Publications

2014
Li L, Yin Q, Kuss P, Maliga Z, Millán JL, Wu H, Mitchison TJ. Hydrolysis of 2'3'-cGAMP by ENPP1 and design of nonhydrolyzable analogs. Nat Chem Biol. 2014;10 (12) :1043-8.Abstract
Agonists of mouse STING (TMEM173) shrink and even cure solid tumors by activating innate immunity; human STING (hSTING) agonists are needed to test this therapeutic hypothesis in humans. The endogenous STING agonist is 2'3'-cGAMP, a second messenger that signals the presence of cytosolic double-stranded DNA. We report activity-guided partial purification and identification of ecto-nucleotide pyrophosphatase/phosphodiesterase (ENPP1) to be the dominant 2'3'-cGAMP hydrolyzing activity in cultured cells. The hydrolysis activity of ENPP1 was confirmed using recombinant protein and was depleted in tissue extracts and plasma from Enpp1(-/-) mice. We synthesized a hydrolysis-resistant bisphosphothioate analog of 2'3'-cGAMP (2'3'-cG(s)A(s)MP) that has similar affinity for hSTING in vitro and is ten times more potent at inducing IFN-β secretion from human THP1 monocytes. Studies in mouse Enpp1(-/-) lung fibroblasts indicate that resistance to hydrolysis contributes substantially to its higher potency. 2'3'-cG(s)A(s)MP is therefore improved over natural 2'3'-cGAMP as a model agonist and has potential as a vaccine adjuvant and cancer therapeutic.
Wang Y, Lee Y-M, Baitsch L, Huang A, Xiang Y, Tong H, Lako A, Von T, Choi C, Lim E, et al. MELK is an oncogenic kinase essential for mitotic progression in basal-like breast cancer cells. Elife. 2014;3 :e01763.Abstract
Despite marked advances in breast cancer therapy, basal-like breast cancer (BBC), an aggressive subtype of breast cancer usually lacking estrogen and progesterone receptors, remains difficult to treat. In this study, we report the identification of MELK as a novel oncogenic kinase from an in vivo tumorigenesis screen using a kinome-wide open reading frames (ORFs) library. Analysis of clinical data reveals a high level of MELK overexpression in BBC, a feature that is largely dependent on FoxM1, a master mitotic transcription factor that is also found to be highly overexpressed in BBC. Ablation of MELK selectively impairs proliferation of basal-like, but not luminal breast cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, depletion of MELK in BBC cells induces caspase-dependent cell death, preceded by defective mitosis. Finally, we find that Melk is not required for mouse development and physiology. Together, these data indicate that MELK is a normally non-essential kinase, but is critical for BBC and thus represents a promising selective therapeutic target for the most aggressive subtype of breast cancer.DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01763.001.
Ishihara K, Nguyen PA, Wühr M, Groen AC, Field CM, Mitchison TJ. Organization of early frog embryos by chemical waves emanating from centrosomes. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014;369 (1650).Abstract
The large cells in early vertebrate development face an extreme physical challenge in organizing their cytoplasm. For example, amphibian embryos have to divide cytoplasm that spans hundreds of micrometres every 30 min according to a precise geometry, a remarkable accomplishment given the extreme difference between molecular and cellular scales in this system. How do the biochemical reactions occurring at the molecular scale lead to this emergent behaviour of the cell as a whole? Based on recent findings, we propose that the centrosome plays a crucial role by initiating two autocatalytic reactions that travel across the large cytoplasm as chemical waves. Waves of mitotic entry and exit propagate out from centrosomes using the Cdk1 oscillator to coordinate the timing of cell division. Waves of microtubule-stimulated microtubule nucleation propagate out to assemble large asters that position spindles for the following mitosis and establish cleavage plane geometry. By initiating these chemical waves, the centrosome rapidly organizes the large cytoplasm during the short embryonic cell cycle, which would be impossible using more conventional mechanisms such as diffusion or nucleation by structural templating. Large embryo cells provide valuable insights to how cells control chemical waves, which may be a general principle for cytoplasmic organization.
