil shaft of the complex [6], in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. With deletions or mutations of the loop region, the lateral KT-MT attachment occurred normally; however, subsequent conversion to end-on attachment was defective, leading to failure in sister KT biorientation. The Ndc80 loop region was required for Ndc80-Dam1 interaction and KT loading of the Dam1 complex, which in turn supported KT tethering to the dynamic MT plus end [3, 7]. The Ndc80 loop region, therefore, has an important role in the conversion from lateral to end-on attachment, a crucial maturation step of KT-MT interaction.
Graphical Abstract
► Kinetochores must be anchored at the dynamic microtubule plus ends in early mitosis ► The Ndc80 loop region is crucial in kinetochore anchoring at the microtubule ends ► The Ndc80 loop region facilitates the interaction with the Dam1 complex ► Ndc80-Dam1 interaction ensures kinetochore anchoring at the microtubule plus ends
PMCID: PMC3052438  PMID: 21256019
15.  Abnormal Kinetochore-Generated Pulling Forces from Expressing a N-Terminally Modified Hec1 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16307.
Highly Expressed in Cancer protein 1 (Hec1) is a constituent of the Ndc80 complex, a kinetochore component that has been shown to have a fundamental role in stable kinetochore-microtubule attachment, chromosome alignment and spindle checkpoint activation at mitosis. HEC1 RNA is found up-regulated in several cancer cells, suggesting a role for HEC1 deregulation in cancer. In light of this, we have investigated the consequences of experimentally-driven Hec1 expression on mitosis and chromosome segregation in an inducible expression system from human cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Overexpression of Hec1 could never be obtained in HeLa clones inducibly expressing C-terminally tagged Hec1 or untagged Hec1, suggesting that Hec1 cellular levels are tightly controlled. On the contrary, a chimeric protein with an EGFP tag fused to the Hec1 N-terminus accumulated in cells and disrupted mitotic division. EGFP- Hec1 cells underwent altered chromosome segregation within multipolar spindles that originated from centriole splitting. We found that EGFP-Hec1 assembled a mutant Ndc80 complex that was unable to rescue the mitotic phenotypes of Hec1 depletion. Kinetochores harboring EGFP-Hec1 formed persisting lateral microtubule-kinetochore interactions that recruited the plus-end depolymerase MCAK and the microtubule stabilizing protein HURP on K-fibers. In these conditions the plus-end kinesin CENP-E was preferentially retained at kinetochores. RNAi-mediated CENP-E depletion further demonstrated that CENP-E function was required for multipolar spindle formation in EGFP-Hec1 expressing cells.
Our study suggests that modifications on Hec1 N-terminal tail can alter kinetochore-microtubule attachment stability and influence Ndc80 complex function independently from the intracellular levels of the protein. N-terminally modified Hec1 promotes spindle pole fragmentation by CENP-E-mediated plus-end directed kinetochore pulling forces that disrupt the fine balance of kinetochore- and centrosome-associated forces regulating spindle bipolarity. Overall, our findings support a model in which centrosome integrity is influenced by the pathways regulating kinetochore-microtubule attachment stability.
PMCID: PMC3030568  PMID: 21297979
16.  Dissecting the role of MPS1 in chromosome biorientation and the spindle checkpoint through the small molecule inhibitor reversine 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;190(1):73-87.
Addition of reversine to dividing cells ejects Mad1 and the RZZ complex from unattached kinetochores and prevents resolution of incorrect chromosome–microtubule attachments (see also related papers by Hewitt et al. and Maciejowski et al. in this issue).
The catalytic activity of the MPS1 kinase is crucial for the spindle assembly checkpoint and for chromosome biorientation on the mitotic spindle. We report that the small molecule reversine is a potent mitotic inhibitor of MPS1. Reversine inhibits the spindle assembly checkpoint in a dose-dependent manner. Its addition to mitotic HeLa cells causes the ejection of Mad1 and the ROD–ZWILCH–ZW10 complex, both of which are important for the spindle checkpoint, from unattached kinetochores. By using reversine, we also demonstrate that MPS1 is required for the correction of improper chromosome–microtubule attachments. We provide evidence that MPS1 acts downstream from the AURORA B kinase, another crucial component of the error correction pathway. Our experiments describe a very useful tool to interfere with MPS1 activity in human cells. They also shed light on the relationship between the error correction pathway and the spindle checkpoint and suggest that these processes are coregulated and are likely to share at least a subset of their catalytic machinery.
