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1.  Remaining Mysteries of the Cytoplasm 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2010;21(22):3811-3812.
PMCID: PMC2982103  PMID: 21079024
2.  Self-organization of stabilized microtubules by both spindle and midzone mechanisms in Xenopus egg cytosol 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2013;24(10):1559-1573.
Pineapples, or self-organized, Taxol-stabilized microtubule assemblies, reveal the richness of self-organizing mechanisms that operate on assembled microtubules during cell division and provide a biochemically tractable system for investigating these mechanisms during meiosis and cytokinesis.
Previous study of self-organization of Taxol-stabilized microtubules into asters in Xenopus meiotic extracts revealed motor-dependent organizational mechanisms in the spindle. We revisit this approach using clarified cytosol with glycogen added back to supply energy and reducing equivalents. We added probes for NUMA and Aurora B to reveal microtubule polarity. Taxol and dimethyl sulfoxide promote rapid polymerization of microtubules that slowly self-organize into assemblies with a characteristic morphology consisting of paired lines or open circles of parallel bundles. Minus ends align in NUMA-containing foci on the outside, and plus ends in Aurora B–containing foci on the inside. Assemblies have a well-defined width that depends on initial assembly conditions, but microtubules within them have a broad length distribution. Electron microscopy shows that plus-end foci are coated with electron-dense material and resemble similar foci in monopolar midzones in cells. Functional tests show that two key spindle assembly factors, dynein and kinesin-5, act during assembly as they do in spindles, whereas two key midzone assembly factors, Aurora B and Kif4, act as they do in midzones. These data reveal the richness of self-organizing mechanisms that operate on microtubules after they polymerize in meiotic cytoplasm and provide a biochemically tractable system for investigating plus-end organization in midzones.
PMCID: PMC3655816  PMID: 23515222
3.  Hydrolysis of 2′3′-cGAMP by ENPP1 and design of non-hydrolyzable analogs 
Nature chemical biology  2014;10(12):1043-1048.
Agonists of mouse STING (TMEM173) shrink and even cure solid tumor by activating innate immunity; human STING agonists are needed to test this therapeutic hypothesis in man. The endogenous STING agonist is 2′3′-cGAMP, a 2nd messenger that signals the presence of cytosolic dsDNA. We report activity-guided partial purification and identification of ENPP1 as the dominant 2′3′-cGAMP hydrolyzing activity in cultured cells. The hydrolysis activity of ENPP1 was confirmed using recombinant protein and was depleted in tissue extracts and plasma from Enpp1-/- mice. We synthesized a hydrolysis-resistant bis-phosphothioate analog of 2′3′-cGAMP (2′3′-cGsAsMP) with similar affinity for human STING in vitro and 10 times more potent at inducing IFN-β secretion from human THP1 monocytes. Studies in mouse Enpp1-/- lung fibroblasts indicate that resistance to hydrolysis contributes significantly to its higher potency. 2′3′-cGsAsMP is therefore improved over natural 2′3′-cGAMP as a model agonist, and has potential as a vaccine adjuvant and cancer therapeutic.
PMCID: PMC4232468  PMID: 25344812
4.  The proliferation rate paradox in antimitotic chemotherapy 
Cytotoxic cancer chemotherapy drugs are believed to gain selectivity by targeting cells that proliferate rapidly. However, the proliferation rate is low in many chemosensitive human cancers, and it is not clear how a drug that only kills dividing cells could promote tumor regression. Four potential solutions to this “proliferation rate paradox” are discussed for the microtubule-stabilizing drug paclitaxel: drug retention in tumors, killing of quiescent cells, targeting of noncancer cells in the tumor, and bystander effects. Testing these potential mechanisms of drug action will facilitate rational improvement of antimitotic chemotherapy and perhaps cytotoxic chemotherapy more generally.
PMCID: PMC3248889  PMID: 22210845
5.  Spatial Organization of Cytokinesis Signaling Reconstituted in a Cell-Free System* 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2014;346(6206):244-247.
