How do astrotactin-1 and astrotactin-2 act in the determination of mammalian cell polarity?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics

Abstract

The growth, development and repair of the brain requires the migration of neurons so they can shape its sub-structures, make new connections, and repair old ones. Similarly, the growth of other tissues and organs requires the growth of cells in a polarised fashion, to give the distinctive shapes characteristic of body plans and individual organs within them. It has recently been found that a pair of proteins called astrotactins (ASTNs) play critical roles in both these processes.

In the brain, ASTN1 is found on the surface of neurons where it makes connections to the guide tracks ("glial fibres") along which they move. In order for the neurons to move, however, they need to break old connections and then form new ones, and in order to do that ASTN1-mediated contact sites need to be recycled towards the leading edge of the migrating cell. The key molecule enabling that to happen is ASTN2, which is a very similar protein to ASTN1 but which is found in small membrane-defined compartments within the cell rather than sticking out of the cell membrane at its surface, like ASTN1 does.

In other tissues, our collaborators at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the United States recently found that ASTN2 helps control something known as planar cell polarity, which underpins the formation of organs and tissues both in the nervous system and elsewhere in the body.

Clinical and genetic data indicate a key involvement of mutant forms of ASTN1 and ASTN2 in a host of conditions including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and forms of neurodevelopmental delay such as difficulty in learning language. Another recent study showing that different forms of ASTN2 could bring forward by ~5 years the age of onset of Alzheimer's, while effects of ASTNs have also been noted on the immune system and general tissue morphology outside the nervous system.

We are going to use methods which give us a 3D atomic-resolution picture of the structure of ASTN1 and ASTN2 to work out how they carry out their activities controlling normal human development, repair when tissues are damaged, and the suceptibility to conditions like Alzheimer's. Preliminary data from our lab and others suggests that what is critical is a change in the behaviour of ASTN1 and ASTN2 in more acidic conditions - different compartments within the cell have differing acidities and this regulates events within them. We have an excellent starting point because we have crystallised ASTN1 in two different forms, at neutral pH and at acidic pH. We have also made preliminary studies of how they interact but will be able to provide much greater detail from the work we are planning now.

Clearly, we also need to look at living cells and see how ASTN1 and ASTN2 move about within them, affecting each other's activity and location. We will do this as well, which will give a functional context to the work we are doing on the atomic structures of the proteins. The approach we will use is based on fluorescently labelling the proteins and this will enable us both to see the location of the ASTN proteins and to measure the interactions they undergo.

Our work will benefit greatly from ongoing collaboration both with the group at Johns Hopkins and with colleagues local to Oxford. One particularly exciting area to explore further will be the way in which ASTN1 and ASTN2 interact with proteins already known to play leading roles in determining planar call polarity, such as the cell surface receptor proteins Frizzled-3 and Frizzled-6 and Celsr1.

Technical Summary

This grant application focuses on the use of structural biology, biophysics and live cell imaging to study the structures of astrotactins (ASTNs) 1 and 2 and the interactions they undergo both with each other and with other proteins within cells and tissues.

Recent data indicate that the role of ASTN1 in controlling cerebellar granule neuron migration depends on ASTN2 which drives its recycling via endocytosis between successive interstitial junctions with glial fibres. In other data, our collaboratoing Project Partners in the Nathans lab (Johns Hopkins) have found a link between ASTN2 and planar cell polarity (PCP) determination. This makes our proposed study extremely timely and its medical importance can be gauged from the involvement of ASTNs - as assessing by largescale clinical and genetic studies - in conditions as diverse as ADHD, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, beside non-neuronal effects.