PMCID: PMC2911657  PMID: 20624901
17.  Sustained Mps1 activity is required in mitosis to recruit O-Mad2 to the Mad1–C-Mad2 core complex 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;190(1):25-34.
To satisfy the mitotic checkpoint and drive chromosome congression, the Mps1 kinase lets go of kinetochores by phosphorylating itself in trans (see also related papers by Maciejowski et al. and Santaguida et al. in this issue).
Mps1 is an essential component of the spindle assembly checkpoint. In this study, we describe a novel Mps1 inhibitor, AZ3146, and use it to probe the role of Mps1’s catalytic activity during mitosis. When Mps1 is inhibited before mitotic entry, subsequent recruitment of Mad1 and Mad2 to kinetochores is abolished. However, if Mps1 is inhibited after mitotic entry, the Mad1–C-Mad2 core complex remains kinetochore bound, but O-Mad2 is not recruited to the core. Although inhibiting Mps1 also interferes with chromosome alignment, we see no obvious effect on aurora B activity. In contrast, kinetochore recruitment of centromere protein E (CENP-E), a kinesin-related motor protein, is severely impaired. Strikingly, inhibition of Mps1 significantly increases its own abundance at kinetochores. Furthermore, we show that Mps1 can dimerize and transphosphorylate in cells. We propose a model whereby Mps1 transphosphorylation results in its release from kinetochores, thus facilitating recruitment of O-Mad2 and CENP-E and thereby simultaneously promoting checkpoint signaling and chromosome congression.
PMCID: PMC2911659  PMID: 20624899
18.  A Screen for Kinetochore-Microtubule Interaction Inhibitors Identifies Novel Antitubulin Compounds 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11603.
Protein assemblies named kinetochores bind sister chromatids to the mitotic spindle and orchestrate sister chromatid segregation. Interference with kinetochore activity triggers a spindle checkpoint mediated arrest in mitosis, which frequently ends in cell death. We set out to identify small compounds that inhibit kinetochore-microtubule binding for use in kinetochore-spindle interaction studies and to develop them into novel anticancer drugs.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A fluorescence microscopy-based in vitro assay was developed to screen compound libraries for molecules that prevented the binding of a recombinant human Ndc80 kinetochore complex to taxol-stabilized microtubules. An active compound was identified that acted at the microtubule level. More specifically, by localizing to the colchicine-binding site in αβ-tubulin the hit compound prevented the Ndc80 complex from binding to the microtubule surface. Next, structure-activity analyses distinguished active regions in the compound and led to the identification of highly potent analogs that killed cancer cells with an efficacy equaling that of established spindle drugs.
The compound identified in our screen and its subsequently identified analogs represent new antitubulin chemotypes that can be synthetically developed into a novel class of antimitotic spindle drugs. In addition, they are stereochemically unique as their R- and S-isomers mimic binding of colchicine and podophyllotoxin, respectively, two antitubulin drugs that interact differently with the tubulin interface. Model-driven manipulation of our compounds promises to advance insight into how antitubulin drugs act upon tubulin. These advances in turn may lead to tailor-made colchicine site agents which would be valuable new assets to fight a variety of tumors, including those that have become resistant to the (antispindle) drugs used today.
PMCID: PMC2904697  PMID: 20657644
19.  A High Throughput, Whole Cell Screen for Small Molecule Inhibitors of the Mitotic Spindle Checkpoint Identifies OM137, a Novel Aurora Kinase Inhibitor 
Cancer research  2009;69(4):1509-1516.
In mitosis the kinetochores of chromosomes that lack full microtubule attachments and/or mechanical tension activate a signaling pathway called the mitotic spindle checkpoint that blocks progression into anaphase and prevents premature segregation of the chromatids until chromosomes become aligned at the metaphase plate (1). The spindle checkpoint is responsible for arresting cells in mitosis in response to chemotherapeutic spindle poisons such as paclitaxel or vinblastine. Some cancer cells show a weakened checkpoint signaling system that may contribute to chromosome instability in tumors. Since complete absence of the spindle checkpoint leads to catastrophic cell division, we reasoned that drugs targeting the checkpoint might provide a therapeutic window in which the checkpoint would be eliminated in cancer cells but sufficiently preserved in normal cells. We developed an assay to identify lead compounds that inhibit the spindle checkpoint. Most cells respond to microtubule drugs by activating the spindle checkpoint and arresting in mitosis with a rounded morphology. Our assay depended on the ability of checkpoint inhibitor compounds to drive mitotic exit and cause cells to flatten onto the substrate in the continuous presence of microtubule drugs. In this study we characterize one of the compounds, OM137, as an inhibitor of Aurora kinases. We find that this compound is growth inhibitory to cultured cells when applied at high concentration and potentiates the growth inhibitory effects of subnanomolar concentrations of paclitaxel.
