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IKKα plays a major role in canonical NF-kB signalling in colorectal cells.
Prescott JA, Balmanno K, Mitchell JP, Okkenhaug H, Cook SJ

Inhibitor of kappa B (IκB) kinase β (IKKβ) has long been viewed as the dominant IKK in the canonical nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) signalling pathway, with IKKα being more important in non-canonical NF-κB activation. Here we have investigated the role of IKKα and IKKβ in canonical NF-κB activation in colorectal cells using CRISPR-Cas9 knock-out cell lines, siRNA and selective IKKβ inhibitors. IKKα and IKKβ were redundant for IκBα phosphorylation and turnover since loss of IKKα or IKKβ alone had little (SW620 cells) or no (HCT116 cells) effect. However, in HCT116 cells IKKα was the dominant IKK required for basal phosphorylation of p65 at S536, stimulated phosphorylation of p65 at S468, nuclear translocation of p65 and the NF-κB-dependent transcriptional response to both TNFα and IL-1α. In these cells IKKβ was far less efficient at compensating for the loss of IKKα than IKKα was able to compensate for the loss of IKKβ. This was confirmed when siRNA was used to knock-down the non-targeted kinase in single KO cells. Critically, the selective IKKβ inhibitor BIX02514 confirmed these observations in WT cells and similar results were seen in SW620 cells. Notably, whilst IKKα loss strongly inhibited TNFα-dependent p65 nuclear translocation, IKKα and IKKβ contributed equally to c-Rel nuclear translocation indicating that different NF-κB subunits exhibit different dependencies on these IKKs. These results demonstrate a major role for IKKα in canonical NF-κB signalling in colorectal cells and may be relevant to efforts to design IKK inhibitors, which have focused largely on IKKβ to date.

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The Biochemical journal, 1, 1, , 14 Jan 2022


Inhibitory feedback control of NF-κB signalling in health and disease.
Prescott JA, Mitchell JP, Cook SJ

Cells must adapt to changes in their environment to maintain cell, tissue and organismal integrity in the face of mechanical, chemical or microbiological stress. Nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) is one of the most important transcription factors that controls inducible gene expression as cells attempt to restore homeostasis. It plays critical roles in the immune system, from acute inflammation to the development of secondary lymphoid organs, and also has roles in cell survival, proliferation and differentiation. Given its role in such critical processes, NF-κB signalling must be subject to strict spatiotemporal control to ensure measured and context-specific cellular responses. Indeed, deregulation of NF-κB signalling can result in debilitating and even lethal inflammation and also underpins some forms of cancer. In this review, we describe the homeostatic feedback mechanisms that limit and 're-set' inducible activation of NF-κB. We first describe the key components of the signalling pathways leading to activation of NF-κB, including the prominent role of protein phosphorylation and protein ubiquitylation, before briefly introducing the key features of feedback control mechanisms. We then describe the array of negative feedback loops targeting different components of the NF-κB signalling cascade including controls at the receptor level, post-receptor signalosome complexes, direct regulation of the critical 'inhibitor of κB kinases' (IKKs) and inhibitory feedforward regulation of NF-κB-dependent transcriptional responses. We also review post-transcriptional feedback controls affecting RNA stability and translation. Finally, we describe the deregulation of these feedback controls in human disease and consider how feedback may be a challenge to the efficacy of inhibitors.

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The Biochemical journal, 478, 13, , 16 Jul 2021


Open Access

Inhibition of RAF dimers: it takes two to tango.
Cook FA, Cook SJ

The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway promotes cell proliferation and survival and RAS and BRAF proteins are commonly mutated in cancer. This has fuelled the development of small molecule kinase inhibitors including ATP-competitive RAF inhibitors. Type I and type I½ ATP-competitive RAF inhibitors are effective in BRAFV600E/K-mutant cancer cells. However, in RAS-mutant cells these compounds instead promote RAS-dependent dimerisation and paradoxical activation of wild-type RAF proteins. RAF dimerisation is mediated by two key regions within each RAF protein; the RKTR motif of the αC-helix and the NtA-region of the dimer partner. Dimer formation requires the adoption of a closed, active kinase conformation which can be induced by RAS-dependent activation of RAF or by the binding of type I and I½ RAF inhibitors. Binding of type I or I½ RAF inhibitors to one dimer partner reduces the binding affinity of the other, thereby leaving a single dimer partner uninhibited and able to activate MEK. To overcome this paradox two classes of drug are currently under development; type II pan-RAF inhibitors that induce RAF dimer formation but bind both dimer partners thus allowing effective inhibition of both wild-type RAF dimer partners and monomeric active class I mutant RAF, and the recently developed "paradox breakers" which interrupt BRAF dimerisation through disruption of the αC-helix. Here we review the regulation of RAF proteins, including RAF dimers, and the progress towards effective targeting of the wild-type RAF proteins.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 1, 1, , 24 Dec 2020


CDK1, the Other 'Master Regulator' of Autophagy.
Odle RI, Florey O, Ktistakis NT, Cook SJ

Autophagy and cap-dependent mRNA translation are tightly regulated by the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signalling complex in response to nutrient availability. However, the regulation of these processes, and mTORC1 itself, is different during mitosis, and this has remained an area of significant controversy; for example, studies have argued that autophagy is either repressed or highly active during mitosis. Recent studies have shown that autophagy initiation is repressed, and cap-dependent mRNA translation is maintained during mitosis despite mTORC1 activity being repressed. This is achieved in large part by a switch from mTORC1- to cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1)-mediated regulation. Here, we review the history and recent advances and seek to present a unifying model to inform the future study of autophagy and mTORC1 during mitosis.

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Trends in cell biology, 1, 1, , 30 Nov 2020


Paradoxical activation of the protein kinase-transcription factor ERK5 by ERK5 kinase inhibitors.
Lochhead PA, Tucker JA, Tatum NJ, Wang J, Oxley D, Kidger AM, Johnson VP, Cassidy MA, Gray NS, Noble MEM, Cook SJ

The dual protein kinase-transcription factor, ERK5, is an emerging drug target in cancer and inflammation, and small-molecule ERK5 kinase inhibitors have been developed. However, selective ERK5 kinase inhibitors fail to recapitulate ERK5 genetic ablation phenotypes, suggesting kinase-independent functions for ERK5. Here we show that ERK5 kinase inhibitors cause paradoxical activation of ERK5 transcriptional activity mediated through its unique C-terminal transcriptional activation domain (TAD). Using the ERK5 kinase inhibitor, Compound 26 (ERK5-IN-1), as a paradigm, we have developed kinase-active, drug-resistant mutants of ERK5. With these mutants, we show that induction of ERK5 transcriptional activity requires direct binding of the inhibitor to the kinase domain. This in turn promotes conformational changes in the kinase domain that result in nuclear translocation of ERK5 and stimulation of gene transcription. This shows that both the ERK5 kinase and TAD must be considered when assessing the role of ERK5 and the effectiveness of anti-ERK5 therapeutics.

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Nature communications, 11, 1, , 13 Mar 2020


Open Access

Macroautophagy is repressed during mitosis - seeing is believing.
Odle RI, Cook SJ

For the last two decades there has been wide ranging debate about the status of macroautophagy during mitosis. Because metazoan cells undergo an "open" mitosis in which the nuclear envelope breaks down, it has been proposed that macroautophagy must be inhibited to maintain genome integrity. While many studies have agreed that the number of autophagosomes is greatly reduced in cells undergoing mitosis, there has been no consensus on whether this reflects decreased autophagosome synthesis or increased autophagosome degradation. Reviewing the literature we were concerned that many studies relied too heavily on autophagy assays that were simply not appropriate for a relatively brief event such as mitosis. Using highly dynamic omegasome markers we have recently shown unequivocally that autophagosome synthesis is repressed at the onset of mitosis and is restored once cell division is complete. This is accomplished by CDK1, the master regulator of mitosis, taking over the function of MTORC1, to ensure autophagy is repressed during mitosis.

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Autophagy, 1, 1, , 20 Feb 2020

DOI: 10.1080/15548627.2020.1725405

Dual-mechanism ERK1/2 inhibitors exploit a distinct binding mode to block phosphorylation and nuclear accumulation of ERK1/2.
Kidger AM, Munck JM, Saini HK, Balmanno K, Minihane E, Courtin A, Graham B, O'Reilly M, Odle R, Cook SJ

The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is frequently deregulated in cancer due to activating mutations of growth factor receptors, RAS or BRAF. Both RAF and MEK1/2 inhibitors are clinically approved and various ERK1/2 inhibitors (ERKi) are currently undergoing clinical trials. To date ERKi display two distinct mechanisms of action (MoA); catalytic ERKi solely inhibit ERK1/2 catalytic activity, whereas dual mechanism ERKi additionally prevent the activating phosphorylation of ERK1/2 at its T-E-Y motif by MEK1/2. These differences may impart significant differences in biological activity because T-E-Y phosphorylation is the signal for nuclear entry of ERK1/2, allowing them to access many key transcription factor targets. Here, we characterised the MoA of five ERKi and examined their functional consequences in terms of ERK1/2 signalling, gene expression and anti-proliferative efficacy. We demonstrate that catalytic ERKi promote a striking nuclear accumulation of p-ERK1/2 in KRAS mutant cell lines. In contrast, dual mechanism ERKi exploit a distinct binding mode to block ERK1/2 phosphorylation by MEK1/2, exhibit superior potency and prevent the nuclear accumulation of ERK1/2. Consequently, dual-mechanism ERKi exhibit more durable pathway inhibition and enhanced suppression of ERK1/2-dependent gene expression compared to catalytic ERKi, resulting in increased efficacy across BRAF and RAS mutant cell lines.

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Molecular cancer therapeutics, 1, 1, , 20 Nov 2019

DOI: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-19-0505

An mTORC1-to-CDK1 Switch Maintains Autophagy Suppression during Mitosis.
Odle RI, Walker SA, Oxley D, Kidger AM, Balmanno K, Gilley R, Okkenhaug H, Florey O, Ktistakis NT, Cook SJ

Since nuclear envelope breakdown occurs during mitosis in metazoan cells, it has been proposed that macroautophagy must be inhibited to maintain genome integrity. However, repression of macroautophagy during mitosis remains controversial and mechanistic detail limited to the suggestion that CDK1 phosphorylates VPS34. Here, we show that initiation of macroautophagy, measured by the translocation of the ULK complex to autophagic puncta, is repressed during mitosis, even when mTORC1 is inhibited. Indeed, mTORC1 is inactive during mitosis, reflecting its failure to localize to lysosomes due to CDK1-dependent RAPTOR phosphorylation. While mTORC1 normally represses autophagy via phosphorylation of ULK1, ATG13, ATG14, and TFEB, we show that the mitotic phosphorylation of these autophagy regulators, including at known repressive sites, is dependent on CDK1 but independent of mTOR. Thus, CDK1 substitutes for inhibited mTORC1 as the master regulator of macroautophagy during mitosis, uncoupling autophagy regulation from nutrient status to ensure repression of macroautophagy during mitosis.

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Molecular cell, S1097-2765, 19, , 06 Nov 2019

DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.10.016

Open Access

Targeting melanoma's MCL1 bias unleashes the apoptotic potential of BRAF and ERK1/2 pathway inhibitors.
Sale MJ, Minihane E, Monks NR, Gilley R, Richards FM, Schifferli KP, Andersen CL, Davies EJ, Vicente MA, Ozono E, Markovets A, Dry JR, Drew L, Flemington V, Proia T, Jodrell DI, Smith PD, Cook SJ

BRAF and MEK1/2 inhibitors are effective in melanoma but resistance inevitably develops. Despite increasing the abundance of pro-apoptotic BIM and BMF, ERK1/2 pathway inhibition is predominantly cytostatic, reflecting residual pro-survival BCL2 family activity. Here, we show that uniquely low BCL-X expression in melanoma biases the pro-survival pool towards MCL1. Consequently, BRAF or MEK1/2 inhibitors are synthetic lethal with the MCL1 inhibitor AZD5991, driving profound tumour cell death that requires BAK/BAX, BIM and BMF, and inhibiting tumour growth in vivo. Combination of ERK1/2 pathway inhibitors with BCL2/BCL-w/BCL-X inhibitors is stronger in CRC, correlating with a low MCL1:BCL-X ratio; indeed the MCL1:BCL-X ratio is predictive of ERK1/2 pathway inhibitor synergy with MCL1 or BCL2/BCL-w/BCL-X inhibitors. Finally, AZD5991 delays acquired BRAFi/MEKi resistance and enhances the efficacy of an ERK1/2 inhibitor in a model of acquired BRAFi + MEKi resistance. Thus combining ERK1/2 pathway inhibitors with MCL1 antagonists in melanoma could improve therapeutic index and patient outcomes.