Choi PJ, Mitchison TJ. Quantitative analysis of resistance to natural killer attacks reveals stepwise killing kinetics. Integr Biol (Camb). 2014;6 (12) :1153-61.Abstract
Molecular mechanisms can protect cancer cells from immune attacks. At the level of bulk tissue, these survival mechanisms are often indistinguishable and simply appear as reduced cell death. However, by tracking individual cell survival and death times, we found broad variation in the kinetics of immune evasion. In response to attacks by natural killer cells, we observed that some cancer lines exhibited exponential survival time distributions. Slowly killed cancer lines had reduced exponential rate constants. In contrast, a line engineered to express the serpin protein PI-9, which is known to promote resistance to immune killing, exhibited a markedly nonexponential survival time distribution. By following the histories of individual cancer cells with multiplexed reporters, we obtained evidence that two or more immune attacks are likely required to kill serpin-expressing cells. Thus, resistance is a finite and measurable quantity, with a distinct kinetic signature. A quantitative model based on independently measured parameters is consistent with our conclusions.
Laughney AM, Kim E, Sprachman MM, Miller MA, Kohler RH, Yang KS, Orth JD, Mitchison TJ, Weissleder R. Single-cell pharmacokinetic imaging reveals a therapeutic strategy to overcome drug resistance to the microtubule inhibitor eribulin. Sci Transl Med. 2014;6 (261) :261ra152.Abstract
Eribulin mesylate was developed as a potent microtubule-targeting cytotoxic agent to treat taxane-resistant cancers, but recent clinical trials have shown that it eventually fails in many patient subpopulations for unclear reasons. To investigate its resistance mechanisms, we developed a fluorescent analog of eribulin with pharmacokinetic (PK) properties and cytotoxic activity across a human cell line panel that are sufficiently similar to the parent drug to study its cellular PK and tissue distribution. Using intravital imaging and automated tracking of cellular dynamics, we found that resistance to eribulin and the fluorescent analog depended directly on the multidrug resistance protein 1 (MDR1). Intravital imaging allowed for real-time analysis of in vivo PK in tumors that were engineered to be spatially heterogeneous for taxane resistance, whereby an MDR1-mApple fusion protein distinguished resistant cells fluorescently. In vivo, MDR1-mediated drug efflux and the three-dimensional tumor vascular architecture were discovered to be critical determinants of drug accumulation in tumor cells. We furthermore show that standard intravenous administration of a third-generation MDR1 inhibitor, HM30181, failed to rescue drug accumulation; however, the same MDR1 inhibitor encapsulated within a nanoparticle delivery system reversed the multidrug-resistant phenotype and potentiated the eribulin effect in vitro and in vivo in mice. Our work demonstrates that in vivo assessment of cellular PK of an anticancer drug is a powerful strategy for elucidating mechanisms of drug resistance in heterogeneous tumors and evaluating strategies to overcome this resistance.
Nguyen PA, Groen AC, Loose M, Ishihara K, Wühr M, Field CM, Mitchison TJ. Spatial organization of cytokinesis signaling reconstituted in a cell-free system. Science. 2014;346 (6206) :244-7.Abstract
During animal cell division, the cleavage furrow is positioned by microtubules that signal to the actin cortex at the cell midplane. We developed a cell-free system to recapitulate cytokinesis signaling using cytoplasmic extract from Xenopus eggs. Microtubules grew out as asters from artificial centrosomes and met to organize antiparallel overlap zones. These zones blocked the interpenetration of neighboring asters and recruited cytokinesis midzone proteins, including the chromosomal passenger complex (CPC) and centralspindlin. The CPC was transported to overlap zones, which required two motor proteins, Kif4A and a Kif20A paralog. Using supported lipid bilayers to mimic the plasma membrane, we observed the recruitment of cleavage furrow markers, including an active RhoA reporter, at microtubule overlaps. This system opens further approaches to understanding the biophysics of cytokinesis signaling.
