Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Jon Houseley

Research Summary

We study the mechanisms by which cells learn to thrive in new environments.
 
From yeast caught by the wind and scattered across the landscape or plankton dwelling in increasingly acidified oceans to malignant cells facing modern targeted anticancer drugs, cells often face a stark choice – adapt or die.
 
We study the mechanisms by which cells adapt to new environments. A major focus is the unexpected ability of cells to change specific parts of their genomes in response to particular environments. The ability to stimulate mutation at the right time and place is likely to allow organisms to evolve and adapt much faster than we might expect, and such mechanisms have clear medical importance.
 
Attempting adaptive change is dangerous for any organism, and must be tightly controlled within the life cycle. We are starting to discover connections between adaptation and ageing; we have found that cellular ageing can facilitate adaptation, and conversely we see evidence that the drive to adapt to the environment seems to impact the ageing process.
 
Jon is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow.
 

Latest Publications

Protocols for Northern Analysis of Exosome Substrates and Other Noncoding RNAs.
Cruz C, Houseley J

Over the past decade a plethora of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) have been identified, initiating an explosion in RNA research. Although RNA sequencing methods provide unsurpassed insights into ncRNA distribution and expression, detailed information on structure and processing are harder to extract from sequence data. In contrast, northern blotting methods provide uniquely detailed insights into complex RNA populations but are rarely employed outside specialist RNA research groups. Such techniques are generally considered difficult for nonspecialists, which is unfortunate as substantial technical advances in the past few decades have solved the major challenges. Here we present simple, reproducible and highly robust protocols for separating glyoxylated RNA on agarose gels and heat denatured RNA on polyacrylamide-urea gels using standard laboratory electrophoresis equipment. We also provide reliable transfer and hybridization protocols that do not require optimization for most applications. Together, these should allow any molecular biology lab to elucidate the structure and processing of ncRNAs of interest.

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Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), 2062, 1940-6029, 83-103, 2020

PMID: 31768973

Tri-methylation of histone H3 lysine 4 facilitates gene expression in ageing cells.
Cruz C, Della Rosa M, Krueger C, Gao Q, Horkai D, King M, Field L, Houseley J

Transcription of protein coding genes is accompanied by recruitment of COMPASS to promoter-proximal chromatin, which methylates histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) to form H3K4me1, H3K4me2 and H3K4me3. Here, we determine the importance of COMPASS in maintaining gene expression across lifespan in budding yeast. We find that COMPASS mutations reduce replicative lifespan and cause expression defects in almost 500 genes. Although H3K4 methylation is reported to act primarily in gene repression, particularly in yeast, repressive functions are progressively lost with age while hundreds of genes become dependent on H3K4me3 for full expression. Basal and inducible expression of these genes is also impaired in young cells lacking COMPASS components Swd1 or Spp1. Gene induction during ageing is associated with increasing promoter H3K4me3, but H3K4me3 also accumulates in non-promoter regions and the ribosomal DNA. Our results provide clear evidence that H3K4me3 is required to maintain normal expression of many genes across organismal lifespan.

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eLife, 7, 2050-084X, , 2018

PMID: 30274593

Gene expression hallmarks of cellular ageing.
Frenk S, Houseley J

Ageing leads to dramatic changes in the physiology of many different tissues resulting in a spectrum of pathology. Nonetheless, many lines of evidence suggest that ageing is driven by highly conserved cell intrinsic processes, and a set of unifying hallmarks of ageing has been defined. Here, we survey reports of age-linked changes in basal gene expression across eukaryotes from yeast to human and identify six gene expression hallmarks of cellular ageing: downregulation of genes encoding mitochondrial proteins; downregulation of the protein synthesis machinery; dysregulation of immune system genes; reduced growth factor signalling; constitutive responses to stress and DNA damage; dysregulation of gene expression and mRNA processing. These encompass widely reported features of ageing such as increased senescence and inflammation, reduced electron transport chain activity and reduced ribosome synthesis, but also reveal a surprising lack of gene expression responses to known age-linked cellular stresses. We discuss how the existence of conserved transcriptomic hallmarks relates to genome-wide epigenetic differences underlying ageing clocks, and how the changing transcriptome results in proteomic alterations where data is available and to variations in cell physiology characteristic of ageing. Identification of gene expression events that occur during ageing across distant organisms should be informative as to conserved underlying mechanisms of ageing, and provide additional biomarkers to assess the effects of diet and other environmental factors on the rate of ageing.

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Biogerontology, , 1573-6768, , 2018

PMID: 29492790

Group Members

Latest Publications

Protocols for Northern Analysis of Exosome Substrates and Other Noncoding RNAs.

Cruz C, Houseley J

Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)
2062 1940-6029:83-103 (2020)

PMID: 31768973

Tri-methylation of histone H3 lysine 4 facilitates gene expression in ageing cells.

Cruz C, Della Rosa M, Krueger C

eLife
7 2050-084X: (2018)

PMID: 30274593

Gene expression hallmarks of cellular ageing.

Frenk S, Houseley J

Biogerontology
1573-6768: (2018)

PMID: 29492790

Can aging be beneficial?

Frenk S, Houseley J

Aging
1945-4589: (2017)

PMID: 29074820

Environmental change drives accelerated adaptation through stimulated copy number variation.

Hull RM, Cruz C, Jack CV

PLoS biology
15 1545-7885:e2001333 (2017)

PMID: 28654659

RNA binding by the histone methyltransferases Set1 and Set2.

Sayou C, Millán-Zambrano G, Santos-Rosa H

Molecular and cellular biology
1098-5549: (2017)

PMID: 28483910

Multi-tissue DNA methylation age predictor in mouse.

Stubbs TM, Bonder MJ, Stark AK

Genome biology
18 1474-760X:68 (2017)

PMID: 28399939

Aging yeast gain a competitive advantage on non-optimal carbon sources.

Frenk S, Pizza G, Walker RV

Aging cell
1474-9726: (2017)

PMID: 28247585

TET-dependent regulation of retrotransposable elements in mouse embryonic stem cells.

de la Rica L, Deniz Ö, Cheng KC

Genome biology
17 1474-760X:234 (2016)

PMID: 27863519

Regulation of ribosomal DNA amplification by the TOR pathway.

Jack CV, Cruz C, Hull RM

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
112 1091-6490:9674-9 (2015)

PMID: 26195783

Unexpected DNA loss mediated by the DNA binding activity of ribonuclease A.

Donà F, Houseley J

PloS one
9 1932-6203:e115008 (2014)

PMID: 25502562