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Nature communications, 10, 1, , 14 Nov 2019


Open Access

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, , 2019


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, , 2019


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, , 2018


Open Access

Targeting IKKβ in Cancer: Challenges and Opportunities for the Therapeutic Utilisation of IKKβ Inhibitors.
Prescott JA, Cook SJ

Deregulated NF-κB signalling is implicated in the pathogenesis of numerous human inflammatory disorders and malignancies. Consequently, the NF-κB pathway has attracted attention as an attractive therapeutic target for drug discovery. As the primary, druggable mediator of canonical NF-κB signalling the IKKβ protein kinase has been the historical focus of drug development pipelines. Thousands of compounds with activity against IKKβ have been characterised, with many demonstrating promising efficacy in pre-clinical models of cancer and inflammatory disease. However, severe on-target toxicities and other safety concerns associated with systemic IKKβ inhibition have thus far prevented the clinical approval of any IKKβ inhibitors. This review will discuss the potential reasons for the lack of clinical success of IKKβ inhibitors to date, the challenges associated with their therapeutic use, realistic opportunities for their future utilisation, and the alternative strategies to inhibit NF-κB signalling that may overcome some of the limitations associated with IKKβ inhibition.

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Cells, 7, 2073-4409, , 2018


Open Access

ERK1/2 inhibitors: New weapons to inhibit the RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway.
Kidger AM, Sipthorp J, Cook SJ

The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is de-regulated in a variety of cancers due to mutations in receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), negative regulators of RAS (such as NF1) and core pathway components themselves (RAS, BRAF, CRAF, MEK1 or MEK2). This has driven the development of a variety of pharmaceutical agents to inhibit RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling in cancer and both RAF and MEK inhibitors are now approved and used in the clinic. There is now much interest in targeting at the level of ERK1/2 for a variety of reasons. First, since the pathway is linear from RAF-to-MEK-to-ERK then ERK1/2 are validated as targets per se. Second, innate resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors involves relief of negative feedback and pathway re-activation with all signalling going through ERK1/2, validating the use of ERK inhibitors with RAF or MEK inhibitors as an up-front combination. Third, long-term acquired resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors involves a variety of mechanisms (KRAS or BRAF amplification, MEK mutation, etc.) which re-instate ERK activity, validating the use of ERK inhibitors to forestall acquired resistance to RAF or MEK inhibitors. The first potent highly selective ERK1/2 inhibitors have now been developed and are entering clinical trials. They have one of three discrete mechanisms of action - catalytic, "dual mechanism" or covalent - which could have profound consequences for how cells respond and adapt. In this review we describe the validation of ERK1/2 as anti-cancer drug targets, consider the mechanism of action of new ERK1/2 inhibitors and how this may impact on their efficacy, anticipate factors that will determine how tumour cells respond and adapt to ERK1/2 inhibitors and consider ERK1/2 inhibitor drug combinations.

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Pharmacology & therapeutics, , 1879-016X, , 2018


De-RSKing ERK - regulation of ERK1/2-RSK dissociation by phosphorylation within a disordered motif.
Kidger AM, Cook SJ

The protein kinases ERK1/2 and RSK associate in unstimulated cells but must separate to target other substrates. In this issue, Gógl et al. show that phosphorylation of RSK by active ERK1/2 culminates in the formation of an intramolecular charge clamp between Lys729 and the phosphate group on Ser732. This promotes the dissociation of ERK1/2 from RSK allowing them to engage with other targets.

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The FEBS journal, 285, 1742-4658, , 2018


Calcium phosphate particles stimulate interleukin-1β release from human vascular smooth muscle cells: A role for spleen tyrosine kinase and exosome release.
Dautova Y, Kapustin AN, Pappert K, Epple M, Okkenhaug H, Cook SJ, Shanahan CM, Bootman MD, Proudfoot D

Calcium phosphate (CaP) particle deposits are found in several inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis and osteoarthritis. CaP, and other forms of crystals and particles, can promote inflammasome formation in macrophages leading to caspase-1 activation and secretion of mature interleukin-1β (IL-1β). Given the close association of small CaP particles with vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) in atherosclerotic fibrous caps, we aimed to determine if CaP particles affected pro-inflammatory signalling in human VSMCs.

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Journal of molecular and cellular cardiology, , 1095-8584, , 2017


ERK1/2 signalling protects against apoptosis following endoplasmic reticulum stress but cannot provide long-term protection against BAX/BAK-independent cell death.
Darling NJ, Balmanno K, Cook SJ

Disruption of protein folding in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) causes ER stress. Activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) acts to restore protein homeostasis or, if ER stress is severe or persistent, drive apoptosis, which is thought to proceed through the cell intrinsic, mitochondrial pathway. Indeed, cells that lack the key executioner proteins BAX and BAK are protected from ER stress-induced apoptosis. Here we show that chronic ER stress causes the progressive inhibition of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) signalling pathway. This is causally related to ER stress since reactivation of ERK1/2 can protect cells from ER stress-induced apoptosis whilst ERK1/2 pathway inhibition sensitises cells to ER stress. Furthermore, cancer cell lines harbouring constitutively active BRAFV600E are addicted to ERK1/2 signalling for protection against ER stress-induced cell death. ERK1/2 signalling normally represses the pro-death proteins BIM, BMF and PUMA and it has been proposed that ER stress induces BIM-dependent cell death. We found no evidence that ER stress increased the expression of these proteins; furthermore, BIM was not required for ER stress-induced death. Rather, ER stress caused the PERK-dependent inhibition of cap-dependent mRNA translation and the progressive loss of pro-survival proteins including BCL2, BCLXL and MCL1. Despite these observations, neither ERK1/2 activation nor loss of BAX/BAK could confer long-term clonogenic survival to cells exposed to ER stress. Thus, ER stress induces cell death by at least two biochemically and genetically distinct pathways: a classical BAX/BAK-dependent apoptotic response that can be inhibited by ERK1/2 signalling and an alternative ERK1/2- and BAX/BAK-independent cell death pathway.

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PloS one, 12, 1932-6203, , 2017


Open Access

Control of cell death and mitochondrial fission by ERK1/2 MAP Kinase signalling.
Cook SJ, Stuart K, Gilley R, Sale MJ

The ERK1/2 signalling pathway is best known for its role in connecting activated growth factor receptors to changes in gene expression due to activated ERK1/2 entering the nucleus and phosphorylating transcription factors. However, active ERK1/2 also translocate to a variety of other organelles including the endoplasmic reticulum, endosomes, golgi and mitochondria to access specific substrates and influence cell physiology. In this article we review two aspects of ERK1/2 signalling at the mitochondria that are involved in regulating cell fate decisions. First, we describe the prominent role of ERK1/2 in controlling the BCL2-regulated, cell-intrinsic apoptotic pathway. In most cases ERK1/2 signalling promotes cell survival by activating pro-survival BCL2 proteins (BCL2, BCL-xL and MCL1) and repressing pro-death proteins (BAD, BIM, BMF and PUMA). This pro-survival signalling is co-opted by oncogenes to confer cancer cell-specific survival advantages and we describe how this information has been used to develop new drug combinations. However, ERK1/2 can also drive the expression of the pro-death protein NOXA to control 'autophagy or apoptosis' decisions during nutrient starvation. We also describe recent studies demonstrating a link between ERK1/2 signalling, DRP1 and the mitochondrial fission machinery and how this may influence metabolic reprogramming during tumorigenesis and stem cell reprogramming. With advances in sub-cellular proteomics it is likely that new roles for ERK1/2, and new substrates, remain to be discovered at the mitochondria and other organelles. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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The FEBS journal, , 1742-4658, , 2017


Visualisation of Endogenous ERK1/2 in Cells with a Bioorthogonal Covalent Probe.
Sipthorp J, Lebraud H, Gilley R, Kidger A, Okkenhaug H, Saba-El-Leil MK, Meloche S, Caunt CJ, Cook S, Heightman TD

The RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK pathway has been intensively studied in oncology with RAS known to be mutated in ~30% of all human cancers. The recent emergence of ERK1/2 inhibitors and their ongoing clinical investigation demands a better understanding of ERK1/2 behaviour following small molecule inhibition. Although fluorescent fusion proteins and fluorescent antibodies are well-established methods to visualise proteins, we show that ERK1/2 can be visualised via a less invasive approach based on a two-step process using Inverse Electron Demand Diels-Alder cycloaddition. Our previously reported TCO-tagged covalent ERK1/2 inhibitor was used in a series of imaging experiments following a click reaction with a tetrazine-tagged fluorescent dye. Although limitations were encountered with this approach, endogenous ERK1/2 was successfully imaged in cells and 'on target' staining was confirmed by overexpressing DUSP5, a nuclear ERK1/2 phosphatase which anchors ERK1/2 in the nucleus.

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Bioconjugate chemistry, , 1520-4812, , 2017


RNA-binding proteins ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 promote cell quiescence.
Galloway A, Saveliev A, Łukasiak S, Hodson DJ, Bolland D, Balmanno K, Ahlfors H, Monzón-Casanova E, Mannurita SC, Bell LS, Andrews S, Díaz-Muñoz MD, Cook SJ, Corcoran A, Turner M

Progression through the stages of lymphocyte development requires coordination of the cell cycle. Such coordination ensures genomic integrity while cells somatically rearrange their antigen receptor genes [in a process called variable-diversity-joining (VDJ) recombination] and, upon successful rearrangement, expands the pools of progenitor lymphocytes. Here we show that in developing B lymphocytes, the RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) ZFP36L1 and ZFP36L2 are critical for maintaining quiescence before precursor B cell receptor (pre-BCR) expression and for reestablishing quiescence after pre-BCR-induced expansion. These RBPs suppress an evolutionarily conserved posttranscriptional regulon consisting of messenger RNAs whose protein products cooperatively promote transition into the S phase of the cell cycle. This mechanism promotes VDJ recombination and effective selection of cells expressing immunoglobulin-μ at the pre-BCR checkpoint.

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


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, Gilmour L, Squires M, Gilley R, Foxton C, Newell DR, Wedge SR, Cook SJ

ERK5, encoded by MAPK7, has been proposed to play a role in cell proliferation, thus attracting interest as a cancer therapeutic target. While oncogenic RAS or BRAF cause sustained activation of the MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway, ERK5 is directly activated by MEK5. It has been proposed that RAS and RAF proteins can also promote ERK5 activation. Here we investigated the interplay between RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK and ERK5 signaling and studied the role of ERK5 in tumor cell proliferation in 2 disease-relevant cell models. We demonstrate that although an inducible form of CRAF (CRAF:ER*) can activate ERK5 in fibroblasts, the response is delayed and reflects feed-forward signaling. Additionally, oncogenic KRAS and BRAF do not activate ERK5 in epithelial cells. Although KRAS and BRAF do not couple directly to MEK5-ERK5, ERK5 signaling might still be permissive for proliferation. However, neither the selective MEK5 inhibitor BIX02189 or ERK5 siRNA inhibited proliferation of colorectal cancer cells harbouring KRAS(G12C/G13D) or BRAF(V600E). Furthermore, there was no additive or synergistic effect observed when BIX02189 was combined with the MEK1/2 inhibitor Selumetinib (AZD6244), suggesting that ERK5 was neither required for proliferation nor a driver of innate resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors. Finally, even cancer cells with MAPK7 amplification were resistant to BIX02189 and ERK5 siRNA, showing that ERK5 amplification does not confer addiction to ERK5 for cell proliferation. Thus ERK5 signaling is unlikely to play a role in tumor cell proliferation downstream of KRAS or BRAF or in tumor cells with ERK5 amplification. These results have important implications for the role of ERK5 as an anti-cancer drug target.

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


Open Access

Maternal DNA Methylation Regulates Early Trophoblast Development.
Branco MR, King M, Perez-Garcia V, Bogutz AB, Caley M, Fineberg E, Lefebvre L, Cook SJ, Dean W, Hemberger M, Reik W

Critical roles for DNA methylation in embryonic development are well established, but less is known about its roles during trophoblast development, the extraembryonic lineage that gives rise to the placenta. We dissected the role of DNA methylation in trophoblast development by performing mRNA and DNA methylation profiling of Dnmt3a/3b mutants. We find that oocyte-derived methylation plays a major role in regulating trophoblast development but that imprinting of the key placental regulator Ascl2 is only partially responsible for these effects. We have identified several methylation-regulated genes associated with trophoblast differentiation that are involved in cell adhesion and migration, potentially affecting trophoblast invasion. Specifically, trophoblast-specific DNA methylation is linked to the silencing of Scml2, a Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 protein that drives loss of cell adhesion in methylation-deficient trophoblast. Our results reveal that maternal DNA methylation controls multiple differentiation-related and physiological processes in trophoblast via both imprinting-dependent and -independent mechanisms.