Having already crystallised and partially solved the structure of the ASTN2 ectodomain we will complete the X-ray structure determination at neutral and then at acidic pH and then make use of biophysical methods to study its self-interaction. We will also solve the structure of the cytoplasmic ASTN2 N-terminal domain, using crystallography or NMR. The absence of exons 4 and 5 from the NTD has been noted in normal tissue and a PCP variant, respectively. The structure of ASTN1 will then be solved, again using crystallography for the ectodomain and crystallography or NMR for the NTD, also studying its interactions with ASTN2 biophysically. We will use live cell studies with FRET measurement incorporating lifetime imaging to look at the interactions undergone by ASTN1 and ASTN2 in a cellular context, including how this is affected by their cycling through the endosomal system, and also aim to extend our work into investigation of the interaction of ASTNs with proteins which are components of PCP signalling.

Planned Impact

It is clear that we are aiming to provide an atomically-detailed description of how ASTN1 and ASTN2 function in what are undoubtedly important physiological processes. Therefore the data we obtain may well have value for commercial private sector scientists seeking to develop novel pharmacological agents against ADHD or Alzheimer's or to promote neural repair. Our data should shape new proposals within R&D efforts and may identify new and more effective strategies for drug design.

Policy makers at a national or international level should also benefit because we will be helping to provide a detailed understanding of why certain genetic variations in ASTN1 and ASTN2 are associated with specific neurodevelopmental and other disorders. This has the potential to shape planning for future funding strategies and the assessment of health provision risk and its management, thus assisting in the effectiveness with which public resources are deployed.

In the third sector, charities promoting research towards an improved understanding of and therapy for diseases such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia, and for conditions like ADHD and autism, will also benefit because we will be providing tools for understanding in more detail what goes wrong with such pathologies and how they might realistically be ameliorated.

In the wider public, we expect that a detailed description of how basic molecular processes can be understood to underlie high-interest conditions such as the ones relevant to this proposal (Alzheimer's, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia etc.) will be of significant benefit in helping an understanding of the roles played by basic scientists and their contribution to the health and wellbeing of the population at large.

This proposal constitutes a ground-breaking area of science in which recent success in the research of the Principal Applicant and named PDRA is teamed with an exciting new discovery in the lab of our Project Partner Jeremy Nathans. We believe it represents a major opportunity for UK MRC-funded science to take the lead in establishing a new level of understanding of what governs neural migration and planar cell polarity and how they interrelate.

The timescale for all the benefits we envisage is potentially relatively short; while pharmacological innovations would necessarily be some way off, the benefit otherwise in shaping thinking about these conditions and how they are caused and might be targeted is, we believe, within a 3-5 year range from the start of the grant.

Finally, as stated under Academic Beneficiaries, there are a number of ways in which scientists will benefit from the research proposed.

- structural and cell biologists working with MACPF/CDC proteins, and those interested in their evolution, will benefit from understanding how the polypeptide fold common to the family is adapted to the control of cell adhesion formation and cell migration.
- neuroscientists interested in the control of neuronal migration will benefit because our work will define the basis on which a novel mechanism determines its polarity.
- developmental biologists working on planar cell polarity (PCP) control will benefit because we will show how the astrotactins play a (previously unimagined) role in PCP.
- medical researchers and geneticists seeking an understanding of the molecular basis of neural repair, neurodevelopmental disorders and the onset of Alzheimer's will benefit because we will provide a molecular understanding of the phenomena observed in humans with variant forms of ASTN1 or ASTN2.
- and academics using live cell imaging techniques and measuring protein-protein interactions within live cells will benefit from the application of FRET-FLIM methods to a complex case involving protein localisation, membrane trafficking and the monitoring of endosome development.

