A sample of our latest research

Tumour-specific proline vulnerability uncovered by differential ribosome codon reading. (Nature 2016)
Tumour growth and metabolic adaptation may restrict the availability of certain amino acids for protein synthesis. It has recently been shown that certain types of cancer cells depend on glycine, glutamine, leucine and serine metabolism to proliferate and survive. In addition, successful therapies using l-asparaginase-induced asparagine deprivation have been developed for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. However, a tailored detection system for measuring restrictive amino acids in each tumour is currently not available. Here we harnessed ribosome profiling for sensing restrictive amino acids, and developed diricore, a procedure for differential ribosome measurements of codon reading. We first demonstrate diricore's functionality and constraints using metabolic inhibitors and nutrient deprivation assays. Most interestingly, treatment with l-asparaginase elicited both specific diricore signals at asparagine codons and high levels of ASNS (asparagine synthetase). Then we applied diricore to kidney cancer and discovered signals indicating restrictive proline. As for asparagine, this observation was linked to high levels of PYCR1, a key enzyme in proline production, suggesting a compensatory mechanism allowing tumour expansion. Indeed, PYCR1 is induced by shortage of proline precursors, and its suppression attenuated kidney cancer cell proliferation when proline was limiting. High PYCR1 is frequently observed in invasive breast carcinoma. Intriguingly, in an in vivo model system of this tumour we also uncovered signals indicating restrictive proline. We further show that CRISPR-mediated knockout of PYCR1 impedes tumorigenic growth in this system. Thus diricore has the potential to reveal unknown amino acid deficiencies, vulnerabilities that can be used to target key metabolic pathways for cancer treatment.

Myc coordinates transcription and translation to enhance transformation and suppress invasiveness. (EMBO Rep 2015)
c-Myc is one of the major human proto-oncogenes and is often associated with tumor aggression and poor clinical outcome. Paradoxically, Myc was also reported as a suppressor of cell motility, invasiveness, and metastasis. Among the direct targets of Myc are many components of the protein synthesis machinery whose induction results in an overall increase in protein synthesis that empowers tumor cell growth. At present, it is largely unknown whether beyond the global enhancement of protein synthesis, Myc activation results in translation modulation of specific genes. Here, we measured Myc-induced global changes in gene expression at the transcription, translation, and protein levels and uncovered extensive transcript-specific regulation of protein translation. Particularly, we detected a broad coordination between regulation of transcription and translation upon modulation of Myc activity and showed the connection of these responses to mTOR signaling to enhance oncogenic transformation and to the TGFβ pathway to modulate cell migration and invasiveness. Our results elucidate novel facets of Myc-induced cellular responses and provide a more comprehensive view of the consequences of its activation in cancer cells.

Ribosome profiling reveals features of normal and disease-associated mitochondrial translation. (Nature Communications 2013)
Mitochondria are essential cellular organelles for generation of energy and their dysfunction may cause diabetes, Parkinson's disease and multi-systemic failure marked by failure to thrive, gastrointestinal problems, lactic acidosis and early lethality. Disease-associated mitochondrial mutations often affect components of the mitochondrial translation machinery. Here we perform ribosome profiling to measure mitochondrial translation at nucleotide resolution. Using a protocol optimized for the retrieval of mitochondrial ribosome protected fragments (RPFs) we show that the size distribution of wild-type mitochondrial RPFs follows a bimodal distribution peaking at 27 and 33 nucleotides, which is distinct from the 30-nucleotide peak of nuclear RPFs. Their cross-correlation suggests generation of mitochondrial RPFs during ribosome progression. In contrast, RPFs from patient-derived mitochondria mutated in tRNA-Tryptophan are centered on tryptophan codons and reduced downstream, indicating ribosome stalling. Intriguingly, long RPFs are enriched in mutated mitochondria, suggesting they characterize stalled ribosomes. Our findings provide the first model for translation in wild-type and disease-triggering mitochondria. .

p53 induces transcriptional and translational programs to suppress cell proliferation and growth. (Genome Biology 2013)
Cell growth and proliferation are tightly connected to ensure that appropriately sized daughter cells are generated following mitosis. Energy stress blocks cell growth and proliferation, a critical response for survival under extreme conditions. Excessive oncogenic stress leads to p53 activation and the induction of senescence, an irreversible state of cell-cycle arrest and a critical component in the suppression of tumorigenesis. Nutrient-sensing and mitogenic cues converge on a major signaling node, which regulates the activity of the mTOR kinase. Although transcriptional responses to energy and oncogenic stresses have been examined by many gene-expression experiments, a global exploration of the modulation of mRNA translation in response to these conditions is lacking.We combine RNA sequencing and ribosomal profiling analyses to systematically delineate modes of transcriptional and translational regulation induced in response to conditions of limited energy, oncogenic stress and cellular transformation. We detect a key role for mTOR and p53 in these distinct physiological states, and provide the first genome-wide demonstration that p53 activation results in mTOR inhibition and a consequent global repression of protein translation. We confirm the role of the direct p53 target genes Sestrin1 and Sestrin2 in this response, as part of the broad modulation of gene expression induced by p53 activation.We delineate a bimodal tumor-suppressive regulatory program activated by p53, in which cell-cycle arrest is imposed mainly at the transcriptional level, whereas cell growth inhibition is enforced by global repression of the translation machinery..