Telomeres, the ends of linear eukaryotic chromosomes, are characterized by the presence of multiple repeats of a short DNA sequence. This telomeric DNA is protected from illicit repair by telomere-associated proteins, which in mammals form the shelterin complex. Replicative polymerases are unable to synthesize DNA at the extreme ends of chromosomes, but in unicellular eukaryotes such as yeast and in mammalian germ cells and stem cells, telomere length is maintained by a ribonucleoprotein enzyme known as telomerase. Recent work has provided insights into the mechanisms of telomerase recruitment to telomeres, highlighting the contribution of telomere-associated proteins including TPP1 in humans, Ccq1 in S. pombe, and Cdc13 and Ku in S. cerevisiae.
Although a protein’s primary sequence largely determines its function, proteins can adopt different folding states in response to changes in the environment, some of which may be deleterious to the organism. All organisms, including Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya, have evolved a protein homeostasis network, or proteostasis network, that consists of chaperones and folding factors, degradation components, signalling pathways and specialized compartmentalized modules that manage protein folding in response to environmental stimuli and variation. Surveying the origins of proteostasis networks reveals that they have co-evolved with the proteome to regulate the physiological state of the cell, reflecting the unique stresses that different cells or organisms experience, and that they have a key role in driving evolution by closely managing the link between the phenotype and the genotype.
Cellular signal transduction occurs in complex and redundant interaction networks that are best examined at the level of single cells by simultaneously monitoring the activation dynamics of multiple components. Recent advances in biosensor technology have made it possible to visualize and quantify the activation of multiple network nodes in the same living cell. The precision and scope of this approach has been greatly extended by novel computational approaches to determine the relationships between different networks, studied in separate cells.
Membrane proteins are inserted into the endoplasmic reticulum by two highly conserved parallel pathways. The well-studied co-translational pathway uses the signal recognition particle and its receptor for targeting, and the Sec61 translocon for membrane integration. A recently discovered post-translational pathway uses an entirely different set of factors involving transmembrane domain-selective cytosolic chaperones and an accompanying receptor at the endoplasmic reticulum. Elucidation of the structural and mechanistic basis of this post-translational membrane protein insertion pathway highlights general principles shared between the two pathways and key distinctions unique to each.
As the adult mammalian heart has limited potential for regeneration and repair, the loss of cardiomyocytes during injury and disease can result in heart failure and death. The cellular processes and regulatory mechanisms involved in heart growth and development can be exploited to repair the injured adult heart through ‘reawakening’ pathways that are active during embryogenesis. Heart function has been restored in rodents by reprogramming non-myocytes into cardiomyocytes, by expressing transcription factors (GATA4, HAND2, myocyte-specific enhancer factor 2C (MEF2C) and T-box 5 (TBX5)) and microRNAs (miR-1, miR-133, miR-208 and miR-499) that control cardiomyocyte identity. Stimulating cardiomyocyte dedifferentiation and proliferation by activating mitotic signalling pathways involved in embryonic heart growth represents a complementary approach for heart regeneration and repair. Recent advances in understanding the mechanistic basis of heart development offer exciting opportunities for effective therapies for heart failure.
Correct specification of myofilament lengths is essential for efficient skeletal muscle contraction. Thin filament lengths are best specified by a novel ‘two-segment’ model, wherein the thin filament consists of two concatenated segments, of either constant or variable length, rather than by the classical ‘nebulin ruler’ model, wherein the thin filament is a uniform structure whose length is dictated by nebulin. The two-segment model implicates position-specific ‘differential microregulation’ of actin dynamics as a general principle underlying actin filament lengths and stability.
actin; tropomodulin; tropomyosin; nebulin; proximal segment; distal segment
Progressive DNA damage and mitochondrial decline are both considered to be prime instigators of natural ageing. Traditionally, these two pathways have been viewed largely in isolation. However, recent studies have revealed a molecular circuit that directly links DNA damage to compromised mitochondrial biogenesis and function via p53. This axis of ageing may account for both organ decline and disease development associated with advanced age and could illuminate a path for the development of relevant therapeutics.