PMCID: PMC2655231  PMID: 19190331
Mitosis; Cancer; Microtubule; Chromosome Instability; Paclitaxel
20.  The life and miracles of kinetochores 
The EMBO Journal  2009;28(17):2511-2531.
Kinetochores are large protein assemblies built on chromosomal loci named centromeres. The main functions of kinetochores can be grouped under four modules. The first module, in the inner kinetochore, contributes a sturdy interface with centromeric chromatin. The second module, the outer kinetochore, contributes a microtubule-binding interface. The third module, the spindle assembly checkpoint, is a feedback control mechanism that monitors the state of kinetochore–microtubule attachment to control the progression of the cell cycle. The fourth module discerns correct from improper attachments, preventing the stabilization of the latter and allowing the selective stabilization of the former. In this review, we discuss how the molecular organization of the four modules allows a dynamic integration of kinetochore–microtubule attachment with the prevention of chromosome segregation errors and cell-cycle progression.
PMCID: PMC2722247  PMID: 19629042
centromere; chromosome segregation; force generation; kinetochore; spindle assembly checkpoint
21.  The C-Terminal Domain of CENP-C Displays Multiple and Critical Functions for Mammalian Centromere Formation 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5832.
CENP-C is a fundamental component of functional centromeres. The elucidation of its structure-function relationship with centromeric DNA and other kinetochore proteins is critical to the understanding of centromere assembly. CENP-C carries two regions, the central and the C-terminal domains, both of which are important for the ability of CENP-C to associate with the centromeric DNA. However, while the central region is largely divergent in CENP-C homologues, the C-terminal moiety contains two regions that are highly conserved from yeast to humans, named Mif2p homology domains (blocks II and III). The activity of these two domains in human CENP-C is not well defined. In this study we performed a functional dissection of C-terminal CENP-C region analyzing the role of single Mif2p homology domains through in vivo and in vitro assays. By immunofluorescence and Chromatin immunoprecipitation assay (ChIP) we were able to elucidate the ability of the Mif2p homology domain II to target centromere and contact alpha satellite DNA. We also investigate the interactions with other conserved inner kinetochore proteins by means of coimmunoprecipitation and bimolecular fluorescence complementation on cell nuclei. We found that the C-terminal region of CENP-C (Mif2p homology domain III) displays multiple activities ranging from the ability to form higher order structures like homo-dimers and homo-oligomers, to mediate interaction with CENP-A and histone H3. Overall, our findings support a model in which the Mif2p homology domains of CENP-C, by virtue of their ability to establish multiple contacts with DNA and centromere proteins, play a critical role in the structuring of kinethocore chromatin.
PMCID: PMC2688085  PMID: 19503796
22.  The Influence of Catalysis on Mad2 Activation Dynamics 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(1):e1000010.
Mad2 is a key component of the spindle assembly checkpoint, a safety device ensuring faithful sister chromatid separation in mitosis. The target of Mad2 is Cdc20, an activator of the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C). Mad2 binding to Cdc20 is a complex reaction that entails the conformational conversion of Mad2 from an open (O-Mad2) to a closed (C-Mad2) conformer. Previously, it has been hypothesized that the conversion of O-Mad2 is accelerated by its conformational dimerization with C-Mad2. This hypothesis, known as the Mad2-template hypothesis, is based on the unproven assumption that the natural conversion of O-Mad2 required to bind Cdc20 is slow. Here, we provide evidence for this fundamental assumption and demonstrate that conformational dimerization of Mad2 accelerates the rate of Mad2 binding to Cdc20. On the basis of our measurements, we developed a set of rate equations that deliver excellent predictions of experimental binding curves under a variety of different conditions. Our results strongly suggest that the interaction of Mad2 with Cdc20 is rate limiting for activation of the spindle checkpoint. Conformational dimerization of Mad2 is essential to accelerate Cdc20 binding, but it does not modify the equilibrium of the Mad2:Cdc20 interaction, i.e., it is purely catalytic. These results surpass previously formulated objections to the Mad2-template model and predict that the release of Mad2 from Cdc20 is an energy-driven process.