During animal cell division, the cleavage furrow is positioned by microtubules that signal to the actin cortex at the cell midplane. We developed a cell-free system to recapitulate cytokinesis signaling using cytoplasmic extract from Xenopus eggs. Microtubules grew out as asters from artificial centrosomes and met to organize antiparallel overlap zones. These zones blocked interpenetration of neighboring asters and recruited cytokinesis midzone proteins including the Chromosomal Passenger Complex (CPC) and Centralspindlin. The CPC was transported to overlap zones, which required two motor proteins, Kif4A and a Kif20A paralog. Using supported lipid bilayers to mimic the plasma membrane, we observed recruitment of cleavage furrow markers, including a RhoA-GTP reporter, at microtubule overlaps. This system opens further approaches to understanding the biophysics of cytokinesis signaling.
PMCID: PMC4281018  PMID: 25301629
6.  Structural Plasticity in Actin and Tubulin Polymer Dynamics 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2009;325(5943):960-963.
Actin filaments and microtubules polymerize and depolymerize by adding and removing subunits at polymer ends, and these dynamics drive cytoplasmic organization, cell division and cell motility. Since Wegner proposed the treadmilling theory for actin in 1976, it has largely been assumed that the chemical state of the bound nucleotide determines the rates of subunit addition and removal. This chemical kinetics view is difficult to reconcile with observations revealing multiple structural states of the polymer that influence polymerization dynamics, but are not strictly coupled to the bound nucleotide state. We refer to these phenomena as “structural plasticity”, and discuss emerging evidence that they play a central role in polymer dynamics and function.
PMCID: PMC2864651  PMID: 19696342
7.  Differential determinants of cancer cell insensitivity to anti-mitotic drugs discriminated by a one-step cell imaging assay 
Journal of biomolecular screening  2013;18(9):1062-1071.
Cancer cells can be drug resistant due to genetic variation at multiple steps in the drug response pathway, including drug efflux pumping, target mutation and blunted apoptotic response. These are not discriminated by conventional cell survival assays. Here, we report a rapid and convenient high content cell-imaging assay that measures multiple physiological changes in cells responding to anti-mitotic small-molecule drugs. Our one-step, no-wash assay uses three dyes to stain living cells and is much more accurate for scoring weakly adherent mitotic and apoptotic cells than conventional antibody-based assays. We profiled responses of 33 cell lines to 8 anti-mitotic drugs at multiple concentrations and time points using this assay, and deposited our data and assay protocols into a public database ( Our data discriminated between alternative mechanisms that compromise drug sensitivity to Paclitaxel, and revealed an unexpected bell-shaped dose-response curve for BI2536, a highly selective inhibitor of Polo-like kinases. Our approach can be generalized, is scalable and should therefore facilitate identification of molecular biomarkers for mechanisms of drug insensitivity in high-throughput screens and other assays.
PMCID: PMC3783590  PMID: 23788527
High-content screening; live cell imaging assay; image analysis; cancer cells; drug sensitivity; anti-mitotic drugs
8.  Anti-cancer flavonoids are mouse selective STING agonists 
ACS chemical biology  2013;8(7):1396-1401.
The flavonoids FAA and DMXAA showed impressive activity against solid tumors in mice, but failed clinical trials. They act on a previously unknown molecular target(s) to trigger cytokine release from leukocytes, which causes tumor-specific vascular damage and other anti-tumor effects. We show that DMXAA is a competitive agonist ligand for mouse STING (stimulator of interferon genes), a receptor for the bacterial PAMP cyclic-di-GMP (c-di-GMP) and an endogenous second messenger cyclic-GMP-AMP. In our structure-activity relationship studies, STING binding affinity and pathway activation activity of four flavonoids correlated with activity in a mouse tumor model measured previously. We propose that STING agonist activity accounts for the anti-tumor effects of FAA and DMXAA in mice. Importantly, DMXAA does not bind to human STING, which may account for its lack of efficacy or mechanism-related toxicity in man. We propose that STING is a druggable target for a novel innate immune activation mechanism of chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3815523  PMID: 23683494
9.  MELK is an oncogenic kinase essential for mitotic progression in basal-like breast cancer cells 
eLife  2014;3:e01763.