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Developmental cell, 36, 1878-1551, , 2016


Open Access

MEK1 and MEK2 inhibitors and cancer therapy: the long and winding road.
Caunt CJ, Sale MJ, Smith PD, Cook SJ

The role of the ERK signalling pathway in cancer is thought to be most prominent in tumours in which mutations in the receptor tyrosine kinases RAS, BRAF, CRAF, MEK1 or MEK2 drive growth factor-independent ERK1 and ERK2 activation and thence inappropriate cell proliferation and survival. New drugs that inhibit RAF or MEK1 and MEK2 have recently been approved or are currently undergoing late-stage clinical evaluation. In this Review, we consider the ERK pathway, focusing particularly on the role of MEK1 and MEK2, the 'gatekeepers' of ERK1/2 activity. We discuss their validation as drug targets, the merits of targeting MEK1 and MEK2 versus BRAF and the mechanisms of action of different inhibitors of MEK1 and MEK2. We also consider how some of the systems-level properties (intrapathway regulatory loops and wider signalling network connections) of the ERK pathway present a challenge for the success of MEK1 and MEK2 inhibitors, discuss mechanisms of resistance to these inhibitors, and review their clinical progress.

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Nature reviews. Cancer, 15, 1474-1768, , 2015


Identification of DYRK1B as a substrate of ERK1/2 and characterisation of the kinase activity of DYRK1B mutants from cancer and metabolic syndrome.
Ashford AL, Dunkley TP, Cockerill M, Rowlinson RA, Baak LM, Gallo R, Balmanno K, Goodwin LM, Ward RA, Lochhead PA, Guichard S, Hudson K, Cook SJ

The dual-specificity tyrosine-phosphorylation-regulated kinase, DYRK1B, is expressed de novo during myogenesis, amplified or mutated in certain cancers and mutated in familial cases of metabolic syndrome. DYRK1B is activated by cis auto-phosphorylation on tyrosine-273 (Y273) within the activation loop during translation but few other DYRK1B phosphorylation sites have been characterised to date. Here, we demonstrate that DYRK1B also undergoes trans-autophosphorylation on serine-421 (S421) in vitro and in cells and that this site contributes to DYRK1B kinase activity. Whilst a DYRK1B(S421A) mutant was completely defective for p-S421 in cells, DYRK1B inhibitors caused only a partial loss of p-S421 suggesting the existence of an additional kinase that could also phosphorylate DYRK1B S421. Indeed, a catalytically inactive DYRK1B(D239A) mutant exhibited very low levels of p-S421 in cells but this was increased by KRAS(G12V). In addition, selective activation of the RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway rapidly increased p-S421 in cells whereas activation of the stress kinases JNK or p38 could not. S421 resides within a Ser-Pro phosphoacceptor motif that is typical for ERK1/2 and recombinant ERK2 phosphorylated DYRK1B at S421 in vitro. Our results show that DYRK1B is a novel ERK2 substrate, uncovering new links between two kinases involved in cell fate decisions. Finally, we show that DYRK1B mutants that have recently been described in cancer and metabolic syndrome exhibit normal or reduced intrinsic kinase activity.

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Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS, , 1420-9071, , 2015


Open Access

DYRK1A-mediated Cyclin D1 Degradation in Neural Stem Cells Contributes to the Neurogenic Cortical Defects in Down Syndrome.
Najas S, Arranz J, Lochhead PA, Ashford AL, Oxley D, Delabar JM, Cook SJ, Barallobre MJ, Arbonés ML

Alterations in cerebral cortex connectivity lead to intellectual disability and in Down syndrome, this is associated with a deficit in cortical neurons that arises during prenatal development. However, the pathogenic mechanisms that cause this deficit have not yet been defined. Here we show that the human DYRK1A kinase on chromosome 21 tightly regulates the nuclear levels of Cyclin D1 in embryonic cortical stem (radial glia) cells, and that a modest increase in DYRK1A protein in transgenic embryos lengthens the G1 phase in these progenitors. These alterations promote asymmetric proliferative divisions at the expense of neurogenic divisions, producing a deficit in cortical projection neurons that persists in postnatal stages. Moreover, radial glial progenitors in the Ts65Dn mouse model of Down syndrome have less Cyclin D1, and Dyrk1a is the triplicated gene that causes both early cortical neurogenic defects and decreased nuclear Cyclin D1 levels in this model. These data provide insights into the mechanisms that couple cell cycle regulation and neuron production in cortical neural stem cells, emphasizing that the deleterious effect of DYRK1A triplication in the formation of the cerebral cortex begins at the onset of neurogenesis, which is relevant to the search for early therapeutic interventions in Down syndrome.

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EBioMedicine, 2, 2352-3964, , 2015


Open Access

Epigenetic memory of the first cell fate decision prevents complete ES cell reprogramming into trophoblast.
F Cambuli, A Murray, W Dean, D Dudzinska, F Krueger, S Andrews, CE Senner, S Cook, M Hemberger

Embryonic (ES) and trophoblast (TS) stem cells reflect the first, irrevocable cell fate decision in development that is reinforced by distinct epigenetic lineage barriers. Nonetheless, ES cells can seemingly acquire TS-like characteristics upon manipulation of lineage-determining transcription factors or activation of the extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (Erk1/2) pathway. Here we have interrogated the progression of reprogramming in ES cell models with regulatable Oct4 and Cdx2 transgenes or conditional Erk1/2 activation. Although trans-differentiation into TS-like cells is initiated, lineage conversion remains incomplete in all models, underpinned by the failure to demethylate a small group of TS cell genes. Forced expression of these non-reprogrammed genes improves trans-differentiation efficiency, but still fails to confer a stable TS cell phenotype. Thus, even ES cells in ground-state pluripotency cannot fully overcome the boundaries that separate the first cell lineages but retain an epigenetic memory of their ES cell origin.

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Nat Commun., 26, 5, , 2014


Open Access

Intrinsic and acquired resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors in cancer.
Sale MJ, Cook SJ

Recent clinical data with BRAF and MEK1/2 [MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase)/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinase 1/2] inhibitors have demonstrated the remarkable potential of targeting the RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling cascade for the treatment of certain cancers. Despite these advances, however, only a subset of patients respond to these agents in the first instance, and, of those that do, acquired resistance invariably develops after several months. Studies in vitro have identified various mechanisms that can underpin intrinsic and acquired resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors, and these frequently recapitulate those observed clinically. In the present article, we review these mechanisms and also discuss recent advances in our understanding of how MEK1/2 inhibitor activity is influenced by pathway feedback.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 42, 1470-8752, , 2014


The increase in BIK expression following ERK1/2 pathway inhibition is a consequence of G₁ cell-cycle arrest and not a direct effect on BIK protein stability.
Sale MJ, Cook SJ

BIK (BCL2-interacting killer) is a pro-apoptotic BH3 (BCL2 homology domain 3)-only protein and a member of the BCL2 protein family. It was proposed recently that BIK abundance is controlled by ERK1/2 (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase 1/2)-catalysed phosphorylation, which targets the protein for proteasome-dependent destruction. In the present study, we examined ERK1/2-dependent regulation of BIK, drawing comparisons with BIM(EL) (BCL2-interacting mediator of cell death; extra long), a well-known target of ERK1/2. In many ERK1/2-dependent tumour cell lines, inhibition of BRAF(V600E) (v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homologue B1, V600E mutation) or MEK1/2 (mitogen-activated protein kinase/ERK kinase 1/2) had very little effect on BIK expression, whereas BIM(EL) was strongly up-regulated. In some cell lines we observed a modest increase in BIK expression; however, this was not apparent until ~16 h or later, whereas BIM(EL) expression increased rapidly within a few hours. Although BIK was degraded by the proteasome, we found no evidence that this was regulated by ERK1/2 signalling. Rather, the delayed increase in BIK expression was prevented by actinomycin D, and was accompanied by increases in BIK mRNA. Finally, the delayed increase in BIK expression following ERK1/2 inhibition was phenocopied by a highly selective CDK4/6 (cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6) inhibitor, which caused a strong G₁ cell-cycle arrest without inhibiting ERK1/2 signalling. In contrast, BIM(EL) expression was induced by ERK1/2 inhibition, but not by CDK4/6 inhibition. We conclude that BIK expression is not subject to direct regulation by the ERK1/2 pathway; rather, we propose that BIK expression is cell-cycle-dependent and increases as a consequence of the G₁ cell-cycle arrest which results from inhibition of ERK1/2 signalling.

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The Biochemical journal, 459, 1470-8728, , 2014


Oncogenic K-Ras suppresses IP3-dependent Ca2+ release through remodeling of IP3Rs isoform composition and ER luminal Ca2+ levels in colorectal cancer cell lines.
C Pierro, SJ Cook, TC Foets, MD Bootman, HL Roderick

The GTPase Ras is a molecular switch engaged downstream of G-protein coupled receptors and receptor tyrosine kinases that controls multiple cell fate-determining signalling pathways. Ras signalling is frequently deregulated in cancer underlying associated changes in cell phenotype. Although Ca(2+) signalling pathways control some overlapping functions with Ras, and altered Ca(2+) signalling pathways are emerging as important players in oncogenic transformation, how Ca(2+) signalling is remodelled during transformation and whether it has a causal role remains unclear. We have investigated Ca(2+) signalling in two human colorectal cancer cell lines and their isogenic derivatives in which the mutated K-Ras allele (G13D) has been deleted by homologous recombination. We show that agonist-induced Ca(2+) release from intracellular stores is enhanced by loss of K-Ras(G13D) through an increase in the ER store content and a modification of IP3R subtype abundance. Consistently, uptake of Ca(2+) into mitochondria and sensitivity to apoptosis was enhanced as a result of K-Ras(G13D) loss. These results suggest that suppression of Ca(2+) signalling is a common response to naturally occurring levels of K-Ras(G13D) that contributes to a survival advantage during oncogenic transformation.

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Journal of cell science, , , , 2014

DOI: 10.1242/jcs.141408

Open Access

The role of MAPK signalling pathways in the response to endoplasmic reticulum stress.
NJ Darling, SJ Cook

Perturbations in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) homeostasis, including depletion of Ca(2+) or altered redox status, induce ER stress due to protein accumulation, misfolding and oxidation. This activates the unfolded protein response (UPR) to re-establish the balance between ER protein folding capacity and protein load, resulting in cell survival or, following chronic ER stress, promotes cell death. The mechanisms for the transition between adaptation to ER stress and ER stress-induced cell death are still being understood. However, the identification of numerous points of cross-talk between the UPR and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling pathways may contribute to our understanding of the consequences of ER stress. Indeed, the MAPK signalling network is known to regulate cell cycle progression and cell survival or death responses following a variety of stresses. In this article, we review UPR signalling and the activation of MAPK signalling pathways in response to ER stress. In addition, we highlight components of the UPR that are modulated in response to MAPK signalling and the consequences of this cross-talk. We also describe several diseases, including cancer, type II diabetes and retinal degeneration, where activation of the UPR and MAPK signalling contribute to disease progression and highlight potential avenues for therapeutic intervention. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Calcium Signaling In Health and Disease.

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Biochimica et biophysica acta, , , , 2014

DOI: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2014.01.009

Adaptation to mTOR kinase inhibitors by amplification of eIF4E to maintain cap-dependent translation.
CL Cope, R Gilley, K Balmanno, MJ Sale, KD Howarth, M Hampson, PD Smith, SM Guichard, SJ Cook

The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) protein kinase coordinates responses to nutrients and growth factors and is an anti-cancer drug target. To anticipate how cells will respond and adapt to chronic mTOR complex (mTORC)1 and mTORC2 inhibition, we have generated SW620 colon cancer cells with acquired resistance to the ATP-competitive mTOR kinase inhibitor AZD8055 (SW620:8055R). AZD8055 inhibited mTORC1 and mTORC2 signalling and caused a switch from cap-dependent to internal ribosome entry site (IRES)-dependent translation in parental SW620 cells. In contrast, SW620:8055R cells exhibited a loss of S6K signalling, an increase in expression of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF4E and increased cap-dependent mRNA translation. As a result, the expression of CCND1 and MCL1, proteins encoded by eIF4E-sensitive and cap-dependent transcripts, was refractory to AZD8055 in SW620:8055R cells. RNAi-mediated knockdown of eIF4E reversed acquired resistance to AZD8055 in SW620:8055R cells; furthermore, increased expression of eIF4E was sufficient to reduce sensitivity to AZD8055 in a heterologous cell system. Finally, although the combination of MEK1/2 inhibitors with mTOR inhibitors is an attractive rational drug combination, SW620:8055R cells were actually cross-resistant to the MEK1/2 inhibitor selumetinib (AZD6244). These results exemplify the convergence of ERK1/2 and mTOR signalling at eIF4E, and the key role of eIF4E downstream of mTOR in maintaining cell proliferation. They also have important implications for therapeutic strategies based around mTOR and the MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway.