Field CM, Nguyen PA, Ishihara K, Groen AC, Mitchison TJ. Xenopus egg cytoplasm with intact actin. Methods Enzymol. 2014;540 :399-415.Abstract
We report optimized methods for preparing Xenopus egg extracts without cytochalasin D, that we term "actin-intact egg extract." These are undiluted egg cytoplasm that contains abundant organelles, and glycogen which supplies energy, and represents the least perturbed cell-free cytoplasm preparation we know of. We used this system to probe cell cycle regulation of actin and myosin-II dynamics (Field et al., 2011), and to reconstitute the large, interphase asters that organize early Xenopus embryos (Mitchison et al., 2012; Wühr, Tan, Parker, Detrich, & Mitchison, 2010). Actin-intact Xenopus egg extracts are useful for analysis of actin dynamics, and interaction of actin with other cytoplasmic systems, in a cell-free system that closely mimics egg physiology, and more generally for probing the biochemistry and biophysics of the egg, zygote, and early embryo. Detailed protocols are provided along with assays used to check cell cycle state and tips for handling and storing undiluted egg extracts.
Ishihara K, Nguyen PA, Groen AC, Field CM, Mitchison TJ. Microtubule nucleation remote from centrosomes may explain how asters span large cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111 (50) :17715-22.Abstract
A major challenge in cell biology is to understand how nanometer-sized molecules can organize micrometer-sized cells in space and time. One solution in many animal cells is a radial array of microtubules called an aster, which is nucleated by a central organizing center and spans the entire cytoplasm. Frog (here Xenopus laevis) embryos are more than 1 mm in diameter and divide with a defined geometry every 30 min. Like smaller cells, they are organized by asters, which grow, interact, and move to precisely position the cleavage planes. It has been unclear whether asters grow to fill the enormous egg by the same mechanism used in smaller somatic cells, or whether special mechanisms are required. We addressed this question by imaging growing asters in a cell-free system derived from eggs, where asters grew to hundreds of microns in diameter. By tracking marks on the lattice, we found that microtubules could slide outward, but this was not essential for rapid aster growth. Polymer treadmilling did not occur. By measuring the number and positions of microtubule ends over time, we found that most microtubules were nucleated away from the centrosome and that interphase egg cytoplasm supported spontaneous nucleation after a time lag. We propose that aster growth is initiated by centrosomes but that asters grow by propagating a wave of microtubule nucleation stimulated by the presence of preexisting microtubules.
2013
Petry S, Groen AC, Ishihara K, Mitchison TJ, Vale RD. Branching microtubule nucleation in Xenopus egg extracts mediated by augmin and TPX2. Cell. 2013;152 (4) :768-77.Abstract
The microtubules that comprise mitotic spindles in animal cells are nucleated at centrosomes and by spindle assembly factors that are activated in the vicinity of chromatin. Indirect evidence has suggested that microtubules also might be nucleated from pre-existing microtubules throughout the spindle, but this process has not been observed directly. Here, we demonstrate microtubule nucleation from the sides of existing microtubules in meiotic Xenopus egg extracts. Daughter microtubules grow at a low branch angle and with the same polarity as mother filaments. Branching microtubule nucleation requires γ-tubulin and augmin and is stimulated by factors previously implicated in chromatin-stimulated nucleation, guanosine triphosphate(GTP)-bound Ran and its effector, TPX2. Because of the rapid amplification of microtubule numbers and the preservation of microtubule polarity, microtubule-dependent microtubule nucleation is well suited for spindle assembly and maintenance.