Despite marked advances in breast cancer therapy, basal-like breast cancer (BBC), an aggressive subtype of breast cancer usually lacking estrogen and progesterone receptors, remains difficult to treat. In this study, we report the identification of MELK as a novel oncogenic kinase from an in vivo tumorigenesis screen using a kinome-wide open reading frames (ORFs) library. Analysis of clinical data reveals a high level of MELK overexpression in BBC, a feature that is largely dependent on FoxM1, a master mitotic transcription factor that is also found to be highly overexpressed in BBC. Ablation of MELK selectively impairs proliferation of basal-like, but not luminal breast cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, depletion of MELK in BBC cells induces caspase-dependent cell death, preceded by defective mitosis. Finally, we find that Melk is not required for mouse development and physiology. Together, these data indicate that MELK is a normally non-essential kinase, but is critical for BBC and thus represents a promising selective therapeutic target for the most aggressive subtype of breast cancer.
eLife digest
Not all cancers are the same. There are, for example, at least five types of breast cancer. Different types of cancer can have different mutations and express different genes that determine how aggressively the tumors grow and how well they respond to different therapies. By exploiting these differences, scientists have developed therapies that target specific tumor types, and these targeted therapies have proven useful against most breast cancers.
One type of breast cancer, however, has proven hard to treat. Basal-like breast cancer grows rapidly and there are few treatment options for women with this type of cancer. One reason for this is that, unlike other forms of breast cancer, these cancers do not have the hormone receptors that are the targets of existing therapies.
Enzymes called kinases are promising alternate targets, and many kinase-inhibiting drugs can kill tumor cells in mice. Nevertheless, it has proven difficult to develop kinase inhibitors that are safe for use in humans because these drugs can also kill normal cells. To avoid this side effect, cancer researchers have been searching for a kinase that is active in cancer cells but not in normal cells.
Wang et al. tested a large collection of kinases and found that one called MELK caused tumors to grow in the mammary glands of mice. Further examination of tumor samples collected from hundreds of women in previous clinical studies revealed that MELK expression was increased in basal-like breast cancers and other breast cancer tumors that lack the usual hormone receptor targets.
When Wang et al. treated tumor cells and mice with tumors with a chemical that stops MELK working, basal-like breast cancer cells stopped multiplying and died. On the other hand, tumor cells that had the usual hormone receptors continued to multiply. To see if MELK is important in healthy mice, Wang et al. genetically engineered mice to delete the MELK gene and found that these mutant mice appear normal. The next challenge will be to test if drugs that inhibit MELK can kill basal-like breast cancer cells without having the side effect of harming normal cells.
PMCID: PMC4059381  PMID: 24844244
MELK; basal-like breast cancer; triple-negative breast cancer; FoxM1; targeted therapy; human; mouse
10.  The bacterial cell division proteins FtsA and FtsZ self-organize into dynamic cytoskeletal patterns 
Nature cell biology  2013;16(1):38-46.
Bacterial cytokinesis is commonly initiated by the Z-ring, a cytoskeletal structure assembling at the site of division. Its primary component is FtsZ, a tubulin superfamily GTPase, which is recruited to the membrane by the actin-related protein FtsA. Both proteins are required for the formation of the Z-ring, but if and how they influence each other’s assembly dynamics is not known. Here, we reconstituted FtsA-dependent recruitment of FtsZ polymers to supported membranes, where both proteins self-organize into complex patterns, such as fast-moving filament bundles and chirally rotating rings. Using fluorescence microscopy and biochemical perturbations, we found that these large-scale rearrangements of FtsZ emerge from its polymerization dynamics and a dual, antagonistic role of FtsA: recruitment of FtsZ filaments to the membrane and a negative regulation on FtsZ organization. Our findings provide a model for the initial steps of bacterial cell division and illustrate how dynamic polymers can self-organize into large-scale structures.
PMCID: PMC4019675  PMID: 24316672
11.  Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in Teaching Labs 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2012;338(6114):10.1126/science.1216570.
Intensive, short-term courses meld students and faculty and new techniques in pursuit of genuine research questions.
PMCID: PMC3810400  PMID: 23258877
12.  Large scale preparation and characterization of poly(ADP-ribose) and defined length polymers 
Analytical biochemistry  2012;428(2):126-136.
Poly(ADP-ribose) [pADPr] is a large, structurally complex polymer of repeating ADP-ribose units. It is biosynthesized from NAD+ by poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases [PARPs] and degraded to ADP-ribose by poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase. PADPr is involved in many cellular processes and exerts biological function through covalent modification and non-covalent binding to specific proteins. Very little is known about molecular recognition and structure activity relationships for non-covalent interaction between pADPr and its binding proteins, in part because of lack of access to the polymer on large scale and to units of defined lengths. We prepared polydisperse pADPr from PARP1 and tankyrase 1 at hundreds of milligram scale by optimizing enzymatic synthesis and scaling up chromatographic purification methods. We developed and calibrated an anion exchange chromatography method to assign pADPr size and scaled it up to purify defined length polymers on the milligram scale. Furthermore, we present a pADPr profiling method to characterize the polydispersity of pADPr produced by PARPs under different reaction conditions and find that substrate proteins affect the pADPr size distribution. These methods will facilitate structural and biochemical studies of pADPr and its binding proteins.