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Journal of cell science, 127, Pt 4, , 2014

DOI: 10.1242/jcs.137588

Open Access

A novel DYRK1B inhibitor AZ191 demonstrates that DYRK1B acts independently of GSK3β to phosphorylate cyclin D1 at Thr(286), not Thr(288).
AL Ashford, D Oxley, J Kettle, K Hudson, S Guichard, SJ Cook, PA Lochhead

DYRK1B (dual-specificity tyrosine phosphorylation-regulated kinase 1B) is amplified in certain cancers and may be an oncogene; however, our knowledge of DYRK1B has been limited by the lack of selective inhibitors. In the present study we describe AZ191, a potent small molecule inhibitor that selectively inhibits DYRK1B in vitro and in cells. CCND1 (cyclin D1), a key regulator of the mammalian G1-S-phase transition, is phosphorylated on Thr(286) by GSK3β (glycogen synthase kinase 3β) to promote its degradation. DYRK1B has also been proposed to promote CCND1 turnover, but was reported to phosphorylate Thr(288) rather than Thr(286). Using in vitro kinase assays, phospho-specific immunoblot analysis and MS in conjunction with AZ191 we now show that DYRK1B phosphorylates CCND1 at Thr(286), not Thr(288), in vitro and in cells. In HEK (human embryonic kidney)-293 and PANC-1 cells (which exhibit DYRK1B amplification) DYRK1B drives Thr(286) phosphorylation and proteasome-dependent turnover of CCND1 and this is abolished by AZ191 or DYRK1B RNAi, but not by GSK3β inhibitors or GSK3β RNAi. DYRK1B expression causes a G1-phase cell-cycle arrest, but overexpression of CCND1 (wild-type or T286A) fails to overcome this; indeed, DYRK1B also promotes the expression of p21CIP1 (21 kDa CDK-interacting protein 1) and p27KIP1 (CDK-inhibitory protein 1). The results of the present study demonstrate for the first time that DYRK1B is a novel Thr(286)-CCND1 kinase that acts independently of GSK3β to promote CCND1 degradation. Furthermore, we anticipate that AZ191 may prove useful in defining further substrates and biological functions of DYRK1B.

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The Biochemical journal, 457, 1, , 2014

DOI: 10.1042/BJ20130461

MEK Inhibitor U0126 Reverses Protection of Axons from Wallerian Degeneration Independently of MEK-ERK Signaling.
C Evans, SJ Cook, MP Coleman, J Gilley

Wallerian degeneration is delayed when sufficient levels of proteins with NMNAT activity are maintained within axons after injury. This has been proposed to form the basis of 'slow Wallerian degeneration' (Wld (S)), a neuroprotective phenotype conferred by an aberrant fusion protein, Wld(S). Proteasome inhibition also delays Wallerian degeneration, although much less robustly, with stabilization of NMNAT2 likely to play a key role in this mechanism. The pan-MEK inhibitor U0126 has previously been shown to reverse the axon-protective effects of proteasome inhibition, suggesting that MEK-ERK signaling plays a role in delayed Wallerian degeneration, in addition to its established role in promoting neuronal survival. Here we show that whilst U0126 can also reverse Wld(S)-mediated axon protection, more specific inhibitors of MEK1/2 and MEK5, PD184352 and BIX02189, have no significant effect on the delay to Wallerian degeneration in either situation, whether used alone or in combination. This suggests that an off-target effect of U0126 is responsible for reversion of the axon protective effects of Wld(S) expression or proteasome inhibition, rather than inhibition of MEK1/2-ERK1/2 or MEK5-ERK5 signaling. Importantly, this off-target effect does not appear to result in alterations in the stabilities of either Wld(S) or NMNAT2.

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PloS one, 8, 10, , 2013

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076505

Open Access

Adaptation to chronic mTOR inhibition in cancer and in aging.
R Gilley, K Balmanno, CL Cope, SJ Cook

The mTOR [mammalian (or mechanistic) target of rapamycin] protein kinase co-ordinates catabolic and anabolic processes in response to growth factors and nutrients and is a validated anticancer drug target. Rapamycin and related allosteric inhibitors of mTORC1 (mTOR complex 1) have had some success in specific tumour types, but have not exhibited broad anticancer activity, prompting the development of new ATP-competitive mTOR kinase inhibitors that inhibit both mTORC1 and mTORC2. In common with other targeted kinase inhibitors, tumours are likely to adapt and acquire resistance to mTOR inhibitors. In the present article, we review studies that describe how tumour cells adapt to become resistant to mTOR inhibitors. mTOR is a central signalling hub which responds to an array of signalling inputs and activates a range of downstream effector pathways. Understanding how this signalling network is remodelled and which pathways are invoked to sustain survival and proliferation in the presence of mTOR inhibitors can provide new insights into the importance of the various mTOR effector pathways and may suggest targets for intervention to combine with mTOR inhibitors. Finally, since chronic mTOR inhibition by rapamycin can increase lifespan and healthspan in nematodes, fruitflies and mice, we contrast these studies with tumour cell responses to mTOR inhibition.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 41, 4, , 2013

DOI: 10.1042/BST20130080

FGF Signaling Inhibition in ESCs Drives Rapid Genome-wide Demethylation to the Epigenetic Ground State of Pluripotency.
G Ficz, TA Hore, F Santos, HJ Lee, W Dean, J Arand, F Krueger, D Oxley, YL Paul, J Walter, SJ Cook, S Andrews, MR Branco, W Reik

Genome-wide erasure of DNA methylation takes place in primordial germ cells (PGCs) and early embryos and is linked with pluripotency. Inhibition of Erk1/2 and Gsk3β signaling in mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs) by small-molecule inhibitors (called 2i) has recently been shown to induce hypomethylation. We show by whole-genome bisulphite sequencing that 2i induces rapid and genome-wide demethylation on a scale and pattern similar to that in migratory PGCs and early embryos. Major satellites, intracisternal A particles (IAPs), and imprinted genes remain relatively resistant to erasure. Demethylation involves oxidation of 5-methylcytosine (5mC) to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), impaired maintenance of 5mC and 5hmC, and repression of the de novo methyltransferases (Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b) and Dnmt3L. We identify a Prdm14- and Nanog-binding cis-acting regulatory region in Dnmt3b that is highly responsive to signaling. These insights provide a framework for understanding how signaling pathways regulate reprogramming to an epigenetic ground state of pluripotency.

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Cell stem cell, 13, 3, , 2013

DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2013.06.004

Open Access

That which does not kill me makes me stronger; combining ERK1/2 pathway inhibitors and BH3 mimetics to kill tumour cells and prevent acquired resistance.
MJ Sale, SJ Cook

Oncogenic mutations in RAS or BRAF can drive the inappropriate activation of the ERK1/2. In many cases, tumour cells adapt to become addicted to this deregulated ERK1/2 signalling for their proliferation, providing a therapeutic window for tumour-selective growth inhibition. As a result, inhibition of ERK1/2 signalling by BRAF or MEK1/2 inhibitors is an attractive therapeutic strategy. Indeed, the first BRAF inhibitor, vemurafenib, has now been approved for clinical use, while clinical evaluation of MEK1/2 inhibitors is at an advanced stage. Despite this progress, it is apparent that tumour cells adapt quickly to these new targeted agents so that tumours with acquired resistance can emerge within 6-9 months of primary treatment. One of the major reasons for this is that tumour cells typically respond to BRAF or MEK1/2 inhibitors by undergoing a G1 cell cycle arrest rather than dying. Indeed, although inhibition of ERK1/2 invariably increases the expression of pro-apoptotic BCL2 family proteins, tumour cells undergo minimal apoptosis. This cytostatic response may simply provide the cell with the opportunity to adapt and acquire resistance. Here we discuss recent studies that demonstrate that combination of BRAF or MEK1/2 inhibitors with inhibitors of pro-survival BCL2 proteins is synthetic lethal for ERK1/2-addicted tumour cells. This combination effectively transforms the cytostatic response of BRAF and MEK1/2 inhibitors into a striking apoptotic cell death response. This not only augments the primary efficacy of BRAF and MEK1/2 inhibitors but delays the onset of acquired resistance to these agents, validating their combination in the clinic.

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British journal of pharmacology, 169, 8, , 2013

DOI: 10.1111/bph.12220

Open Access

The BH3 mimetic ABT-263 synergizes with the MEK1/2 inhibitor selumetinib/AZD6244 to promote BIM-dependent tumour cell death and inhibit acquired resistance.
MJ Sale, SJ Cook

Tumour cells typically exhibit a G(1) cell cycle arrest in response to the MEK1/2 [mitogen-activated protein kinase/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinase 1/2] inhibitor selumetinib, but do not die, and thus they acquire resistance. In the present study we examined the effect of combining selumetinib with the BH3 [BCL2 (B-cell lymphoma 2) homology domain 3]-mimetic BCL2 inhibitor ABT-263. Although either drug alone caused little tumour cell death, the two agents combined to cause substantial caspase-dependent cell death and inhibit long-term clonogenic survival of colorectal cancer and melanoma cell lines with BRAF(V600E) or RAS mutations. This cell death absolutely required BAX (BCL2-associated X protein) and was inhibited by RNAi (RNA interference)-mediated knockdown of BIM (BCL2-interacting mediator of cell death) in the BRAF(V600E)-positive COLO205 cell line. When colorectal cancer cell lines were treated with selumetinib plus ABT-263 we observed a striking reduction in the incidence of cells emerging with acquired resistance to selumetinib. Similar results were observed when we combined ABT-263 with the BRAF(V600E)-selective inhibitor PLX4720, but only in cells expressing BRAF(V600E). Finally, cancer cells in which acquired resistance to selumetinib arises through BRAF(V600E) amplification remained sensitive to ABT-263, whereas selumetinib-resistant HCT116 cells (KRAS(G13D) amplification) were cross-resistant to ABT-263. Thus the combination of a BCL2 inhibitor and an ERK1/2 pathway inhibitor is synthetic lethal in ERK1/2-addicted tumour cells, delays the onset of acquired resistance and in some cases overcomes acquired resistance to selumetinib.

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The Biochemical journal, 450, 2, , 2013

DOI: 10.1042/BJ20121212

Tumour cell responses to new fibroblast growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors and identification of a gatekeeper mutation in FGFR3 as a mechanism of acquired resistance.
V Chell, K Balmanno, AS Little, M Wilson, S Andrews, L Blockley, M Hampson, PR Gavine, SJ Cook

Fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs) can act as driving oncoproteins in certain cancers, making them attractive drug targets. Here we have characterized tumour cell responses to two new inhibitors of FGFR1-3, AZ12908010 and the clinical candidate AZD4547, making comparisons with the well-characterized FGFR inhibitor PD173074. In a panel of 16 human tumour cell lines, the anti-proliferative activity of AZ12908010 or AZD4547 was strongly linked to the presence of deregulated FGFR signalling, indicating that addiction to deregulated FGFRs provides a therapeutic opportunity for selective intervention. Acquired resistance to targeted tyrosine kinase inhibitors is a growing problem in the clinic but has not yet been explored for FGFR inhibitors. To assess how FGFR-dependent tumour cells adapt to long-term FGFR inhibition, we generated a derivative of the KMS-11 myeloma cell line (FGFR(Y373C)) with acquired resistance to AZ12908010 (KMS-11R cells). Basal phosphorylated FGFR and FGFR-dependent downstream signalling were constitutively elevated and refractory to drug in KMS-11R cells. Sequencing of FGFR3 in KMS-11R cells revealed the presence of a heterozygous mutation at the gatekeeper residue, encoding FGFR3(V555M); consistent with this, KMS-11R cells were cross-resistant to AZD4547 and PD173074. These results define the selectivity and efficacy of two new FGFR inhibitors and identify a secondary gatekeeper mutation as a mechanism of acquired resistance to FGFR inhibitors that should be anticipated as clinical evaluation proceeds.

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Oncogene, 32, 25, , 2013

DOI: 10.1038/onc.2012.319

Mechanisms of acquired resistance to ERK1/2 pathway inhibitors.
AS Little, PD Smith, SJ Cook

The ERK1/2 (extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and 2) pathway, comprising the protein kinases RAF (v-raf-1 murine leukemia viral oncogene homolog 1), MEK1/2 (mitogen-activated protein kinase or ERK kinase 1 and 2) and ERK1/2 is frequently de-regulated in human cancers, due to mutations in RAS or BRAF (v-raf-1 murine leukemia viral oncogene homolog B1). New, highly selective inhibitors of BRAF and MEK1/2 have shown promise in clinical trials, including in previously intractable diseases such as melanoma. However, drug-resistant tumour cells invariably emerge leading to disease progression. It is important to understand the mechanisms underlying such acquired resistance since this may lead to the development of rational strategies either to delay its onset or to overcome it once established. It also offers unique insights into the plasticity of signalling pathways, which may in turn inform our understanding of the basic biology of these pathways and lead to the validation of new drug targets. Several recent reports have identified diverse mechanisms of acquired resistance to MEK1/2 or BRAF inhibitors. In this article, we review these studies, discuss the different mechanisms, identify common themes and consider their therapeutic implications.