Author Summary
Mitosis, the partition of chromosomes from a mother cell to the two daughter cells, is based on the formation of attachments between chromosomes and the mitotic spindle. Cells enter mitosis with replicated chromosomes (sister chromatids) that are held together by a cohesive force. Upon attachment of the sister chromatids to the mitotic spindle, the cohesive force that holds them is removed, and the sisters are parted to opposite poles of the spindle. It is essential for the long-term viability of cells that chromosomes not be lost in the process. For this purpose, cells have evolved a molecular device (the spindle assembly checkpoint or SAC), which prevents loss of sister chromatid cohesion until all sister chromatids are properly attached to the mitotic spindle. An outstanding question concerns the way the SAC signal is amplified away from chromosomes that are not yet attached to the spindle. Such an amplification mechanism has been predicted on the fact that as few as a single unattached kinetochore is able to prevent sister chromatid cohesion. In this paper, we show that the properties of the SAC protein Mad2 are ideally suited to provide a mechanism of amplification to the SAC.
The reconstitution in vitro of key reactions of the spindle assembly checkpoint reveals the presence of catalysis and autocatalysis during checkpoint activation.
PMCID: PMC2621267  PMID: 19143472
23.  Comment on “A Centrosome-Independent Role for γ-TuRC Proteins in the Spindle Assembly Checkpoint” 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2007;316(5827):982.
Müller et al. (Reports, 27 October 2006, p. 654) showed that inhibition of the γ-tubulin ring complex (γ-TuRC) activates the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), which led them to suggest that γ-TuRC proteins play molecular roles in SAC activation. Because γ-TuRC inhibition leads to pleiotropic spindle defects, which are well known to activate kinetochore-derived checkpoint signaling, we believe that this conclusion is premature.
PMCID: PMC2590763  PMID: 17510347
24.  Accumulation of Mad2–Cdc20 complex during spindle checkpoint activation requires binding of open and closed conformers of Mad2 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2006;174(1):39-51.
The spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) coordinates mitotic progression with sister chromatid alignment. In mitosis, the checkpoint machinery accumulates at kinetochores, which are scaffolds devoted to microtubule capture. The checkpoint protein Mad2 (mitotic arrest deficient 2) adopts two conformations: open (O-Mad2) and closed (C-Mad2). C-Mad2 forms when Mad2 binds its checkpoint target Cdc20 or its kinetochore receptor Mad1. When unbound to these ligands, Mad2 folds as O-Mad2. In HeLa cells, an essential interaction between C- and O-Mad2 conformers allows Mad1-bound C-Mad2 to recruit cytosolic O-Mad2 to kinetochores. In this study, we show that the interaction of the O and C conformers of Mad2 is conserved in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. MAD2 mutant alleles impaired in this interaction fail to restore the SAC in a mad2 deletion strain. The corresponding mutant proteins bind Mad1 normally, but their ability to bind Cdc20 is dramatically impaired in vivo. Our biochemical and genetic evidence shows that the interaction of O- and C-Mad2 is essential for the SAC and is conserved in evolution.
PMCID: PMC2064158  PMID: 16818718
25.  Explaining the oligomerization properties of the spindle assembly checkpoint protein Mad2 
Mad2 is an essential component of the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), a molecular device designed to coordinate anaphase onset with the completion of chromosome attachment to the spindle. Capture of chromosome by microtubules occur on protein scaffolds known as kinetochores. The SAC proteins are recruited to kinetochores in prometaphase where they generate a signal that halts anaphase until all sister chromatid pairs are bipolarly oriented. Mad2 is a subunit of the mitotic checkpoint complex, which is regarded as the effector of the spindle checkpoint. Its function is the sequestration of Cdc20, a protein required for progression into anaphase. The function of Mad2 in the checkpoint correlates with a dramatic conformational rearrangement of the Mad2 protein. Mad2 adopts a closed conformation (C-Mad2) when bound to Cdc20, and an open conformation (O-Mad2) when unbound to this ligand. Checkpoint activation promotes the conversion of O-Mad2 to Cdc20-bound C-Mad2. We show that this conversion requires a C-Mad2 template and we identify this in Mad1-bound Mad2. In our proposition, Mad1-bound C-Mad2 recruits O-Mad2 to kinetochores, stimulating Cdc20 capture, implying that O-Mad2 and C-Mad2 form dimers. We discuss Mad2 oligomerization and link our discoveries to previous observations related to Mad2 oligomerization.
PMCID: PMC1569476  PMID: 15897186
spindle checkpoint; Mad1; Mad2; Cdc20; metaphase; kinetochore

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