PMCID: PMC3414684  PMID: 22743307
PARP; PARG; pADPr; PAR; ADPr; poly(adp-ribose); poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase; poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase; polymer; NAD+; ADP ribose
14.  Branching microtubule nucleation in Xenopus egg extracts mediated by augmin and TPX2 
Cell  2013;152(4):768-777.
The microtubules that comprise mitotic spindles in animal cells are nucleated at centrosomes and by spindle assembly factors that are activated in the vicinity of chromatin. Indirect evidence also has suggested that microtubules might be nucleated from pre-existing microtubules throughout the spindle, but this process has not been observed directly. Here, we demonstrate microtubule nucleation from the sides of existing microtubules in meiotic Xenopus egg extracts. Daughter microtubules grow at a low branch angle and with the same polarity as mother filaments. Branching microtubule nucleation requires gamma-tubulin and augmin and is stimulated by GTP-bound Ran and its effector TPX2, factors previously implicated in chromatin-stimulated nucleation. Because of the rapid amplification of microtubule numbers and the preservation of microtubule polarity, microtubule-dependent microtubule nucleation is well suited for spindle assembly and maintenance.
PMCID: PMC3680348  PMID: 23415226
15.  Deformations within Moving Kinetochores Reveal Different Sites of Active and Passive Force Generation 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2012;337(6092):355-358.
Kinetochores mediate chromosome segregation at mitosis. They are thought to contain both active, force-producing and passive, frictional interfaces with microtubules whose relative locations have been unclear. We inferred mechanical deformation within single kinetochores during metaphase oscillations by measuring average separations between fluorescently labeled kinetochore subunits in living cells undergoing mitosis. Inter-subunit distances were shorter in kinetochores moving toward poles than those moving away. Inter-subunit separation decreased abruptly when kinetochores switched to poleward movement, and decreased further when pulling force increased, suggesting that active force generation during poleward movement compresses kinetochores. The data revealed an active force -generating interface within kinetochores, and a separate passive frictional interface located at least 20 nm away poleward. Together, these interfaces allow persistent attachment with intermittent active force generation.
PMCID: PMC3672420  PMID: 22722252
16.  Rapid induction of apoptosis during Kinesin-5 inhibitor-induced mitotic arrest in HL60 cells 
Cancer letters  2011;310(1):15-24.
Small molecule inhibitors of Kinesin-5 (K5Is) that arrest cells in mitosis with monopolar spindles are promising anti-cancer drug candidates. Clinical trials of K5Is revealed dose-limiting neutropenia, or loss of neutrophils, for which the molecular mechanism is unclear. We investigated the effects of a K5I on HL60 cells, a human promyelocytic leukemia cell line that is often used to model dividing neutrophil progenitors in cell culture. We found K5I treatment caused unusually rapid death of HL60 cells exclusively during mitotic arrest. This mitotic death occurred via the intrinsic apoptosis pathway with molecular events that include cytochrome c leakage into the cytoplasm, caspase activation, and Parp1 cleavage. Bcl-2 overexpression protected from death. We probed mitochondrial physiology to find candidate triggers of cytochrome c release, and observed a decrease of membrane potential (ΔΨm) before mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP). Interestingly, this loss of ΔΨm was not blocked by overexpressing Bcl-2, suggesting it might be a cause of Bax/Bak activation, not a consequence. Taken together, these results show that K5I induces intrinsic apoptosis during mitotic arrest in HL60 with loss of ΔΨm as an upstream event of MOMP.
PMCID: PMC3155259  PMID: 21782324
Kinesin-5; mitosis; apoptosis; HL60
17.  Plk1 negatively regulates PRC1 to prevent premature midzone formation before cytokinesis 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2012;23(14):2702-2711.
