Cook Group

Cook Group
Cook Group

Research Summary

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

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

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

Latest Publications

Superti-Furga G, Agostinho M, Bury J, Cook S, Durinx C, Ender A, van Luenen H, Lund AH, Medema RH, Miączyńska M, Nickel D, Pelicci PG, Puisieux A, Ripatti S, Sander M, Schubeler D, Serrano L, Sommer T, Sonne-Hansen K, Tomančák P, Vives J, Vontas J, Bettencourt-Dias M Signalling , Epigenetics , Immunology

The diverse range of organizations contributing to the global research ecosystem is believed to enhance the overall quality and resilience of its output. Mid-sized autonomous research institutes, distinct from universities, play a crucial role in this landscape. They often lead the way in new research fields and experimental methods, including those in social and organizational domains, which are vital for driving innovation. The EU-LIFE alliance was established with the goal of fostering excellence by developing and disseminating best practices among European biomedical research institutes. As directors of the 15 EU-LIFE institutes, we have spent a decade comparing and refining our processes. Now, we are eager to share the insights we've gained. To this end, we have crafted this Charter, outlining 10 principles we deem essential for research institutes to flourish and achieve ground-breaking discoveries. These principles, detailed in the Charter, encompass excellence, independence, training, internationality and inclusivity, mission focus, technological advancement, administrative innovation, cooperation, societal impact, and public engagement. Our aim is to inspire the establishment of new institutes that adhere to these principles and to raise awareness about their significance. We are convinced that they should be viewed a crucial component of any national and international innovation strategies.

+view abstract FEBS letters, PMID: 38514456

Weatherdon L, Stuart K, Cassidy MA, de la Gándara AM, Okkenhaug H, Muellener M, Mckenzie G, Cook SJ, Gilley R Signalling , Imaging

The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is activated in cancer due to mutations in RAS proteins (especially KRAS), BRAF, CRAF, MEK1 and MEK2. Whilst inhibitors of KRASG12C (lung adenocarcinoma) and BRAF and MEK1/2 (melanoma and colorectal cancer) are clinically approved, acquired resistance remains a problem. Consequently, the search for new inhibitors (especially of RAS proteins), new inhibitor modalities and regulators of this pathway, which may be new drug targets, continues and increasingly involves cell-based screens with small molecules or genetic screens such as RNAi, CRISPR or Protein Interference. Here we describe cell lines that exhibit doxycycline-dependent expression KRASG12V or BRAFV600E and harbour a stably integrated EGR1:EmGFP reporter gene that can be detected by flow cytometry, high-content microscopy or immunoblotting. KRASG12V or BRAFV600E-driven EmGFP expression is inhibited by MEK1/2 or ERK1/2 inhibitors (MEKi and ERKi). BRAFi inhibit BRAFV600E-driven EmGFP expression but enhance the response to KRASG12V, recapitulating paradoxical activation of wild type RAF proteins. In addition to small molecules, expression of iDab6, encoding a RAS-specific antibody fragment inhibited KRASG12V- but not BRAFV600E-driven EmGFP expression. Finally, substitution of EmGFP for a bacterial nitroreductase gene allowed KRASG12V or BRAFV600E to drive cell death in the presence of a pro-drug, which may allow selection of pathway inhibitors that promote survival. These cell lines should prove useful for cell-based screens to identify new regulators of KRAS- or BRAF-dependent ERK1/2 signalling (drug target discovery) as well as screening or triaging 'hits' from drug discovery screens.

+view abstract The Biochemical journal, PMID: 38381045

Park AY, Leney-Greene M, Lynberg M, Gabrielski JQ, Xu X, Schwarz B, Zheng L, Balasubramaniyam A, Ham H, Chao B, Zhang Y, Matthews HF, Cui J, Yao Y, Kubo S, Chanchu JM, Morawski AR, Cook SA, Jiang P, Ravell JC, Cheng YH, George A, Faruqi A, Pagalilauan AM, Bergerson JRE, Ganesan S, Chauvin SD, Aluri J, Edwards-Hicks J, Bohrnsen E, Tippett C, Omar H, Xu L, Butcher GW, Pascall J, Karakoc-Aydiner E, Kiykim A, Maecker H, Tezcan İ, Esenboga S, Heredia RJ, Akata D, Tekin S, Kara A, Kuloglu Z, Unal E, Kendirli T, Dogu F, Karabiber E, Atkinson TP, Cochet C, Filhol O, Bosio CM, Davis MM, Lifton RP, Pearce EL, Daumke O, Aytekin C, Şahin GE, Aksu AÜ, Uzel G, Koneti Rao V, Sari S, Boztug K, Cagdas D, Haskologlu S, Ikinciogullari A, Schwefel D, Vilarinho S, Baris S, Ozen A, Su HC, Lenardo MJ Immunology

Preserving cells in a functional, non-senescent state is a major goal for extending human healthspans. Model organisms reveal that longevity and senescence are genetically controlled, but how genes control longevity in different mammalian tissues is unknown. Here, we report a new human genetic disease that causes cell senescence, liver and immune dysfunction, and early mortality that results from deficiency of GIMAP5, an evolutionarily conserved GTPase selectively expressed in lymphocytes and endothelial cells. We show that GIMAP5 restricts the pathological accumulation of long-chain ceramides (CERs), thereby regulating longevity. GIMAP5 controls CER abundance by interacting with protein kinase CK2 (CK2), attenuating its ability to activate CER synthases. Inhibition of CK2 and CER synthase rescues GIMAP5-deficient T cells by preventing CER overaccumulation and cell deterioration. Thus, GIMAP5 controls longevity assurance pathways crucial for immune function and healthspan in mammals.

+view abstract Nature immunology, PMID: 38172257

bioRxiv Manuscripts

Prasanna Channathodiyil, Anne Segonds-Pichon, Paul D. Smith, Simon J. Cook, Jonathan Houseley

bioRxiv 2021.03.23.436572

Group Members

Simon Cook

鶹Ƶ Director

Kathryn Balmanno

Senior Research Scientist

Suzan Ber

Senior Research Scientist

Stephen Chetwynd

Postdoc Research Scientist

Anna Clay

Visiting Student

Frazer Cook

PhD Student

Rebecca Gilley

Senior Research Associate

Eleanor Griffiths

PhD Student

Katie Hayward

Visiting Student

Laura Weatherdon

PhD Student