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Oncogene, 32, 10, , 2013

DOI: 10.1038/onc.2012.160

ERK5 and its role in tumour development.
PA Lochhead, R Gilley, SJ Cook

The MEK5 [MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase)/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinase 5]/ERK5 pathway is the least well studied MAPK signalling module. It has been proposed to play a role in the pathology of cancer. In the present paper, we review the role of the MEK5/ERK5 pathway using the 'hallmarks of cancer' as a framework and consider how this pathway is deregulated. As well as playing a key role in endothelial cell survival and tubular morphogenesis during tumour neovascularization, ERK5 is also emerging as a regulator of tumour cell invasion and migration. Several oncogenes can stimulate ERK5 activity, and protein levels are increased by a novel amplification at chromosome locus 17p11 and by down-regulation of the microRNAs miR-143 and miR-145. Together, these finding underscore the case for further investigation into understanding the role of ERK5 in cancer.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 40, 1, , 2012

DOI: 10.1042/BST20110663

Tumour cell responses to MEK1/2 inhibitors: acquired resistance and pathway remodelling.
AS Little, K Balmanno, MJ Sale, PD Smith, SJ Cook

The Raf/MEK1/2 [mitogen-activated protein kinase/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinase 1/2]/ERK1/2 signalling pathway is frequently activated in human tumours due to mutations in BRAF or KRAS. B-Raf and MEK1/2 inhibitors are currently undergoing clinical evaluation, but their ultimate success is likely to be limited by acquired drug resistance. We have used colorectal cancer cell lines harbouring mutations in B-Raf or K-Ras to model acquired resistance to the MEK1/2 inhibitor selumetinib (AZD6244). Selumetinib-resistant cells were refractory to other MEK1/2 inhibitors in cell proliferation assays and exhibited a marked increase in MEK1/2 and ERK1/2 activity and cyclin D1 abundance when assessed in the absence of inhibitor. This was driven by a common mechanism in which resistant cells exhibited an intrachromosomal amplification of their respective driving oncogene, B-Raf V600E or K-RasG13D. Despite the increased signal flux from Raf to MEK1/2, resistant cells maintained in drug actually exhibited the same level of ERK1/2 activity as parental cells, indicating that the pathway is remodelled by feedback controls to reinstate the normal level of ERK1/2 signalling that is required and sufficient to maintain proliferation in these cells. These results provide important new insights into how tumour cells adapt to new therapeutics and highlight the importance of homoeostatic control mechanisms in the Raf/MEK1/2/ERK1/2 signalling cascade.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 40, 1, , 2012

DOI: 10.1042/BST20110647

Regulation of MEK/ERK pathway output by subcellular localization of B-Raf.
C Andreadi, C Noble, B Patel, H Jin, MM Aguilar Hernandez, K Balmanno, SJ Cook, C Pritchard

The strength and duration of intracellular signalling pathway activation is a key determinant of the biological outcome of cells in response to extracellular cues. This has been particularly elucidated for the Ras/Raf/MEK [mitogen-activated growth factor/ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase) kinase]/ERK signalling pathway with a number of studies in fibroblasts showing that sustained ERK signalling is a requirement for S-phase entry, whereas transient ERK signalling does not have this capability. A major unanswered question, however, is how a cell can sustain ERK activation, particularly when ERK-specific phosphatases are transcriptionally up-regulated by the pathway itself. A major point of ERK regulation is at the level of Raf, and, to sustain ERK activation in the presence of ERK phosphatases, sustained Raf activation is a requirement. Three Raf proteins exist in mammals, and the activity of all three is induced following growth factor stimulation of cells, but only B-Raf activity is maintained at later time points. This observation points to B-Raf as a regulator of sustained ERK activation. In the present review, we consider evidence for a link between B-Raf and sustained ERK activation, focusing on a potential role for the subcellular localization of B-Raf in this key physiological event.

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Biochemical Society transactions, 40, 1, , 2012

DOI: 10.1042/BST20110621

Mechanisms and clinical significance of BIM phosphorylation in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
A Paterson, CI Mockridge, JE Adams, S Krysov, KN Potter, AS Duncombe, SJ Cook, FK Stevenson, G Packham

B-cell receptor and microenvironment-derived signals promote accumulation of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells through increased proliferation and/or decreased apoptosis. In this study, we investigated the regulation of BIM, a proapoptotic BCL2-related protein, which is tightly regulated by phosphorylation. Surface IgM stimulation increased phosphorylation of 2 BIM isoforms, BIM(EL) and BIM(L), in a subset of CLL samples. In contrast, in normal B cells, anti-IgM triggered selective phosphorylation of BIM(EL) only. In CLL, anti-IgM-induced BIM phosphorylation correlated with unmutated IGHV gene status and with progressive disease. Strikingly, it was also associated with progressive disease within the mutated IGHV gene subset. BIM phosphorylation was dependent on MEK1/2 kinase activity, and we identified BIM(EL) serine 69, previously linked to pro-survival responses, as the major site of phosphorylation in CLL and in Ramos cells. BIM(EL)/BIM(L) phosphorylation was associated with release of the pro-survival protein MCL1. Coculture of CLL cells with HK cells, a model of the CLL microenvironment, promoted CLL cell survival and was associated with MEK1/2 activation and BIM(EL) phosphorylation. Hence, BIM phosphorylation appears to play a key role in apoptosis regulation in CLL cells, potentially coordinating antigen and microenvironment-derived survival signals. Antigen-mediated effects on BIM may be an important determinant of clinical behavior.

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Blood, 119, 7, , 2012

DOI: 10.1182/blood-2011-07-367417

Open Access

CDK1, not ERK1/2 or ERK5, is required for mitotic phosphorylation of BIMEL.
R Gilley, PA Lochhead, K Balmanno, D Oxley, J Clark, SJ Cook

The pro-apoptotic BH3 only protein BIM(EL) is phosphorylated by ERK1/2 and this targets it for proteasome-dependent degradation. A recent study has shown that ERK5, an ERK1/2-related MAPK, is activated during mitosis and phosphorylates BIM(EL) to promote cell survival. Here we show that treatment of cells with nocodazole or paclitaxel does cause phosphorylation of BIM(EL), which is independent of ERK1/2. However, this was not due to ERK5-catalysed phosphorylation, since it was not reversed by the MEK5 inhibitor BIX02189 and proceeded normally in ERK5-/- fibroblasts. Indeed, although ERK5 is phosphorylated at multiple sites in the C-terminal transactivation region during mitosis, these do not include the activation-loop and ERK5 kinase activity does not increase. Mitotic phosphorylation of BIM(EL) occurred at proline-directed phospho-acceptor sites and was abolished by selective inhibition of CDK1. Furthermore, cyclin B1 was able to interact with BIM and cyclin B1/CDK1 complexes could phosphorylate BIM in vitro. Finally, we show that CDK1-dependent phosphorylation of BIM(EL) drives its polyubiquitylation and proteasome-dependent degradation to protect cells during mitotic arrest. These results provide new insights into the regulation of BIM(EL) and may be relevant to the therapeutic use of agents such as paclitaxel.

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Cellular signalling, 24, 1, , 2012

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2011.08.018

Ca2+-dependent monomer and dimer formation switches CAPRI Protein between Ras GTPase-activating protein (GAP) and RapGAP activities.
Y Dai, SA Walker, E de Vet, S Cook, HC Welch, PJ Lockyer

CAPRI is a member of the GAP1 family of GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs) for small G proteins. It is known to function as an amplitude sensor for intracellular Ca(2+) levels stimulated by extracellular signals and has a catalytic domain with dual RasGAP and RapGAP activities. Here, we have investigated the mechanism that switches CAPRI between its two GAP activities. We demonstrate that CAPRI forms homodimers in vitro and in vivo in a Ca(2+)-dependent manner. The site required for dimerization was pinpointed by deletion and point mutations to a helix motif that forms a hydrophobic face in the extreme C-terminal tail of the CAPRI protein. Deletion of this helix motif abolished dimer formation but did not affect translocation of CAPRI to the plasma membrane upon cell stimulation with histamine. We found that dimeric and monomeric CAPRI coexist in cells and that the ratio of dimeric to monomeric CAPRI increases upon cell stimulation with histamine. Free Ca(2+) at physiologically relevant concentrations was both necessary and sufficient for dimer formation. Importantly, the monomeric and dimeric forms of CAPRI exhibited differential GAP activities in vivo; the wild-type form of CAPRI had stronger RapGAP activity than RasGAP activity, whereas a monomeric CAPRI mutant showed stronger RasGAP than RapGAP activity. These results demonstrate that CAPRI switches between its dual GAP roles by forming monomers or homodimers through a process regulated by Ca(2+). We propose that Ca(2+)-dependent dimerization of CAPRI may serve to coordinate Ras and Rap1 signaling pathways.

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The Journal of biological chemistry, 286, 22, , 2011

DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M110.201301

Open Access

Amplification of the driving oncogene, KRAS or BRAF, underpins acquired resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors in colorectal cancer cells.
AS Little, K Balmanno, MJ Sale, S Newman, JR Dry, M Hampson, PA Edwards, PD Smith, SJ Cook

The acquisition of resistance to protein kinase inhibitors is a growing problem in cancer treatment. We modeled acquired resistance to the MEK1/2 (mitogen-activated or extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase kinases 1 and 2) inhibitor selumetinib (AZD6244) in colorectal cancer cell lines harboring mutations in BRAF (COLO205 and HT29 lines) or KRAS (HCT116 and LoVo lines). AZD6244-resistant derivatives were refractory to AZD6244-induced cell cycle arrest and death and exhibited a marked increase in ERK1/2 (extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2) pathway signaling and cyclin D1 abundance when assessed in the absence of inhibitor. Genomic sequencing revealed no acquired mutations in MEK1 or MEK2, the primary target of AZD6244. Rather, resistant lines showed a marked up-regulation of their respective driving oncogenes, BRAF(600E) or KRAS(13D), due to intrachromosomal amplification. Inhibition of BRAF reversed resistance to AZD6244 in COLO205 cells, which suggested that combined inhibition of MEK1/2 and BRAF may reduce the likelihood of acquired resistance in tumors with BRAF(600E). Knockdown of KRAS reversed AZD6244 resistance in HCT116 cells as well as reduced the activation of ERK1/2 and protein kinase B; however, the combined inhibition of ERK1/2 and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase signaling had little effect on AZD6244 resistance, suggesting that additional KRAS effector pathways contribute to this process. Microarray analysis identified increased expression of an 18-gene signature previously identified as reflecting MEK1/2 pathway output in resistant cells. Thus, amplification of the driving oncogene (BRAF(600E) or KRAS(13D)) can drive acquired resistance to MEK1/2 inhibitors by increasing signaling through the ERK1/2 pathway. However, up-regulation of KRAS(13D) leads to activation of multiple KRAS effector pathways, underlining the therapeutic challenge posed by KRAS mutations. These results may have implications for the use of combination therapies.

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Science signaling, 4, 166, , 2011

DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2001752

BIM(EL), an intrinsically disordered protein, is degraded by 20S proteasomes in the absence of poly-ubiquitylation.
CM Wiggins, P Tsvetkov, M Johnson, CL Joyce, CA Lamb, NJ Bryant, D Komander, Y Shaul, SJ Cook

BIM-extra long (BIM(EL)), a pro-apoptotic BH3-only protein and part of the BCL-2 family, is degraded by the proteasome following activation of the ERK1/2 signalling pathway. Although studies have demonstrated poly-ubiquitylation of BIM(EL) in cells, the nature of the ubiquitin chain linkage has not been defined. Using ubiquitin-binding domains (UBDs) specific for defined ubiquitin chain linkages, we show that BIM(EL) undergoes K48-linked poly-ubiquitylation at either of two lysine residues. Surprisingly, BIM(EL)ΔKK, which lacks both lysine residues, was not poly-ubiquitylated but still underwent ERK1/2-driven, proteasome-dependent turnover. BIM has been proposed to be an intrinsically disordered protein (IDP) and some IDPs can be degraded by uncapped 20S proteasomes in the absence of poly-ubiquitylation. We show that BIM(EL) is degraded by isolated 20S proteasomes but that this is prevented when BIM(EL) is bound to its pro-survival target protein MCL-1. Furthermore, knockdown of the proteasome cap component Rpn2 does not prevent BIM(EL) turnover in cells, and inhibition of the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP, which catalyses poly-Ub of BIM(EL), causes Cdc25A accumulation but does not inhibit BIM(EL) turnover. These results provide new insights into the regulation of BIM(EL) by defining a novel ubiquitin-independent pathway for the proteasome-dependent destruction of this highly toxic protein.