Plk1, but not Cdk1, phosphorylates PRC1 on Thr-602 to prevent premature midzone assembly in metaphase. Microtubules enhance this phosphorylation. Plk1, PRC1, and microtubules together regulate homeostatic MT bundling throughout cell division.
To achieve mitosis and cytokinesis, microtubules must assemble into distinct structures at different stages of cell division—mitotic spindles to segregate the chromosomes before anaphase and midzones to keep sister genomes apart and guide the cleavage furrow after anaphase. This temporal regulation is believed to involve Cdk1 kinase, which is inactivated in a switch-like way after anaphase. We found that inhibiting Plk1 caused premature assembly of midzones in cells still in metaphase, breaking the temporal regulation of microtubules. The antiparallel microtubule-bundling protein PRC1 plays a key role in organizing the midzone complex. We found that Plk1 negatively regulates PRC1 through phosphorylation of a single site, Thr-602, near the C-terminus of PRC1. We also found that microtubules stimulated Thr-602 phosphorylation by Plk1. This creates a potential negative feedback loop controlling PRC1 activity. It also made the extent of Thr-602 phosphorylation during mitotic arrest dependent on the mechanism of the arresting drug. Unexpectedly, we could not detect a preanaphase regulatory role for Cdk1 sites on PRC1. We suggest that PRC1 is regulated by Plk1, rather than Cdk1 as previously proposed, because its activity must be spatiotemporally regulated both preanaphase and postanaphase, and Cdk1 activity is too binary for this purpose.
PMCID: PMC3395659  PMID: 22621898
18.  Vascular Disrupting Agent Drug Classes Differ in Effects on the Cytoskeleton 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40177.
Vascular disrupting agents (VDAs), anti-cancer drugs that target established tumor blood vessels, fall into two main classes: microtubule targeting drugs, exemplified by combretastatin A4 (CA4), and flavonoids, exemplified by 5,6-dimethylxanthenone-4-acetic acid (DMXAA). Both classes increase permeability of tumor vasculature in mouse models, and DMXAA in particular can cause massive tumor necrosis. The molecular target of CA4 is clearly microtubules. The molecular target(s) of DMXAA remains unclear. It is thought to promote inflammatory signaling in leukocytes, and has been assumed to not target microtubules, though it is not clear from the literature how carefully this assumption has been tested. An earlier flavone analog, flavone acetic acid, was reported to promote mitotic arrest suggesting flavones might possess anti-microtubule activity, and endothelial cells are sensitive to even mild disruption of microtubules. We carefully investigated whether DMXAA directly affects the microtubule or actin cytoskeletons of endothelial cells by comparing effects of CA4 and DMXAA on human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) using time-lapse imaging and assays for cytoskeleton integrity. CA4 caused retraction of the cell margin, mitotic arrest and microtubule depolymerization, while DMXAA, up to 500 µM, showed none of these effects. DMXAA also had no effect on pure tubulin nucleation and polymerization, unlike CA4. We conclude that DMXAA exhibits no direct anti-microtubule action and thus cleanly differs from CA4 in its mechanism of action at the molecular level.
PMCID: PMC3404093  PMID: 22848372
19.  Navitoclax (ABT-263) accelerates apoptosis during drug-induced mitotic arrest by antagonizing Bcl-xL 
Cancer research  2011;71(13):4518-4526.
Combining microtubule-targeting anti-mitotic drugs with targeted apoptosis potentiators is a promising new chemotherapeutic strategy to treat cancer. In this study we investigate the cellular mechanism by which Navitoclax (previously called ABT-263), a Bcl-2 family inhibitor, potentiates apoptosis triggered by paclitaxel and an inhibitor of Kinesin-5 (KSP), across a panel of epithelial cancer lines. Using time-lapse microscopy, we show that Navitoclax has little effect on cell death during interphase, but strongly accelerates apoptosis during mitotic arrest, and greatly increases the fraction of apoptosis-resistant cells that die. By systematically knocking down individual Bcl-2 proteins we determined that Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL are the primary negative regulators of apoptosis during prolonged mitotic arrest. Mcl-1 levels decrease during mitotic arrest due to an imbalance between synthesis and turnover, and turnover depends in part on the MULE/HUWE1 E3 ligase. The combination of Mcl-1 loss with inhibition of Bcl-xL by Navitoclax causes rapid apoptosis in all lines tested. Variation in expression levels of Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL largely determine variation in response to anti-mitotics alone, and anti-mitotics combined with Navitoclax, across our panel. We conclude that Bcl-xL is a critical target of Bcl-2 family inhibitors for enhancing the lethality of anti-mitotic drugs in epithelial cancers, and combination treatment with Navitoclax and a spindle specific anti-mitotic, such as a Kinesin-5 inhibitor, might be more effective than paclitaxel alone.
