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Houseley Group

Houseley Group
Houseley Group
Jon Houseley
Group Leader and Head of Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation
Houseley Group

Research Summary

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

Latest Publications

Open Access
Zylstra A, Hadj-Moussa H, Horkai D, Whale AJ, Piguet B, Houseley J Epigenetics

The massive accumulation of extrachromosomal ribosomal DNA circles (ERCs) in yeast mother cells has been long cited as the primary driver of replicative ageing. ERCs arise through ribosomal DNA (rDNA) recombination, and a wealth of genetic data connects rDNA instability events giving rise to ERCs with shortened life span and other ageing pathologies. However, we understand little about the molecular effects of ERC accumulation. Here, we studied ageing in the presence and absence of ERCs, and unexpectedly found no evidence of gene expression differences that might indicate stress responses or metabolic feedback caused by ERCs. Neither did we observe any global change in the widespread disruption of gene expression that accompanies yeast ageing, altogether suggesting that ERCs are largely inert. Much of the differential gene expression that accompanies ageing in yeast was actually associated with markers of the senescence entry point (SEP), showing that senescence, rather than age, underlies these changes. Cells passed the SEP irrespective of ERCs, but we found the SEP to be associated with copy number amplification of a region of chromosome XII between the rDNA and the telomere (ChrXIIr) forming linear fragments up to approximately 1.8 Mb size, which arise in aged cells due to rDNA instability but through a different mechanism to ERCs. Therefore, although rDNA copy number increases dramatically with age due to ERC accumulation, our findings implicate ChrXIIr, rather than ERCs, as the primary driver of senescence during budding yeast ageing.

+view abstract PLoS biology, PMID: 37643194

Open Access
Horkai D, Hadj-Moussa H, Whale AJ, Houseley J Epigenetics

Caloric restriction increases lifespan and improves ageing health, but it is unknown whether these outcomes can be separated or achieved through less severe interventions. Here, we show that an unrestricted galactose diet in early life minimises change during replicative ageing in budding yeast, irrespective of diet later in life. Average mother cell division rate is comparable between glucose and galactose diets, and lifespan is shorter on galactose, but markers of senescence and the progressive dysregulation of gene expression observed on glucose are minimal on galactose, showing that these are not intrinsic aspects of replicative ageing but rather associated processes. Respiration on galactose is critical for minimising hallmarks of ageing, and forced respiration during ageing on glucose by overexpression of the mitochondrial biogenesis factor Hap4 also has the same effect though only in a fraction of cells. This fraction maintains Hap4 activity to advanced age with low senescence and a youthful gene expression profile, whereas other cells in the same population lose Hap4 activity, undergo dramatic dysregulation of gene expression and accumulate fragments of chromosome XII (ChrXIIr), which are tightly associated with senescence. Our findings support the existence of two separable ageing trajectories in yeast. We propose that a complete shift to the healthy ageing mode can be achieved in wild-type cells through dietary change in early life without caloric restriction.

+view abstract PLoS biology, PMID: 37643155

Channathodiyil P, May K, Segonds-Pichon A, Smith PD, Cook SJ, Houseley J Epigenetics , Signalling , Bioinformatics

Mutations and gene amplifications that confer drug resistance emerge frequently during chemotherapy, but their mechanism and timing are poorly understood. Here, we investigate amplification events that underlie resistance to the MEK inhibitor selumetinib (AZD6244/ARRY-142886) in COLO205 cells, a well-characterized model for reproducible emergence of drug resistance, and show that amplifications acquired are the primary cause of resistance. Selumetinib causes long-term G1 arrest accompanied by reduced expression of DNA replication and repair genes, but cells stochastically re-enter the cell cycle during treatment despite continued repression of pERK1/2. Most DNA replication and repair genes are re-expressed as cells enter S and G2; however, mRNAs encoding a subset of factors important for error-free replication and chromosome segregation, including TIPIN, PLK2 and PLK3, remain at low abundance. This suggests that DNA replication following escape from G1 arrest in drug is more error prone and provides a potential explanation for the DNA damage observed under long-term RAF-MEK-ERK1/2 pathway inhibition. To test the hypothesis that escape from G1 arrest in drug promotes amplification, we exploited the combination of palbociclib and selumetinib. Combined treatment with selumetinib and a dose of palbociclib sufficient to reinforce G1 arrest in selumetinib-sensitive cells, but not to impair proliferation of resistant cells, delays the emergence of resistant colonies, meaning that escape from G1 arrest is critical in the formation of resistant clones. Our findings demonstrate that acquisition of MEK inhibitor resistance often occurs through gene amplification and can be suppressed by impeding cell cycle entry in drug.

+view abstract NAR cancer, PMID: 36267209

bioRxiv Manuscripts

Senescence in yeast is associated with chromosome XII fragments rather than ribosomal DNA circle accumulation

Andre Zylstra, Hanane Hadj-Moussa, Dorottya Horkai, Alex Whale, Baptiste Piguet, Jonathan Houseley

Dietary change without caloric restriction maintains a youthful profile in ageing yeast

Dorottya Horkai, Jonathan Houseley

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Group Members

Jon Houseley

Group Leader and Head of Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation

Hanane Hadj-Moussa

Postdoc Research Scientist

Kieron May

PhD Student

Baptiste Piguet

PhD Student

Megan Ulusan

Research Assistant

Alex Whale

Postdoc Research Scientist

Aimee Withers

Research Assistant

Amy Wolstenholme

Visiting Student