DNA methylation is one of the best-characterized epigenetic modifications and has been implicated in numerous biological processes, including transposable element silencing, genomic imprinting and X chromosome inactivation. Compared with other epigenetic modifications, DNA methylation is thought to be relatively stable. Despite its role in long-term silencing, DNA methylation is more dynamic than originally thought as active DNA demethylation has been observed during specific stages of development. In the past decade, many enzymes have been proposed to carry out active DNA demethylation and growing evidence suggests that, depending on the context, this process may be achieved by multiple mechanisms. Insight into how DNA methylation is dynamically regulated will broaden our understanding of epigenetic regulation and have great implications in somatic cell reprogramming and regenerative medicine.
Engineered nucleases enable the targeted alteration of any DNA sequence in a wide range of cell types and organisms. The newly-developed transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) comprise a non-specific DNA-cleaving nuclease fused to a DNA-binding domain that can be easily engineered so that TALENs can target essentially any sequence. The capability to quickly and efficiently alter any gene sequence using TALENs promises to have profound impacts on biological research and to yield potential therapeutic strategies for genetic diseases.
Protein turnover is an effective way of maintaining a functional proteome, as old and potentially damaged polypeptides are destroyed and replaced by newly synthesized copies. An increasing number of intracellular proteins, however, have been identified that evade this turnover process and instead are maintained over a cell’s lifetime. This diverse group of long-lived proteins might be particularly prone to accumulation of damage and thus play a critical role in the functional deterioration of key regulatory processes during ageing.
Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) mediate a broad range of functions in both the developing and adult organism. The accumulated wealth of structural information on the FGF signalling pathway has begun to unveil the underlying molecular mechanisms that modulate this system to generate a myriad of distinct biological outputs in development, tissue homeostasis and metabolism. At the ligand and receptor level, these mechanisms include alternative splicing of the ligand (FGF8 subfamily) and the receptor (FGFR1–FGFR3), ligand homodimerization (FGF9 subfamily), site-specific proteolytic cleavage of the ligand (FGF23), and interaction of the ligand and the receptor with heparan sulphate cofactor and Klotho co-receptor.
The coordinated organization of cell membrane receptors into diverse micrometre-scale spatial patterns is emerging as an important theme of intercellular signalling, as exemplified by immunological synapses. Key characteristics of these patterns are that they transcend direct protein–protein interactions, emerge transiently and modulate signal transduction. Such cooperativity over multiple length scales presents new and intriguing challenges for the study and ultimate understanding of cellular signalling. As a result, new experimental strategies have emerged to manipulate the spatial organization of molecules inside living cells. The resulting spatial mutations yield insights into the interweaving of the spatial, mechanical and chemical aspects of intercellular signalling.
Recognition of the importance of cell adhesion grew steadily during the twentieth century as it promised answers to fundamental questions in diverse fields that included cell biology, developmental biology, tumorigenesis, immunology and neurobiology. However, the route towards a better understanding of its molecular basis was long and difficult, with many false starts. Major progress was made in the late 1970s to late 1980s with the identification of the major families of adhesion molecules, including integrins and cadherins. This in turn set the stage for the explosive growth in adhesion research over the past 25 years.
The careful sorting and recycling of membranes and cargo and the intracellular delivery of proteins, toxins and viruses by endocytosis are well-established roles for the endocytic apparatus, which is present in all eukaryotic cells. Recently, it has become clear that endosomes have key roles in such diverse processes as cytokinesis, polarization and migration, in which their functions might be distinct from those classically associated with endosomes. We speculate that endosomes function as multifunctional platforms on which unique sets of molecular machines are assembled to suit different cellular roles.
Metabolites, the chemical entities that are transformed during metabolism, provide a functional readout of cellular biochemistry. With emerging technologies in mass spectrometry, thousands of metabolites can now be quantitatively measured from minimal amounts of biological material, which has thereby enabled systems-level analyses. By performing global metabolite profiling, also known as untargeted metabolomics, new discoveries linking cellular pathways to biological mechanism are being revealed and shaping our understanding of cell biology, physiology, and medicine.
Covalent attachment of small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO) to proteins is highly dynamic, and both SUMO-protein conjugation and cleavage can be regulated. Protein desumoylation is performed by SUMO proteases, which control cellular mechanisms ranging from transcription and cell division to ribosome biogenesis. Recent advances include the discovery of two novel classes of SUMO proteases, insights regarding SUMO protease specificity, and revelations of previously unappreciated SUMO protease functions in several key cellular pathways. These developments, together with new connections between SUMO proteases and the recently discovered SUMO-targeted ubiquitin ligases (STUbLs), make this an exciting period for the study of these enzymes.
