University of Edinburgh Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
University of Reading Featured PhD Programmes

(BBSRC DTP) Definition of the force-sensitive mechanisms linking the plasma membrane to the nucleus using proximity biotinylation-based proteomics

Project Description

The behaviour of cells is determined by how they interpret their genetic and epigenetic programming in the context of signals from their surroundings. These environmental cues are often chemical, but recent work has shown the importance of mechanical stimulation in driving responses to cell morphology, metabolism, motility, proliferation and commitment to lineage. Cells sense the mechanical properties of their environment through integrin adhesion receptors that bind and pull against components of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The modulated response to ECM stiffness, and its maintenance at the appropriate level, is essential for tissue health. In the context of development and repair, stem cells can be directed towards tissue-specific lineages. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be directed towards adipogenesis in soft environments, or towards chondro- or osteogenesis in stiff environments, and have been widely studied due to their potential for applications in regenerative medicine. The ECM is also central to many disease processes, and the aberrantly stiff, fibrotic environment of many cancers has been shown to contribute to uncontrolled cellular proliferation and metastatic processes. In pancreatic cancer, for example, the ECM produced by pancreatic fibroblasts (PFs) is an order of magnitude stiffer than the healthy tissue.

Cells respond to physical stimuli, such as stiffness, through mechano-transduction pathways that convert mechanical to biochemical signals. Many of the proteins involved with these processes, such as components of the integrin adhesion complex (IAC) at the cell/ECM interface or the linker of nucleo- and cytoskeleton (LINC) complex at the nuclear membrane, have been identified and characterised. However, these complexes have generally been studied as discrete entities. We lack a holistic picture of how mechanical signals are carried from the ECM through to the nucleus, where distinct genetic programmes can be modulated. Here we propose to use proximity biotinylation mass spectrometry (BioID-MS) to systematically identify the protein linkages that enable communication between cellular regulatory machinery and cellular environments with distinct mechanical properties. BioID-MS enables protein interactions to be identified by selectively tagging proteins proximal to a ‘bait’. By engineering a library of bait constructs for structural and signalling components of IACs and LINC complexes, we will develop a quantitative, global picture of how MSCs and PFs respond to environmental stiffness. By determining how these two complexes are integrated, we intend to identify conserved mechano-transduction pathways, as well as those that may be affected by disease and thus be future targets for intervention.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Horton, E.R., Byron, A., Askari, J.A., Ng, D.H.J., Millon-Frémillon, A., Robertson, J., Koper, E.J., Paul, N.R., Warwood, S., Knight, D., Humphries, J.D. and Humphries, M.J. (2015) Definition of a consensus integrin adhesome and its dynamics during adhesion complex assembly and disassembly. Nature Cell Biol. 17: 1577-1587
Ajeian, J.N., Horton, E.R., Astudillo, P., Byron, A., Askari, J.A., Millon-Frémillon, A., Knight, D., Kimber, S.J., Humphries, M.J. and Humphries, J.D. (2016) Proteomic analysis of integrin-associated complexes from mesenchymal stem cells. Proteomics Clin. Appl. 10: 51-57
Horton, E.R., Astudillo, P., Humphries, M.J. and Humphries, J.D. (2016) Mechanosensitivity of integrin adhesion complexes: role of the consensus adhesome. Exp. Cell Res. 343: 7-13
Swift, J., Ivanovska, I.L., Buxboim, A., Harada, T., Dingal, P.C.D.P, Pinter, J., Pajerowski, J.D., Spinler, K.R., Shin, J.-W., Tewari, M., Rehfeldt, F., Speicher, D.W. and Discher, D.E. (2013) Nuclear lamin-A scales with tissue stiffness and enhances matrix-directed differentiation. Science 341: 1240104

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.