Kueh HY, Niethammer P, Mitchison TJ. Maintenance of mitochondrial oxygen homeostasis by cosubstrate compensation. Biophys J. 2013;104 (6) :1338-48.Abstract
Mitochondria maintain a constant rate of aerobic respiration over a wide range of oxygen levels. However, the control strategies underlying oxygen homeostasis are still unclear. Using mathematical modeling, we found that the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) responds to oxygen level changes by undergoing compensatory changes in reduced electron carrier levels. This emergent behavior, which we named cosubstrate compensation (CSC), enables the ETC to maintain homeostasis over a wide of oxygen levels. When performing CSC, our ETC models recapitulated a classic scaling relationship discovered by Chance [Chance B (1965) J. Gen. Physiol. 49:163-165] relating the extent of oxygen homeostasis to the kinetics of mitochondrial electron transport. Analysis of an in silico mitochondrial respiratory system further showed evidence that CSC constitutes the dominant control strategy for mitochondrial oxygen homeostasis during active respiration. Our findings indicate that CSC constitutes a robust control strategy for homeostasis and adaptation in cellular biochemical networks.
Mitchison TJ, Nguyen P, Coughlin M, Groen AC. Self-organization of stabilized microtubules by both spindle and midzone mechanisms in Xenopus egg cytosol. Mol Biol Cell. 2013;24 (10) :1559-73.Abstract
Previous study of self-organization of Taxol-stabilized microtubules into asters in Xenopus meiotic extracts revealed motor-dependent organizational mechanisms in the spindle. We revisit this approach using clarified cytosol with glycogen added back to supply energy and reducing equivalents. We added probes for NUMA and Aurora B to reveal microtubule polarity. Taxol and dimethyl sulfoxide promote rapid polymerization of microtubules that slowly self-organize into assemblies with a characteristic morphology consisting of paired lines or open circles of parallel bundles. Minus ends align in NUMA-containing foci on the outside, and plus ends in Aurora B-containing foci on the inside. Assemblies have a well-defined width that depends on initial assembly conditions, but microtubules within them have a broad length distribution. Electron microscopy shows that plus-end foci are coated with electron-dense material and resemble similar foci in monopolar midzones in cells. Functional tests show that two key spindle assembly factors, dynein and kinesin-5, act during assembly as they do in spindles, whereas two key midzone assembly factors, Aurora B and Kif4, act as they do in midzones. These data reveal the richness of self-organizing mechanisms that operate on microtubules after they polymerize in meiotic cytoplasm and provide a biochemically tractable system for investigating plus-end organization in midzones.
Kim S, Li L, Maliga Z, Yin Q, Wu H, Mitchison TJ. Anticancer flavonoids are mouse-selective STING agonists. ACS Chem Biol. 2013;8 (7) :1396-401.Abstract
The flavonoids FAA and DMXAA showed impressive activity against solid tumors in mice but failed clinical trials. They act on a previously unknown molecular target(s) to trigger cytokine release from leukocytes, which causes tumor-specific vascular damage and other antitumor effects. We show that DMXAA is a competitive agonist ligand for mouse STING (stimulator of interferon genes), a receptor for the bacterial PAMP cyclic-di-GMP (c-di-GMP) and an endogenous second messenger cyclic-GMP-AMP. In our structure-activity relationship studies, STING binding affinity and pathway activation activity of four flavonoids correlated with activity in a mouse tumor model measured previously. We propose that STING agonist activity accounts for the antitumor effects of FAA and DMXAA in mice. Importantly, DMXAA does not bind to human STING, which may account for its lack of efficacy or mechanism-related toxicity in man. We propose that STING is a druggable target for a novel innate immune activation mechanism of chemotherapy.
Prentice-Mott HV, Chang C-H, Mahadevan L, Mitchison TJ, Irimia D, Shah JV. Biased migration of confined neutrophil-like cells in asymmetric hydraulic environments. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110 (52) :21006-11.Abstract
Cells integrate multiple measurement modalities to navigate their environment. Soluble and substrate-bound chemical gradients and physical cues have all been shown to influence cell orientation and migration. Here we investigate the role of asymmetric hydraulic pressure in directional sensing. Cells confined in microchannels identified and chose a path of lower hydraulic resistance in the absence of chemical cues. In a bifurcating channel with asymmetric hydraulic resistances, this choice was preceded by the elaboration of two leading edges with a faster extension rate along the lower resistance channel. Retraction of the "losing" edge appeared to precipitate a final choice of direction. The pressure differences altering leading edge protrusion rates were small, suggesting weak force generation by leading edges. The response to the physical asymmetry was able to override a dynamically generated chemical cue. Motile cells may use this bias as a result of hydraulic resistance, or "barotaxis," in concert with chemotaxis to navigate complex environments.