Differentiated cells can be experimentally reprogrammed back to pluripotency by nuclear transfer, cell fusion or induced pluripotent stem cell technology. Nuclear transfer and cell fusion can lead to efficient reprogramming of gene expression. The egg and oocyte reprogramming process includes the exchange of somatic proteins for oocyte proteins, the post-translational modification of histones and the demethylation of DNA. These events occur in an ordered manner and on a defined timescale, indicating that reprogramming by nuclear transfer and by cell fusion rely on deterministic processes.
In the past decade, the diversity of signals generated by the ubiquitin system has emerged as a dominant regulator of biological processes and propagation of information in the eukaryotic cell. A wealth of information has been gained about the crucial role of spatial and temporal regulation of ubiquitin species of different lengths and linkages in the nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) pathway, endocytic trafficking, protein degradation and DNA repair. This spatiotemporal regulation is achieved through sophisticated mechanisms of compartmentalization and sequential series of ubiquitylation events and signal decoding, which control diverse biological processes not only in the cell but also during the development of tissues and entire organisms.
The past 15 years have seen an explosion in our understanding of how cells replicate damaged DNA and how this can lead to mutagenesis. The Y-family DNA polymerases lie at the heart of this process, which is commonly known as translesion synthesis. This family of polymerases has unique features that enable them to synthesize DNA past damaged bases. However, as they exhibit low fidelity when copying undamaged DNA, it is essential that they are only called into play when they are absolutely required. Several layers of regulation ensure that this is achieved.
Caspase-8 can initiate apoptosis, but it is also required for embryonic development and immune cell proliferation. While several non-apoptotic roles for caspase-8 have been proposed, recent work has indicated that the requirement for caspase-8 in development and proliferation is defined by suppression of RIPK3, a kinase that can trigger an alternative form of cell death called programmed necrosis. We will consider these recent findings, and how they can be reconciled with earlier work on the non-apoptotic roles of caspase-8.
Nuclear receptors are integrators of hormonal and nutritional signals, mediating changes to metabolic pathways within the body. Given that modulation of lipid and glucose metabolism has been linked to diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity and atherosclerosis, a greater understanding of pathways that regulate metabolism in physiology and disease is crucial. The liver X receptors (LXRs) and the farnesoid X receptors (FXRs) are activated by oxysterols and bile acids, respectively. Mounting evidence indicates that these nuclear receptors have essential roles, not only in the regulation of cholesterol and bile acid metabolism but also in the integration of sterol, fatty acid and glucose metabolism.
All cells exist within the context of a three-dimensional microenvironment in which they are exposed to mechanical and physical cues. These cues can be disrupted through perturbations to mechanotransduction, from the nanoscale-level to the tissue-level, which compromises tensional homeostasis to promote pathologies such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. The mechanisms of such perturbations suggest that a complex interplay exists between the extracellular microenvironment and cellular function. Furthermore, sustained disruptions in tensional homeostasis can be caused by alterations in the extracellular matrix, allowing it to serve as a mechanically based memory-storage device that can perpetuate a disease or restore normal tissue behaviour.
Ubiquitylation (also known as ubiquitination) regulates essentially all intracellular processes in eukaryotes through highly specific, and often tightly spatially and temporally regulated, modification of numerous cellular proteins. Although most often associated with proteasomal degradation, ubiquitylation frequently serves non-proteolytic functions. In light of its central roles in cellular regulation, it has not been surprising to find that many of the components of the ubiquitin system itself are regulated by ubiquitylation. This observation has broad implications for pathophysiology.
The compaction of genomic DNA into chromatin has profound implications for the regulation of key processes such as transcription, replication and DNA repair. Nucleosomes, the repeating building blocks of chromatin, vary in the composition of their histone protein components. This is the result of the incorporation of variant histones and post-translational modifications of histone amino acid side chains. The resulting changes in nucleosome structure, stability and dynamics affect the compaction of nucleosomal arrays into higher-order structures. It is becoming clear that chromatin structures are not nearly as uniform and regular as previously assumed. This implies that chromatin structure must also be viewed in the context of specific biological functions.