PMCID: PMC3129452  PMID: 21546570
Navitoclax; paclitaxel; apoptosis response
20.  Midbody assembly and its regulation during cytokinesis 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2012;23(6):1024-1034.
The structural composition of the midbody changes during progression throughout cytokinesis. A detailed description is given of how known midbody proteins localize during late steps in cytokinesis. How these assembly events are regulated is investigated, together with their functional implications.
The midbody is a transient structure that connects two daughter cells at the end of cytokinesis, with the principal function being to localize the site of abscission, which physically separates two daughter cells. Despite its importance, understanding of midbody assembly and its regulation is still limited. Here we describe how the structural composition of the midbody changes during progression throughout cytokinesis and explore the functional implications of these changes. Deriving from midzones, midbodies are organized by a set of microtubule interacting proteins that colocalize to a zone of microtubule overlap in the center. We found that these proteins split into three subgroups that relocalize to different parts of the midbody: the bulge, the dark zone, and the flanking zone. We characterized these relocalizations and defined domain requirements for three key proteins: MKLP1, KIF4, and PRC1. Two cortical proteins—anillin and RhoA—localized to presumptive abscission sites in mature midbodies, where they may regulate the endosomal sorting complex required for transport machinery. Finally, we characterized the role of Plk1, a key regulator of cytokinesis, in midbody assembly. Our findings represent the most detailed description of midbody assembly and maturation to date and may help elucidate how abscission sites are positioned and regulated.
PMCID: PMC3302730  PMID: 22278743
21.  KIF4 Regulates Midzone Length during Cytokinesis 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(10):815-824.
Midzones, also called central spindles, are an array of antiparallel microtubules that form during animal cell cytokinesis between the separated chromosomes [1]. Midzones can be considered platforms that recruit specific proteins and orchestrate cytokinetic events, such as keeping sister nuclei apart, furrow ingression, and abscission [2–3]. Despite this important role, many aspects of midzone biology remain unknown, including the dynamic organization of midzone microtubules. Investigating midzone microtubule dynamics has been difficult in part because their plus-ends are interdigitated and buried in a dense matrix, making them difficult to observe. We employed monopolar cytokinesis to reveal that midzone plus-ends appear non-dynamic. We identified the chromokinesin KIF4 as a negative regulator of midzone plus-end dynamics, whose activity controls midzone length, but not stability. KIF4 is required to terminate midzone elongation in late anaphase. In the absence of KIF4, midzones elongate abnormally, and their overlap regions are unfocused. Electron dense material and midbodies are both absent from the elongated midzones, and actin filaments from the furrow cortex are not disassembled after ingression. KIF4 mediated midzone length regulation appears to occur by terminating midzone elongation at a specific time during cytokinesis, making midzones and mitotic spindles differ in their dynamics and length regulating mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3100440  PMID: 21565503
22.  Prolonged mitotic arrest triggers partial activation of apoptosis, resulting in DNA damage and p53 induction 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2012;23(4):567-576.
ETOC: Despite the use of antimitotic drugs, our understanding of the stress response, especially during mitotic arrest, is lacking. We report a molecular mechanism resulting in DNA damage during mitotic arrest that occurs via the apoptotic machinery but in the absence of cell death; this mechanism triggers p53 induction after cells slip from mitotic arrest.
