We investigate how cancer-linked cell signal pathways interface with gene transcription and with the actin cytoskeleton, the cell’s major structural framework.
Cells using complex chemical signalling mechanisms to respond to external stimuli originating from other cells or from their environment.
Signalling allows control of cells' physical growth and proliferation, their physical interactions with other cells and tissues, and their specialised identity, for example as muscle or liver cells.
Aberrant signalling processes are a common feature of diseases such as cancer, so understanding them is critical for the development of therapeutic interventions.
Perhaps the most far-reaching cellular response to an external stimulus is a change in gene expression, the process that directs which proteins a cell produces.
Our laboratory studies how gene expression is regulated by two signal pathways – the Ras and Rho pathways – whose activity is disrupted in a large proportion of human cancers.
The Ras pathway is instrumental in control of cancer cell proliferation, while the Rho pathway is a critical player in metastasis, the process by which cells leave a primary tumour and establish themselves at new locations in the body.
Our principal focus is on transcription factors, the regulatory proteins responsible for targeting signals to specific genes. A major interest is a protein called serum response factor (SRF), which plays a critical role in controlling the genes of the cell's major structural framework, the actin cytoskeleton, as well as proliferative genes.
We also study how the cytoskeleton itself can control cell behaviour, by modulating the activity a new family of cell regulators known as RPEL proteins.