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Journal of cell science, 124, Pt 6, , 2011

DOI: 10.1242/jcs.058438

Open Access

V600EBraf induces gastrointestinal crypt senescence and promotes tumour progression through enhanced CpG methylation of p16INK4a.
LA Carragher, KR Snell, SM Giblett, VS Aldridge, B Patel, SJ Cook, DJ Winton, R Marais, CA Pritchard

The majority of human colorectal cancers (CRCs) are initiated by mutations arising in the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) tumour suppressor gene. However, a new class of non-APC mutated CRCs has been defined that have a serrated histopathology and carry the (V600E)BRAF oncogene. Here we have investigated the pathogenesis of serrated CRCs by expressing (V600E)Braf in the proliferative cells of the mouse gastrointestinal tract. We show that the oncogene drives an initial burst of Mek-dependent proliferation, leading to the formation of hyperplastic crypts. This is associated with β-catenin nuclear localization by a mechanism involving Mapk/Erk kinase (Mek)-dependent, Akt-independent phosphorylation of Gsk3β. However, hyperplastic crypts remain dormant for prolonged periods due to the induction of crypt senescence accompanied by upregulation of senescence-associated β-galactosidase and p16(Ink4a). We show that tumour progression is associated with down-regulation of p16(Ink4a) through enhanced CpG methylation of exon 1 and knockout of Cdkn2a confirms this gene is a barrier to tumour progression. Our studies identify (V600E)BRAF as an early genetic driver mutation in serrated CRCs and indicate that, unlike APC-mutated cancers, this subtype arises by the bypassing of a (V600E)Braf driven oncogene-induced senescence programme.

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EMBO molecular medicine, 2, 11, , 2010

DOI: 10.1002/emmm.201000099

Open Access

Granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor causes a paradoxical increase in the BH3-only pro-apoptotic protein Bim in human neutrophils.
AS Cowburn, C Summers, BJ Dunmore, N Farahi, RP Hayhoe, CG Print, SJ Cook, ER Chilvers

Neutrophil apoptosis is essential for the resolution of inflammation but is delayed by several inflammatory mediators. In such terminally differentiated cells it has been uncertain whether these agents can inhibit apoptosis through transcriptional regulation of anti-death (Bcl-X(L), Mcl-1, Bcl2A1) or BH3-only (Bim, Bid, Puma) Bcl2-family proteins. We report that granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α prevent the normal time-dependent loss of Mcl-1 and Bcl2A1 in neutrophils, and we demonstrate that they cause an NF-κB-dependent increase in Bcl-X(L) transcription/translation. We show that GM-CSF and TNF-α increase and/or maintain mRNA levels for the pro-apoptotic BH3-only protein Bid and that GM-CSF has a similar NF-κB-dependent effect on Bim transcription and BimEL expression. The in-vivo relevance of these findings was indicated by demonstrating that GM-CSF is the dominant neutrophil survival factor in lung lavage from patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia, confirming an increase in lung neutrophil Bim mRNA. Finally GM-CSF caused mitochondrial location of Bim and a switch in phenotype to a cell that displays accelerated caspase-9-dependent apoptosis. This study demonstrates the capacity of neutrophil survival agents to induce a paradoxical increase in the pro-apoptotic proteins Bid and Bim and suggests that this may function to facilitate rapid apoptosis at the termination of the inflammatory cycle.

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American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology, 44, 6, , 2011

DOI: 10.1165/rcmb.2010-0101OC

Open Access

Refining the minimal sequence required for ERK1/2-dependent poly-ubiquitination and proteasome-dependent turnover of BIM.
CM Wiggins, M Johnson, SJ Cook

The pro-apoptotic protein BIM(EL) is phosphorylated by ERK1/2 and this targets the protein for poly-ubiquitination and degradation by the proteasome as a survival mechanism. To define in greater detail the sequence determinants required for BIM(EL) turnover we have compared various BIM splice variants and truncation mutants. Of the naturally occurring splice variants BIMbeta1, which lacks the C-terminal hydrophobic domain, the BH3 domain and is cytosolic, exhibited the fastest turnover rate. Indeed, neither the C-terminus, the BH3 domain nor the DLC1 binding region was required for poly-ubiquitination and turnover of BIM. However, we demonstrate that a region consisting of the ERK1/2 docking domain, ERK1/2 phosphorylation sites and either of the two potential ubiquitin-acceptor lysine residues is sufficient to allow poly-ubiquitination and turnover of BIM. In the process we demonstrate that the C-terminal hydrophobic domain, previously suggested to be important in membrane localisation, is as important as the BH3 domain for BIM to induce cell death; similarly, the pro-death BH3-domain can also confer correct mitochondrial localisation in the absence of the C-terminus. These results refine the minimal sequence for ERK1/2-driven degradation and further define the functional importance of key regions within BIM(EL), highlighting the complexity of this pro-apoptotic protein.

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Cellular signalling, 22, 5, , 2010

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2010.01.004

De-regulated FGF receptors as therapeutic targets in cancer.
V Knights, SJ Cook

Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) acting through their cognate receptors (FGFRs) play vital roles in development and de-regulation of FGF/FGFR signalling is associated with many developmental syndromes. In addition there is much interest in inhibiting FGF/FGFR signalling as a therapeutic approach to cancer. FGF/FGFR signalling is certainly important in tumour angiogenesis but studies in the last few years have uncovered increasing evidence that FGFRs are driving oncogenes in certain cancers and act in a cell autonomous fashion to maintain the malignant properties of tumour cells. These observations make FGFRs increasingly attractive as targets for therapeutic intervention in cancer. In this article, we review FGFR signalling and describe recent advances in cancer genomics and cancer cell biology that demonstrate that specific tumour types are dependent upon or addicted to de-regulated FGFR. We also describe the range of therapeutic strategies currently employed or in development to antagonise de-regulated FGFRs including antibodies and small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

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Pharmacology & therapeutics, 125, 1, , 2010

DOI: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2009.10.001

Apoptosis and autophagy: BIM as a mediator of tumour cell death in response to oncogene-targeted therapeutics.
AS Gillings, K Balmanno, CM Wiggins, M Johnson, SJ Cook

The BCL-2 homology domain 3 (BH3)-only protein, B-cell lymphoma 2 interacting mediator of cell death (BIM) is a potent pro-apoptotic protein belonging to the B-cell lymphoma 2 protein family. In recent years, advances in basic biology have provided a clearer picture of how BIM kills cells and how BIM expression and activity are repressed by growth factor signalling pathways, especially the extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and protein kinase B pathways. In tumour cells these oncogene-regulated pathways are used to counter the effects of BIM, thereby promoting tumour cell survival. In parallel, a new generation of targeted therapeutics has been developed, which show remarkable specificity and efficacy in tumour cells that are addicted to particular oncogenes. It is now apparent that the expression and activation of BIM is a common response to these new therapeutics. Indeed, BIM has emerged from this marriage of basic and applied biology as an important mediator of tumour cell death in response to such drugs. The induction of BIM alone may not be sufficient for significant tumour cell death, as BIM is more likely to act in concert with other BH3-only proteins, or other death pathways, when new targeted therapeutics are used in combination with traditional chemotherapy agents. Here we discuss recent advances in understanding BIM regulation and review the role of BIM as a mediator of tumour cell death in response to novel oncogene-targeted therapeutics.

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The FEBS journal, 276, 21, , 2009

DOI: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2009.07329.x

Down-regulation of Cdx2 in colorectal carcinoma cells by the Raf-MEK-ERK 1/2 pathway.
F Krueger, Z Madeja, M Hemberger, M McMahon, SJ Cook, SJ Gaunt

Cdx2 is a homeodomain transcription factor that regulates normal intestinal cell differentiation. Cdx2 is frequently lost during progression of colorectal cancer (CRC) and is widely viewed as a colorectal tumour suppressor. A previous study suggested that activation of protein kinase C (PKC) may be responsible for Cdx2 down-regulation in CRC cells. Here we show that activation of PKC does indeed promote down-regulation of Cdx2 at both the mRNA and protein levels. However, PKC-dependent loss of Cdx2 is dependent upon activation of the Raf-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway. Indeed, specific activation of the ERK1/2 pathway using the conditional kinase DeltaRaf-1:ER is sufficient to inhibit Cdx2 transcription. The Raf-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway is hyper-activated in a large fraction of colorectal cancers due to mutations in K-Ras and we show that treatment of CRC cell lines with MEK inhibitors causes an increase in Cdx2 expression. Furthermore, activation of the ERK1/2 pathway promotes the phosphorylation and proteasome-dependent degradation of the Cdx2 protein. The inhibitory effect of ERK1/2 upon Cdx2 in CRC cells is in sharp contrast to its stimulatory effect upon Cdx2 expression in trophectoderm and trophoblast stem cells. These results provide important new insights into the regulation of the Cdx2 tumour suppressor by linking it to ERK1/2, a pathway which is frequently activated in CRC.

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Cellular signalling, 21, 12, , 2009

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2009.07.020

Intrinsic resistance to the MEK1/2 inhibitor AZD6244 (ARRY-142886) is associated with weak ERK1/2 signalling and/or strong PI3K signalling in colorectal cancer cell lines.
K Balmanno, SD Chell, AS Gillings, S Hayat, SJ Cook

Mutations in KRAS or BRAF frequently manifest in constitutive activation of the MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway. The MEK1/2-selective inhibitor, AZD6244 (ARRY-142886), blocks ERK1/2 activation and is currently undergoing clinical evaluation. Tumour cells can vary markedly in their response to MAPK or ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors, and the presence of a BRAF mutation is thought to predict sensitivity, with the RAS mutations being associated with intrinsic resistance. We analysed cell proliferation in a panel of 19 colorectal cancer cell lines and found no simple correlation between BRAF or KRAS mutation and sensitivity to AZD6244, though cells that harbour neither mutation tended to be resistant. Cells that were sensitive arrested in G(1) and/or underwent apoptosis and the presence of BRAF or KRAS mutation was not sufficient to predict either fate. Cell lines that were resistant to AZD6244 exhibited low or no ERK1/2 activation or exhibited coincident activation of ERK1/2 and protein kinase B (PKB), the latter indicative of activation of the PI3K pathway. In cell lines with coincident ERK1/2 and PKB activation, sensitivity to AZD6244 could be re-imposed by any of the 3 distinct PI3K/mTOR inhibitors. We conclude that AZD6244 is effective in colorectal cancer cell lines with BRAF or KRAS mutations. Sensitivity to MEK1/2 inhibition correlates with a biochemical signature; those cells with high ERK1/2 activity (whether mutant for BRAF or KRAS) evolve a dependency upon that pathway and tend to be sensitive to AZD6244 but this can be offset by high PI3K-dependent signalling. This may have implications for the use of MEK inhibitors in combination with PI3K inhibitors.

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International journal of cancer. Journal international du cancer, 125, 10, , 2009

DOI: 10.1002/ijc.24604

ERK1/2, but not ERK5, is necessary and sufficient for phosphorylation and activation of c-Fos.
R Gilley, HN March, SJ Cook

Growth factor-stimulated expression and activation of c-Fos is regulated by the ERK1/2 pathway. However, recent reports have also suggested a prominent role for the closely related ERK5 pathway in regulating the expression, transcriptional activation and nuclear localization of c-Fos. Here we have compared the role of ERK1/2 and ERK5 in regulating c-Fos using a combination of conditional protein kinases, selective biochemical inhibitors and ERK5 null fibroblasts. We demonstrate that activation of the ERK1/2 pathway, but not ERK5, is sufficient for c-Fos phosphorylation and transcriptional activation. Furthermore, growth factor-dependent expression of c-Fos is blocked by low doses of PD184352 that selectively inhibit the ERK1/2 pathway but proceeds normally in ERK5-/- 3T9 cells; in addition, nuclear localization of c-Fos is normal in ERK5-/- cells. ERK5-/- cells are, however, defective for c-Jun expression but this is reversed by re-expression of ERK5. In addition to ERK5, neither the JNK nor p38 pathways can substitute for ERK1/2 in the regulation of c-Fos transcriptional activity. These results demonstrate that c-Fos transcriptional activity is not regulated by the ERK5 pathway; rather, of all the MAPKs and SAPKs, c-Fos activation appears to be predominantly linked to the ERK1/2 pathway.