Mitotic arrest induced by antimitotic drugs can cause apoptosis or p53-dependent cell cycle arrest. It can also cause DNA damage, but the relationship between these events has been unclear. Live, single-cell imaging in human cancer cells responding to an antimitotic kinesin-5 inhibitor and additional antimitotic drugs revealed strong induction of p53 after cells slipped from prolonged mitotic arrest into G1. We investigated the cause of this induction. We detected DNA damage late in mitotic arrest and also after slippage. This damage was inhibited by treatment with caspase inhibitors and by stable expression of mutant, noncleavable inhibitor of caspase-activated DNase, which prevents activation of the apoptosis-associated nuclease caspase-activated DNase (CAD). These treatments also inhibited induction of p53 after slippage from prolonged arrest. DNA damage was not due to full apoptosis, since most cytochrome C was still sequestered in mitochondria when damage occurred. We conclude that prolonged mitotic arrest partially activates the apoptotic pathway. This partly activates CAD, causing limited DNA damage and p53 induction after slippage. Increased DNA damage via caspases and CAD may be an important aspect of antimitotic drug action. More speculatively, partial activation of CAD may explain the DNA-damaging effects of diverse cellular stresses that do not immediately trigger apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3279386  PMID: 22171325
23.  A model for cleavage plane determination in early amphibian and fish embryos 
Current biology : CB  2010;20(22):2040-2045.
Current models for cleavage plane determination propose that metaphase spindles are positioned and oriented by interactions of their astral microtubules with the cellular cortex, followed by cleavage in the plane of the metaphase plate [1, 2]. We show that in early frog and fish embryos, where cells are unusually large, astral microtubules in metaphase are too short to position and orient the spindle. Rather, the preceding interphase aster centers and orients a pair of centrosomes prior to nuclear envelope breakdown, and the spindle assembles between these prepositioned centrosomes. Interphase asters center and orient centrosomes using dynein-mediated pulling forces. These forces act before astral microtubules contact the cortex; thus, dynein must pull from sites in the cytoplasm, not the cell cortex as is usually proposed for smaller cells. Aster shape is determined by interactions of the expanding periphery with the cell cortex, or with an interaction zone that forms between sister-asters in telophase. We propose a model to explain cleavage plane geometry in which the length of astral microtubules is limited by interaction with these boundaries, causing length asymmetries. Dynein anchored in the cytoplasm then generates length–dependent pulling forces, which move and orient centrosomes.
PMCID: PMC3031131  PMID: 21055946
24.  Microtubule assembly in meiotic extract requires glycogen 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2011;22(17):3139-3151.
We identified a clarified extract containing the soluble factors for microtubule assembly. We found that microtubule assembly does not require ribosomes, mitochondria, or membranes. Our clarified extracts will provide a powerful tool for activity-based biochemical fractionations for microtubule assembly.
The assembly of microtubules during mitosis requires many identified components, such as γ-tubulin ring complex (γ-TuRC), components of the Ran pathway (e.g., TPX2, HuRP, and Rae1), and XMAP215/chTOG. However, it is far from clear how these factors function together or whether more factors exist. In this study, we used biochemistry to attempt to identify active microtubule nucleation protein complexes from Xenopus meiotic egg extracts. Unexpectedly, we found both microtubule assembly and bipolar spindle assembly required glycogen, which acted both as a crowding agent and as metabolic source glucose. By also reconstituting microtubule assembly in clarified extracts, we showed microtubule assembly does not require ribosomes, mitochondria, or membranes. Our clarified extracts will provide a powerful tool for activity-based biochemical fractionations for microtubule assembly.
PMCID: PMC3164461  PMID: 21737678
25.  Stochastic Competition between Mechanistically Independent Slippage and Death Pathways Determines Cell Fate during Mitotic Arrest 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15724.
Variability in cell-to-cell behavior within clonal populations can be attributed to the inherent stochasticity of biochemical reactions. Most single-cell studies have examined variation in behavior due to randomness in gene transcription. Here we investigate the mechanism of cell fate choice and the origin of cell-to-cell variation during mitotic arrest, when transcription is silenced. Prolonged mitotic arrest is commonly observed in cells treated with anti-mitotic drugs. Cell fate during mitotic arrest is determined by two alternative pathways, one promoting cell death, the other promoting cyclin B1 degradation, which leads to mitotic slippage and survival. It has been unclear whether these pathways are mechanistically coupled or independent. In this study we experimentally uncoupled these two pathways using zVAD-fmk to block cell death or Cdc20 knockdown to block slippage. We then used time-lapse imaging to score the kinetics of single cells adopting the remaining fate. We also used kinetic simulation to test whether the behaviors of death versus slippage in cell populations where both pathways are active can be quantitatively recapitulated by a model that assumes stochastic competition between the pathways. Our data are well fit by a model where the two pathways are mechanistically independent, and cell fate is determined by a stochastic kinetic competition between them that results in cell-to-cell variation.
PMCID: PMC3006339  PMID: 21203573

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