Tang Y, Xie T, Florian S, Moerke N, Shamu C, Benes C, Mitchison TJ. Differential determinants of cancer cell insensitivity to antimitotic drugs discriminated by a one-step cell imaging assay. J Biomol Screen. 2013;18 (9) :1062-71.Abstract
Cancer cells can be drug resistant due to genetic variation at multiple steps in the drug response pathway, including drug efflux pumping, target mutation, and blunted apoptotic response. These are not discriminated by conventional cell survival assays. Here, we report a rapid and convenient high-content cell-imaging assay that measures multiple physiological changes in cells responding to antimitotic small-molecule drugs. Our one-step, no-wash assay uses three dyes to stain living cells and is much more accurate for scoring weakly adherent mitotic and apoptotic cells than conventional antibody-based assays. We profiled responses of 33 cell lines to 8 antimitotic drugs at multiple concentrations and time points using this assay and deposited our data and assay protocols into a public database (http://lincs.hms.harvard.edu/). Our data discriminated between alternative mechanisms that compromise drug sensitivity to paclitaxel and revealed an unexpected bell-shaped dose-response curve for BI2536, a highly selective inhibitor of Polo-like kinases. Our approach can be generalized, is scalable, and should therefore facilitate identification of molecular biomarkers for mechanisms of drug insensitivity in high-throughput screens and other assays.
Choi PJ, Mitchison TJ. Imaging burst kinetics and spatial coordination during serial killing by single natural killer cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110 (16) :6488-93.Abstract
Cytotoxic lymphocytes eliminate virus-infected and cancerous cells by immune recognition and killing through the perforin-granzyme pathway. Traditional killing assays measure average target cell lysis at fixed times and high effector:target ratios. Such assays obscure kinetic details that might reveal novel physiology. We engineered target cells to report on granzyme activity, used very low effector:target ratios to observe potential serial killing, and performed low magnification time-lapse imaging to reveal time-dependent statistics of natural killer (NK) killing at the single-cell level. Most kills occurred during serial killing, and a single NK cell killed up to 10 targets over a 6-h assay. The first kill was slower than subsequent kills, especially on poor targets, or when NK signaling pathways were partially inhibited. Spatial analysis showed that sequential kills were usually adjacent. We propose that NK cells integrate signals from the previous and current target, possibly by simultaneous contact. The resulting burst kinetics and spatial coordination may control the activity of NK cells in tissues.
Zidovska A, Weitz DA, Mitchison TJ. Micron-scale coherence in interphase chromatin dynamics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013;110 (39) :15555-60.Abstract
Chromatin structure and dynamics control all aspects of DNA biology yet are poorly understood, especially at large length scales. We developed an approach, displacement correlation spectroscopy based on time-resolved image correlation analysis, to map chromatin dynamics simultaneously across the whole nucleus in cultured human cells. This method revealed that chromatin movement was coherent across large regions (4-5 µm) for several seconds. Regions of coherent motion extended beyond the boundaries of single-chromosome territories, suggesting elastic coupling of motion over length scales much larger than those of genes. These large-scale, coupled motions were ATP dependent and unidirectional for several seconds, perhaps accounting for ATP-dependent directed movement of single genes. Perturbation of major nuclear ATPases such as DNA polymerase, RNA polymerase II, and topoisomerase II eliminated micron-scale coherence, while causing rapid, local movement to increase; i.e., local motions accelerated but became uncoupled from their neighbors. We observe similar trends in chromatin dynamics upon inducing a direct DNA damage; thus we hypothesize that this may be due to DNA damage responses that physically relax chromatin and block long-distance communication of forces.