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Cellular signalling, 21, 6, , 2009

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2009.02.006

Regulation of Brn-3a N-terminal transcriptional activity by MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling in neural differentiation.
DC Berwick, M Calissano, JD Corness, SJ Cook, DS Latchman

The POU family transcription factor Brn-3a is required for the differentiation and survival of sensory neurones, and is phosphorylated in neuroblastoma cells following treatment with all-trans retinoic acid (RA). Mutation of serines-121 and -122 of Brn-3a to alanine blocks its phosphorylation and impairs RA-mediated neurite outgrowth. Here we show that this deficit in differentiation is mimicked by a single mutation at serine-122, and demonstrate a similar requirement for a second residue, threonine-39. Like Brn-3a, the neuropeptide Galanin has been implicated in the development of sensory neurones. We show that Brn-3a over-expression acts synergistically with RA treatment to up-regulate Galanin promoter activity; that the activity of the N-terminal transcriptional activation domain of Brn-3a is increased following RA treatment; and that both these effects require threonine-39 and serine-122. In addition, we demonstrate that the RA-mediated activation of Galanin promoter activity and Brn-3a N-terminal transcriptional activity are both blocked by pan-MEK inhibitors, and show that the expression of a constitutively-active mutant of MEK1, but not MEK5, is sufficient to increase Brn-3a activity. These results reveal an important role for the ERK1/2 pathway in Brn-3a regulation during RA-mediated neuronal differentiation and define the neuropeptide Galanin as a novel target of this transcription factor.

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Brain research, 1256, , , 2009

DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2008.12.009

Tumour cell survival signalling by the ERK1/2 pathway.
K Balmanno, SJ Cook

Several advances in recent years have focused increasing attention on the role of the RAF-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway in promoting cell survival. The demonstration that BRAF is a human oncogene mutated at high frequency in melanoma, thyroid and colon cancer has provided a pathophysiological context, whilst the description of potent and highly selective inhibitors of BRAF or MEK has allowed a more informed and rational intervention in both normal and tumour cells. In addition, separate studies have uncovered new mechanisms by which the ERK1/2 pathway can control the activity or abundance of members of the BCL-2 protein family to promote cell survival. It is now apparent that various oncogenes co-opt ERK1/2 signalling to de-regulate these BCL-2 proteins and this contributes to, and even underpins, survival signalling in some tumours. New oncogene-targeted therapies allow direct or indirect inhibition of ERK1/2 signalling and can cause quite striking tumour cell death. In other cases, inhibition of the ERK1/2 pathway may be more effective in combination with other conventional and novel therapeutics. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of how the ERK1/2 pathway regulates BCL-2 proteins to promote survival, how this is de-regulated in tumour cells and the opportunities this might afford with the use of new targeted therapies.

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Cell death and differentiation, 16, 3, , 2009

DOI: 10.1038/cdd.2008.148

Colorectal cancer cells with the BRAF(V600E) mutation are addicted to the ERK1/2 pathway for growth factor-independent survival and repression of BIM.
JA Wickenden, H Jin, M Johnson, AS Gillings, C Newson, M Austin, SD Chell, K Balmanno, CA Pritchard, SJ Cook

The RAF-mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1/2-extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2) pathway is activated in many human tumours and can protect cells against growth factor deprivation; however, most such studies have relied upon overexpression of RAF or MEK constructs that are not found in tumours. Here we show that expression of the endogenous BRAF(V600E) allele in mouse embryonic fibroblasts from conditional knock-in transgenic mice activates ERK1/2, represses the BH3-only protein BIM and protects cells from growth factor withdrawal. Human colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines harbouring BRAF(V600E) are growth factor independent for the activation of ERK1/2 and survival. However, treatment with the MEK1/2 inhibitors U0126, PD184352 or the novel clinical candidate AZD6244 (ARRY-142886) overcomes growth factor independence, causing CRC cell death. BIM is de-phosphorylated and upregulated following MEK1/2 inhibition in all CRC cell lines studied and knockdown of BIM reduces cell death, indicating that repression of BIM is a major part of the ability of BRAF(V600E) to confer growth factor-independent survival. We conclude that a single endogenous BRAF(V600E) allele is sufficient to repress BIM and prevent death arising from growth factor withdrawal, and CRC cells with BRAF(V600E) mutations are addicted to the ERK1/2 pathway for repression of BIM and growth factor-independent survival.

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Oncogene, 27, 57, , 2008

DOI: 10.1038/onc.2008.335

Open Access

ERK1/2 and p38 cooperate to delay progression through G1 by promoting cyclin D1 protein turnover.
RM Densham, DE Todd, K Balmanno, SJ Cook

The conditional kinase DeltaMEKK3:ER allows activation of JNK, p38 and ERK1/2 without overt cellular stress or damage and has proved useful in understanding how these pathways regulate apoptosis and cell cycle progression. We have previously shown that activation of DeltaMEKK3:ER causes a sustained G(1) cell cycle arrest which requires p21(CIP1), with ERK1/2 and p38 cooperating to promote p21(CIP1) expression. In cells lacking p21(CIP1), DeltaMEKK3:ER causes only a transient delay in cell cycle re-entry. We now show that this delay in cell cycle re-entry is due to a reduction in cyclin D1 levels. Activation of DeltaMEKK3:ER promotes the proteasome-dependent turnover of cyclin D1; this requires phosphorylation of threonine 286 (T(286)) and expression of cyclin D1T(286)A rescues the delay in G(1)/S progression. DeltaMEKK3:ER-dependent phosphorylation of T(286) does not appear to be mediated by GSK3beta but requires activation of the ERK1/2 and p38 pathways. ERK1/2 can physically associate with cyclin D1 but activation of ERK1/2 alone is not sufficient for phosphorylation of T(286). Rather, cyclin D1 phosphorylation appears to require coincident activation of ERK1/2 and p38. Thus activation of DeltaMEKK3:ER promotes a sustained G(1) cell cycle arrest by a bipartite mechanism involving the rapid destruction of cyclin D1 and the slower more prolonged expression of p21(CIP1). This has parallels with the bipartite response to ionizing radiation and p53-independent mechanisms of G(1) cell cycle arrest in simple organisms such as yeast.

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Cellular signalling, 20, 11, , 2008

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2008.07.005

Ca2+ signalling checkpoints in cancer: remodelling Ca2+ for cancer cell proliferation and survival.
HL Roderick, SJ Cook

Increases in cytosolic free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) represent a ubiquitous signalling mechanism that controls a variety of cellular processes, including proliferation, metabolism and gene transcription, yet under certain conditions increases in intracellular Ca2+ are cytotoxic. Thus, in using Ca2+ as a messenger, cells walk a tightrope in which [Ca2+]i is strictly maintained within defined boundaries. To adhere to these boundaries and to sustain their modified phenotype, many cancer cells remodel the expression or activity of their Ca2+ signalling apparatus. Here, we review the role of Ca2+ in promoting cell proliferation and cell death, how these processes are remodelled in cancer and the opportunities this might provide for therapeutic intervention.

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Nature reviews. Cancer, 8, 5, , 2008

DOI: 10.1038/nrc2374

DUSP6/MKP-3 inactivates ERK1/2 but fails to bind and inactivate ERK5.
RS Arkell, RJ Dickinson, M Squires, S Hayat, SM Keyse, SJ Cook

Extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1 and -2 (ERK1/2) are activated by dual threonine and tyrosine phosphorylation of a TEY motif. The highly related kinase ERK5 is also activated by phosphorylation at a TEY motif. Inactivation of ERK1/2 is achieved by distinct members of the dual-specificity protein phosphatase (DUSP) family, which are responsible for the specific, regulated de-phosphorylation of the TEY motif. These include both nuclear (DUSP5) and cytoplasmic (DUSP6) enzymes. DUSP6, a candidate tumour suppressor gene, is thought to be highly specific for inactivation of ERK1/2 but several reports have suggested that it may also inactivate ERK5. Here we have compared the ability of DUSP6 to regulate the ERK1/2 and ERK5 protein kinases. We find that DUSP6 binds to ERK1/2 in both yeast and human cells but fails to bind to ERK5. Recombinant ERK2 can induce catalytic activation of DUSP6 whereas ERK5 cannot. Ectopic expression of DUSP6 can de-phosphorylate a co-expressed ERK2 construct but does not de-phosphorylate ERK5. Finally, expression of DUSP6 blocks the MEK1-driven activation of GAL4-ELK1, an ERK1/2-regulated transcription factor, but fails to block the MEK5-driven activation of GAL4-MEF2D, an ERK5-regulated transcription factor. These results demonstrate that even upon over-expression DUSP6 fails to inactivate ERK5, confirming that it is indeed an ERK1/2-specific DUSP.

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Cellular signalling, 20, 5, , 2008

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2007.12.014

c-Cbl is not required for ERK1/2-dependent degradation of BimEL.
CM Wiggins, H Band, SJ Cook

Bim(EL) the most abundant Bim splice variant, is subject to ERK1/2-catalysed phosphorylation, which targets it for ubiquitination and proteasome-dependent destruction. In contrast, inactivation of ERK1/2, following withdrawal of survival factors, promotes stabilization of Bim(EL). It has been proposed that the RING finger protein Cbl binds to Bim(EL) and serves as its E3 ubiquitin ligase. However, this is controversial since most Cbl substrates are tyrosine phosphoproteins and yet Bim(EL) is targeted for destruction by ERK1/2-catalysed serine phosphorylation. Consequently, a role for Cbl could suggest a second pathway for Bim(EL) turnover, regulated by direct tyrosine phosphorylation, or could suggest that Bim(EL) is a coincidence detector, requiring phosphorylation by ERK1/2 and a tyrosine kinase. Here we show that degradation of Bim(EL) does not involve its tyrosine phosphorylation; indeed, Bim(EL) is not a tyrosine phosphoprotein. Furthermore, Bim(EL) fails to interact with Cbl and growth factor-stimulated, ERK1/2-dependent Bim(EL) turnover proceeds normally in Cbl-containing or Cbl-/- fibroblasts. These results indicate that Cbl is not required for ERK1/2-dependent Bim(EL) turnover in fibroblasts and epithelial cells and any role it has in other cell types is likely to be indirect.

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Cellular signalling, 19, 12, , 2007

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2007.08.008

Open Access

Bim and the pro-survival Bcl-2 proteins: opposites attract, ERK repels.
KE Ewings, CM Wiggins, SJ Cook

Bim (Bcl-2-interacting mediator of cell death) is a BH3-only protein (BOP), a pro-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 protein family. The Bim mRNA undergoes alternate splicing to give rise to the short, long and extra long protein variants (Bim(S), Bim(L) and Bim(EL)). These proteins have distinct potency in promoting death and distinct modes of regulation conferred by their interaction with other proteins. Quite how Bim and other BOPs promote apoptosis has been the subject of some debate. Bim was isolated by it's interaction with pro-survival proteins such as Bcl-2 and it has been suggested that this is key to the ability of Bim to induce apoptosis. However, an alternative model argues that some forms of Bim can bind directly to the pro-apoptotic Bax and Bak proteins to initiate apoptosis. A new study may finally put this debate to rest as it provides strong evidence to suggest that Bim and other BOPs act primarily by binding to pro-survival Bcl-2 proteins, thereby releasing Bax or Bak proteins to promote apoptosis. The importance of the interaction between Bim and the pro-survival Bcl-2 proteins is underlined by our demonstration that it is regulated by ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation of Bim(EL). ERK1/2-dependent dissociation of Bim(EL) from pro-survival proteins is the first step in a process by which the pro-survival ERK1/2 pathway promotes the destruction of this most abundant Bim splice variant. In this review we outline the significance of these new studies to our understanding of how BOPs such as Bim initiate apoptosis and how this process is regulated by growth factor-dependent signalling pathways.

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Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.), 6, 18, , 2007


Open Access

ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation of BimEL promotes its rapid dissociation from Mcl-1 and Bcl-xL.
KE Ewings, K Hadfield-Moorhouse, CM Wiggins, JA Wickenden, K Balmanno, R Gilley, K Degenhardt, E White, SJ Cook

The proapoptotic protein Bim is expressed de novo following withdrawal of serum survival factors. Here, we show that Bim-/- fibroblasts and epithelial cells exhibit reduced cell death following serum withdrawal in comparison with their wild-type counterparts. In viable cells, Bax associates with Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L) and Mcl-1. Upon serum withdrawal, newly expressed Bim(EL) associates with Bcl-x(L) and Mcl-1, coinciding with the dissociation of Bax from these proteins. Survival factors can prevent association of Bim with pro-survival proteins by preventing Bim expression. However, we now show that even preformed Bim(EL)/Mcl-1 and Bim(EL)/Bcl-x(L) complexes can be rapidly dissociated following activation of ERK1/2 by survival factors. The dissociation of Bim from Mcl-1 is specific for Bim(EL) and requires ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation of Bim(EL) at Ser(65). Finally, ERK1/2-dependent dissociation of Bim(EL) from Mcl-1 and Bcl-x(L) may play a role in regulating Bim(EL) degradation, since mutations in the Bim(EL) BH3 domain that disrupt binding to Mcl-1 cause increased turnover of Bim(EL). These results provide new insights into the role of Bim in cell death and its regulation by the ERK1/2 survival pathway.

