Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

Simon Cook

Research Summary

One of the keys to understanding lifelong health is to understand the signalling pathways that operate inside cells and govern key fate decisions such as cell death, cell survival, cell division or cell senescence (collectively cell longevity).  These signalling pathways involve enzymes called ‘protein kinases’ that attach phosphate groups to specific cellular proteins, thereby controlling their activity, location or abundance. In this way protein kinases orchestrate the cellular response to growth factors, nutrient availability or stress and damage.

Ageing results in part from the imbalance between cellular damage, accrued throughout life, and the progressive decline in stress response and repair pathways. We are interested in how protein kinases function in stress responses, the removal of damaged cellular components (e.g. autophagy, see also Nicholas Ktistakis and Oliver Florey) and the control of cellular lifespan. We believe this will enhance our understanding of how the normal declines in these processes drive ageing.

Signalling pathways are frequently de-regulated in certain age-related diseases – notably in cancer, inflammation and neurodegeneration – and many protein kinases are attractive drug targets. Consequently we translate our basic knowledge of signalling through collaborations with charities and pharmaceutical companies (e.g. AstraZeneca and MISSION Therapeutics).

Latest Publications

Identification of a novel orally bioavailable ERK5 inhibitor with selectivity over p38α and BRD4.
Myers SM, Miller DC, Molyneux L, Arasta M, Bawn RH, Blackburn TJ, Cook SJ, Edwards N, Endicott JA, Golding BT, Griffin RJ, Hammonds T, Hardcastle IR, Harnor SJ, Heptinstall AB, Lochhead PA, Martin MP, Martin NC, Newell DR, Owen PJ, Pang LC, Reuillon T, Rigoreau LJM, Thomas HD, Tucker JA, Wang LZ, Wong AC, Noble MEM, Wedge SR, Cano C

Extracellular regulated kinase 5 (ERK5) signalling has been implicated in driving a number of cellular phenotypes including endothelial cell angiogenesis and tumour cell motility. Novel ERK5 inhibitors were identified using high throughput screening, with a series of pyrrole-2-carboxamides substituted at the 4-position with an aroyl group being found to exhibit IC values in the micromolar range, but having no selectivity against p38α MAP kinase. Truncation of the N-substituent marginally enhanced potency (∼3-fold) against ERK5, but importantly attenuated inhibition of p38α. Systematic variation of the substituents on the aroyl group led to the selective inhibitor 4-(2-bromo-6-fluorobenzoyl)-N-(pyridin-3-yl)-1H-pyrrole-2-carboxamide (IC 0.82 μM for ERK5; IC > 120 μM for p38α). The crystal structure (PDB 5O7I) of this compound in complex with ERK5 has been solved. This compound was orally bioavailable and inhibited bFGF-driven Matrigel plug angiogenesis and tumour xenograft growth. The selective ERK5 inhibitor described herein provides a lead for further development into a tool compound for more extensive studies seeking to examine the role of ERK5 signalling in cancer and other diseases.

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European journal of medicinal chemistry, 178, 1768-3254, 530-543, 2019

PMID: 31212132

MEK1/2 inhibitor withdrawal reverses acquired resistance driven by BRAF amplification whereas KRAS amplification promotes EMT-chemoresistance.
Sale MJ, Balmanno K, Saxena J, Ozono E, Wojdyla K, McIntyre RE, Gilley R, Woroniuk A, Howarth KD, Hughes G, Dry JR, Arends MJ, Caro P, Oxley D, Ashton S, Adams DJ, Saez-Rodriguez J, Smith PD, Cook SJ

Acquired resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors (MEKi) arises through amplification of BRAF or KRAS to reinstate ERK1/2 signalling. Here we show that BRAF amplification and MEKi resistance are reversible following drug withdrawal. Cells with BRAF amplification are addicted to MEKi to maintain a precise level of ERK1/2 signalling that is optimal for cell proliferation and survival, and tumour growth in vivo. Robust ERK1/2 activation following MEKi withdrawal drives a p57-dependent G1 cell cycle arrest and senescence or expression of NOXA and cell death, selecting against those cells with amplified BRAF. p57 expression is required for loss of BRAF amplification and reversal of MEKi resistance. Thus, BRAF amplification confers a selective disadvantage during drug withdrawal, validating intermittent dosing to forestall resistance. In contrast, resistance driven by KRAS amplification is not reversible; rather ERK1/2 hyperactivation drives ZEB1-dependent epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and chemoresistance, arguing strongly against the use of drug holidays in cases of KRAS amplification.

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Nature communications, 10, 2041-1723, 2030, 2019

PMID: 31048689

Over-expressed, N-terminally truncated BRAF is detected in the nucleus of cells with nuclear phosphorylated MEK and ERK.
Hey F, Andreadi C, Noble C, Patel B, Jin H, Kamata T, Straatman K, Luo J, Balmanno K, Jones DTW, Collins VP, Cook SJ, Caunt CJ, Pritchard C

BRAF is a cytoplasmic protein kinase, which activates the MEK-ERK signalling pathway. Deregulation of the pathway is associated with the presence of mutations in human cancer, the most common being , although structural rearrangements, which remove N-terminal regulatory sequences, have also been reported. RAF-MEK-ERK signalling is normally thought to occur in the cytoplasm of the cell. However, in an investigation of BRAF localisation using fluorescence microscopy combined with subcellular fractionation of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP)-tagged proteins expressed in NIH3T3 cells, surprisingly, we detected N-terminally truncated BRAF (ΔBRAF) in both nuclear and cytoplasmic compartments. In contrast, ΔCRAF and full-length, wild-type BRAF (BRAF) were detected at lower levels in the nucleus while full-length BRAF was virtually excluded from this compartment. Similar results were obtained using ΔBRAF tagged with the hormone-binding domain of the oestrogen receptor (hbER) and with the KIAA1549-ΔBRAF translocation mutant found in human pilocytic astrocytomas. Here we show that GFP-ΔBRAF nuclear translocation does not involve a canonical Nuclear Localisation Signal (NLS), but is suppressed by N-terminal sequences. Nuclear GFP-ΔBRAF retains MEK/ERK activating potential and is associated with the accumulation of phosphorylated MEK and ERK in the nucleus. In contrast, full-length GFP-BRAF and GFP-BRAF are associated with the accumulation of phosphorylated ERK but not phosphorylated MEK in the nucleus. These data have implications for cancers bearing single nucleotide variants or N-terminal deleted structural variants of .

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Heliyon, 4, 2405-8440, e01065, 2018

PMID: 30603699

Group Members

Latest Publications

Control of cell death and mitochondrial fission by ERK1/2 MAP Kinase signalling.

Cook SJ, Stuart K, Gilley R

The FEBS journal
1742-4658: (2017)

PMID: 28548464

Visualisation of Endogenous ERK1/2 in Cells with a Bioorthogonal Covalent Probe.

Sipthorp J, Lebraud H, Gilley R

Bioconjugate chemistry
1520-4812: (2017)

PMID: 28449575

RNA-binding proteins ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 promote cell quiescence.

Galloway A, Saveliev A, Łukasiak S

Science (New York, N.Y.)
352 1095-9203:453-9 (2016)

PMID: 27102483

Tumor cells with KRAS or BRAF mutations or ERK5/MAPK7 amplification are not addicted to ERK5 activity for cell proliferation.

Lochhead PA, Clark J, Wang LZ

Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)
15 1551-4005:506-18 (2016)

PMID: 26959608