Wang S, Romano FB, Field CM, Mitchison TJ, Rapoport TA. Multiple mechanisms determine ER network morphology during the cell cycle in Xenopus egg extracts. J Cell Biol. 2013;203 (5) :801-14.Abstract
In metazoans the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) changes during the cell cycle, with the nuclear envelope (NE) disassembling and reassembling during mitosis and the peripheral ER undergoing extensive remodeling. Here we address how ER morphology is generated during the cell cycle using crude and fractionated Xenopus laevis egg extracts. We show that in interphase the ER is concentrated at the microtubule (MT)-organizing center by dynein and is spread by outward extension of ER tubules through their association with plus ends of growing MTs. Fusion of membranes into an ER network is dependent on the guanosine triphosphatase atlastin (ATL). NE assembly requires fusion by both ATL and ER-soluble N-ethyl-maleimide-sensitive factor adaptor protein receptors. In mitotic extracts, the ER converts into a network of sheets connected by ER tubules and loses most of its interactions with MTs. Together, these results indicate that fusion of ER membranes by ATL and interaction of ER with growing MT ends and dynein cooperate to generate distinct ER morphologies during the cell cycle.
Mitchison TJ. A question of taste. Mol Biol Cell. 2013;24 (21) :3278-80.Abstract
A career in science is shaped by many factors, one of the most important being our tastes in research. These typically form early and are shaped by subsequent successes and failures. My tastes run to microscopes, chemistry, and spatial organization of cytoplasm. I will try to identify where they came from, how they shaped my career, and how they continue to evolve. My hope is to inspire young scientists to identify and celebrate their own unique tastes.
Barkauskaite E, Brassington A, Tan ES, Warwicker J, Dunstan MS, Banos B, Lafite P, Ahel M, Mitchison TJ, Ahel I, et al. Visualization of poly(ADP-ribose) bound to PARG reveals inherent balance between exo- and endo-glycohydrolase activities. Nat Commun. 2013;4 :2164.Abstract
Poly-ADP-ribosylation is a post-translational modification that regulates processes involved in genome stability. Breakdown of the poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) polymer is catalysed by poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase (PARG), whose endo-glycohydrolase activity generates PAR fragments. Here we present the crystal structure of PARG incorporating the PAR substrate. The two terminal ADP-ribose units of the polymeric substrate are bound in exo-mode. Biochemical and modelling studies reveal that PARG acts predominantly as an exo-glycohydrolase. This preference is linked to Phe902 (human numbering), which is responsible for low-affinity binding of the substrate in endo-mode. Our data reveal the mechanism of poly-ADP-ribosylation reversal, with ADP-ribose as the dominant product, and suggest that the release of apoptotic PAR fragments occurs at unusual PAR/PARG ratios.
2012
Hu C-K, Coughlin M, Mitchison TJ. Midbody assembly and its regulation during cytokinesis. Mol Biol Cell. 2012;23 (6) :1024-34.Abstract
The midbody is a transient structure that connects two daughter cells at the end of cytokinesis, with the principal function being to localize the site of abscission, which physically separates two daughter cells. Despite its importance, understanding of midbody assembly and its regulation is still limited. Here we describe how the structural composition of the midbody changes during progression throughout cytokinesis and explore the functional implications of these changes. Deriving from midzones, midbodies are organized by a set of microtubule interacting proteins that colocalize to a zone of microtubule overlap in the center. We found that these proteins split into three subgroups that relocalize to different parts of the midbody: the bulge, the dark zone, and the flanking zone. We characterized these relocalizations and defined domain requirements for three key proteins: MKLP1, KIF4, and PRC1. Two cortical proteins-anillin and RhoA-localized to presumptive abscission sites in mature midbodies, where they may regulate the endosomal sorting complex required for transport machinery. Finally, we characterized the role of Plk1, a key regulator of cytokinesis, in midbody assembly. Our findings represent the most detailed description of midbody assembly and maturation to date and may help elucidate how abscission sites are positioned and regulated.

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