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The EMBO journal, 26, 12, , 2007

DOI: 10.1038/sj.emboj.7601723

Open Access

Nutrient-responsive mTOR signalling grows on Sterile ground.
SJ Cook, SJ Morley

The control of cell growth, that is cell size, is largely controlled by mTOR (the mammalian target of rapamycin), a large serine/threonine protein kinase that regulates ribosome biogenesis and protein translation. mTOR activity is regulated both by the availability of growth factors, such as insulin/IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), and by nutrients, notably the supply of certain key amino acids. The last few years have seen a remarkable increase in our understanding of the canonical, growth factor-regulated pathway for mTOR activation, which is mediated by the class I PI3Ks (phosphoinositide 3-kinases), PKB (protein kinase B), TSC1/2 (the tuberous sclerosis complex) and the small GTPase, Rheb. However, the nutrient-responsive input into mTOR is important in its own right and is also required for maximal activation of mTOR signalling by growth factors. Despite this, the details of the nutrient-responsive signalling pathway(s) controlling mTOR have remained elusive, although recent studies have suggested a role for the class III PI3K hVps34. In this issue of the Biochemical Journal, Findlay et al. demonstrate that the protein kinase MAP4K3 [mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase-3, a Ste20 family protein kinase also known as GLK (germinal centre-like kinase)] is a new component of the nutrient-responsive pathway. MAP4K3 activity is stimulated by administration of amino acids, but not growth factors, and this is insensitive to rapamycin, most likely placing MAP4K3 upstream of mTOR. Indeed, MAP4K3 is required for phosphorylation of known mTOR targets such as S6K1 (S6 kinase 1), and overexpression of MAP4K3 promotes the rapamycin-sensitive phosphorylation of these same targets. Finally, knockdown of MAP4K3 levels causes a decrease in cell size. The results suggest that MAP4K3 is a new component in the nutrient-responsive pathway for mTOR activation and reveal a completely new function for MAP4K3 in promoting cell growth. Given that mTOR activity is frequently deregulated in cancer, there is much interest in new strategies for inhibition of this pathway. In this context, MAP4K3 looks like an attractive drug target since inhibitors of this enzyme should switch off mTOR, thereby inhibiting cell growth and proliferation, and promoting apoptosis.

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The Biochemical journal, 403, 1, , 2007

DOI: 10.1042/BJ20070207

Open Access

Selective inhibition of MEK1/2 reveals a differential requirement for ERK1/2 signalling in the regulation of HIF-1 in response to hypoxia and IGF-1.
KM Sutton, S Hayat, NM Chau, S Cook, J Pouyssegur, A Ahmed, N Perusinghe, R Le Floch, J Yang, M Ashcroft

The transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) plays a pivotal role in tumour growth and progression, and HIF-1 is regulated through a number of signalling pathways. Here, we investigated the involvement of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling pathway in HIF-1 regulation. We found that overexpression of wild-type (WT) extracellular signal regulated protein kinase 1 (ERK1) greatly potentiated HIF-1 activation in hypoxia and HIF-1alpha induced in response to insulin growth-like factor 1 (IGF-1). Conversely, treatment of tumour cells with the MEK1/2 inhibitors PD98059 or U0216, or expression of a dominant-negative form of ERK1 blocked HIF-1 activation in hypoxia without affecting HIF-1alpha induction, localization or binding of HIF-1beta. Interestingly however, the highly selective MEK1/2 inhibitor PD184352 did not inhibit HIF-1 activity or vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induced in response to hypoxia but blocked HIF-1alpha protein and HIF-1 activity induced by IGF-1 stimulation without affecting HIF-1alpha mRNA levels. Finally, we found that ERK5 phosphorylation status was not significantly affected by hypoxia in the presence or absence of PD184352. Taken together, our data suggest that although ERK1/2 signalling is important for HIF-1alpha induction and HIF-1 activity in response to IGF-1, it is dispensable for the induction of HIF-1alpha and activation of HIF-1 in response to hypoxia.

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Oncogene, 26, 27, , 2007

DOI: 10.1038/sj.onc.1210168

The NPM-ALK tyrosine kinase mimics TCR signalling pathways, inducing NFAT and AP-1 by RAS-dependent mechanisms.
SD Turner, D Yeung, K Hadfield, SJ Cook, DR Alexander

Nucleophosmin-anaplastic lymphoma kinase (NPM-ALK) expression is associated with the lymphoid malignancy anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) and results from a t(2;5) chromosomal translocation. We show that NPM-ALK induces Ras activation and phosphorylation of the ERK MAP Kinase consistent with activation of the Ras-MAP Kinase pathway. Furthermore, we demonstrate that activation of Ras is necessary for inducing transcription via NFAT/AP-1 composite transcriptional binding sites. This activity is dependent on NPM-ALK forming complexes with proteins that bind to autophosphorylated tyrosine residues at positions 156, 567 and 664, associated with binding to IRS-1, Shc and PLCgamma, respectively. Specifically, NPM-ALK activates transcription from the TRE promoter element, an AP-1 binding region, an activity dependent on both Ras and Shc activity. Our results show that NPM-ALK mimics activated T-cell receptor signalling by inducing pathways associated with the activation of NFAT/AP-1 transcription factors that bind to promoter elements found in a broad array of cytokine genes.

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Cellular signalling, 19, 4, , 2007

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2006.09.007

The duration of ERK1/2 activity determines the activation of c-Fos and Fra-1 and the composition and quantitative transcriptional output of AP-1.
CJ Chalmers, R Gilley, HN March, K Balmanno, Cook S

The duration of ERK1/2 activation influences the nature of the biological response to agonist. Members of the AP-1 transcription factor family are well known targets of the ERK1/2 pathway and are expressed in a temporally coordinated fashion during cell cycle re-entry. In CCl39 fibroblasts, sustained ERK1/2 activation is required for the expression of Fra-1, Fra-2, c-Jun and JunB, whereas expression of c-Fos is still strongly induced even in response to transient ERK activation. However, the significance of this pattern of expression for AP-1 activity has not been addressed. Here we show that growth factor stimulated activation of the C-terminal c-Fos transactivation domain (TAD) serves as a sensor for ERK1/2 signal duration whereas the c-JunTAD is not responsive to growth factors. In addition, sustained ERK1/2 activation determines the duration of increases in AP-1 DNA binding complexes as well as their qualitative make up. Finally, this is reflected in both the duration and quantitative transcriptional output of stably integrated AP-1 reporter constructs, indicating that AP-1 activity is finely tuned to ERK1/2 signal duration. These results provide new insights into the importance of ERK1/2 signal duration in the regulation of AP-1 and provide an explanation for how differences in signal duration can lead to both quantitative and qualitative changes in gene expression.

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Cellular signalling, 19, 4, , 2007

DOI: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2006.09.001

The search for new targets for cancer chemotherapeutics.
Cook SJ, Wakelam M

Current opinion in pharmacology, 5, 1471-4892, , 2005


Regulatory phosphorylation of Bim: sorting out the ERK from the JNK.
R Ley, KE Ewings, K Hadfield, SJ Cook

Cell death and differentiation, 12, 8, , 2005

DOI: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401688

Identification of a DEF-type docking domain for extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2 that directs phosphorylation and turnover of the BH3-only protein BimEL.
R Ley, K Hadfield, E Howes, SJ Cook

The BH3-only protein, Bim, exists as three splice variants (Bim(S), Bim(L), and Bim(EL)) of differing pro-apoptotic potency. Bim(EL), the least effective killer, is degraded by the proteasome in response to phosphorylation by extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2). ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation correlates with the presence of a domain unique to the Bim(EL) splice variant that includes the major ERK1/2 phosphorylation site Ser(65). However, efficient phosphorylation by ERK1/2, c-Jun N-terminal kinase, or p38 requires the presence in the substrate of a discrete kinase-docking domain as well as the phosphoacceptor site. Here we show that the region unique to Bim(EL) (amino acids 41-97) harbors two potential DEF-type ERK1/2 kinase-docking domains, DEF1 and DEF2. Peptide competition assays revealed that the DEF2 peptide could act autonomously to bind active ERK1/2, whereas the DEF1 peptide did not. Truncation analysis identified a minimal region, residues 80-97, containing the DEF2 motif as sufficient for ERK1/2 binding. Mutation of key residues in the DEF2 motif abolished the interaction of ERK1/2 and Bim(EL) and also abolished ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation of Bim(EL) in vivo, thereby stabilizing the protein and enhancing cytotoxicity. Our results identify a new physiologically relevant functional motif in Bim(EL) that may account for the distinct biological properties of this splice variant.

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The Journal of biological chemistry, 280, 18, , 2005

DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M412342200

Open Access

ERK1/2 and p38 cooperate to induce a p21CIP1-dependent G1 cell cycle arrest.
DE Todd, RM Densham, SA Molton, K Balmanno, C Newson, CR Weston, AP Garner, L Scott, SJ Cook

To study the mechanisms by which mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinases regulate cell cycle re-entry, we have used a panel of conditional kinases that stimulate defined MAPK or SAPK cascades. Activation of DeltaMEKK3:ER* during serum restimulation of quiescent cells causes a strong activation of JNK1 and p38alpha but only a modest potentiation of serum-stimulated ERK1/2 activity. In CCl39 cells this promoted a sustained G1 arrest that correlated with decreased expression of cyclin D1 and Cdc25A, increased expression of p21CIP1 and inhibition of CDK2 activity. In Rat-1 cells, in which p21(CIP1) expression is silenced by methylation, DeltaMEKK3:ER* activation caused only a transient delay in the S phase entry rather than a sustained G1 arrest. Furthermore, p21CIP1-/- 3T3 cells were defective for the DeltaMEKK3:ER*-induced G1 cell cycle arrest compared to their wild-type counterparts. These results suggest that activated DeltaMEKK3:ER* inhibits the G1 --> S progression by two kinetically distinct mechanisms, with expression of p21CIP1 being required to ensure a sustained G1 cell cycle arrest. The ERK1/2 and p38alphabeta pathways cooperated to induce p21CIP1 expression and inhibition of p38alphabeta caused a partial reversal of the cell cycle arrest. In contrast, selective activation of ERK1/2 by DeltaRaf-1:ER* did not inhibit serum stimulated cell cycle re-entry. Finally, selective activation of JNK by DeltaMEKK1:ER* failed to inhibit cell cycle re-entry, even in cells that retained wild-type p53, arguing against a major role for JNK alone in antagonizing the G1 --> S transition.

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Oncogene, 23, 19, , 2004

DOI: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207467

Extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1/2 are serum-stimulated "Bim(EL) kinases" that bind to the BH3-only protein Bim(EL) causing its phosphorylation and turnover.
R Ley, KE Ewings, K Hadfield, E Howes, K Balmanno, SJ Cook

Bim, a "BH3-only" protein, is expressed de novo following withdrawal of serum survival factors and promotes cell death. We have shown previously that activation of the ERK1/2 pathway promotes phosphorylation of Bim(EL), targeting it for degradation via the proteasome. However, the nature of the kinase responsible for Bim(EL) phosphorylation remained unclear. We now show that Bim(EL) is phosphorylated on at least three sites in response to activation of the ERK1/2 pathway. By using the peptidylprolyl isomerase, Pin1, as a probe for proline-directed phosphorylation, we show that ERK1/2-dependent phosphorylation of Bim(EL) occurs at (S/T)P motifs. ERK1/2 phosphorylates Bim(EL), but not Bim(S) or Bim(L), in vitro, and mutation of Ser(65) to alanine blocks the phosphorylation of Bim(EL) by ERK1/2 in vitro and in vivo and prevents the degradation of the protein following activation of the ERK1/2 pathway. We also find that ERK1/2, but not JNK, can physically associate with GST-Bim(EL), but not GST-Bim(L) or GST-Bim(S), in vitro. ERK1/2 also binds to full-length Bim(EL) in vivo, and we have localized a potential ERK1/2 "docking domain" lying within a 27-amino acid stretch of the Bim(EL) protein. Our findings provide new insights into the post-translational regulation of Bim(EL) and the role of the ERK1/2 pathway in cell survival signaling.

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The Journal of biological chemistry, 279, 10, , 2004

DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M311578200

Open Access