The academic beneficiaries alone are therefore much broader than the expertise of the core team working on the project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Association of Resources for Biophysical Research in Europe
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact We are implementing Europe-wide projects for quality control of biophysical methods and benchmarking of new technologies. Our role builds directly on biophysical and structural biology studies carried out in the lab over several years. It has been strengthened by additional funding which began since our involvement with ARBRE.
URL https://www.structuralbiology.eu/networks/association-resources-biophysical-research-europe
 
Description Molecular Biophysics in Europe (MOBIEU)
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact MOBIEU is a COST Action which will enable the improvement of biophysical methods development across Europe and with international impact. I am one of two UK members of its Management Committee, nominated through the Department for Business, Information and Skills.
URL http://www.cost.eu/COST_Actions/ca/CA15126
 
Description Calleva Centre, Magdalen College Oxford
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department Magdalen College Oxford
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 09/2022
 
Description Astrotactin structure and function in neural cell guidance 
Organisation Johns Hopkins University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided expertise in MACPF/CDC protein biology and structural biology and biophyisical interaction studies of astrotactins to the project.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Jeremy Nathans of JHU has shared with us information and expertise relating to cell guidance/polarity determination. Professor Mary Beth Hatten of Rockefeller University has likewise shared with us information, expertise and reagents.
Impact We have a paper published and a review in press.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Astrotactin structure and function in neural cell guidance 
Organisation Rockefeller University
Department Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided expertise in MACPF/CDC protein biology and structural biology and biophyisical interaction studies of astrotactins to the project.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Jeremy Nathans of JHU has shared with us information and expertise relating to cell guidance/polarity determination. Professor Mary Beth Hatten of Rockefeller University has likewise shared with us information, expertise and reagents.
Impact We have a paper published and a review in press.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Structure and mechanism of Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Structures and understanding of the oligomgerisation mechanism and membrane effects of the Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and single channel recording; Grenoble: Toxoplasma biology; Imperial: Plasmodium biology and vaccine trials; Wellcome Centre Human Genetics: provision of P. vivax DNA and vaccine trials
Impact A paper will be published on March 21st with the first output.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Structure and mechanism of Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins 
Organisation National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia
Country Slovenia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Structures and understanding of the oligomgerisation mechanism and membrane effects of the Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and single channel recording; Grenoble: Toxoplasma biology; Imperial: Plasmodium biology and vaccine trials; Wellcome Centre Human Genetics: provision of P. vivax DNA and vaccine trials
Impact A paper will be published on March 21st with the first output.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Structure and mechanism of Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins 
Organisation University of Grenoble
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Structures and understanding of the oligomgerisation mechanism and membrane effects of the Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and single channel recording; Grenoble: Toxoplasma biology; Imperial: Plasmodium biology and vaccine trials; Wellcome Centre Human Genetics: provision of P. vivax DNA and vaccine trials
Impact A paper will be published on March 21st with the first output.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Structure and mechanism of Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins 
Organisation University of Oxford
Department Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Structures and understanding of the oligomgerisation mechanism and membrane effects of the Apicomplexan perforin-like proteins
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and single channel recording; Grenoble: Toxoplasma biology; Imperial: Plasmodium biology and vaccine trials; Wellcome Centre Human Genetics: provision of P. vivax DNA and vaccine trials
Impact A paper will be published on March 21st with the first output.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Structure and mechanism of perforin-2 
Organisation Cornell University
Department Weill Cornell Medicine
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have determined structures of perforin-2 and established detailed knowledge of its mechanism.
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and GUV imaging; Miami: basic medicine and cell biology of perforin-2 activity (they discovered the protein); Cornell: atomic force microscopy
Impact None yet; a paper is being written.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Structure and mechanism of perforin-2 
Organisation National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia
Country Slovenia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have determined structures of perforin-2 and established detailed knowledge of its mechanism.
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and GUV imaging; Miami: basic medicine and cell biology of perforin-2 activity (they discovered the protein); Cornell: atomic force microscopy
Impact None yet; a paper is being written.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Structure and mechanism of perforin-2 
Organisation University of Miami
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have determined structures of perforin-2 and established detailed knowledge of its mechanism.
Collaborator Contribution NKI, Slovenia: lipid biophysics and GUV imaging; Miami: basic medicine and cell biology of perforin-2 activity (they discovered the protein); Cornell: atomic force microscopy
Impact None yet; a paper is being written.
Start Year 2016
 
Description School visit (Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 200 pupils attended a talk at Radley College. They came from a range of local schools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017