Peer-reviewed publications published in the context of this project

  • Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
    Cell Cycle

    Interlinked bistable mechanisms generate robust mitotic transitions

    Lukas Hutter, Scott Rata, Helfrid Hochegger, Bela Novak
    • Abstract
      The transitions between phases of the cell cycle have evolved to be robust and switch-like, which ensures temporal separation of DNA replication, sister chromatid separation, and cell division. Mathematical models describing the biochemical interaction networks of cell cycle regulators attribute these properties to underlying bistable switches, which inherently generate robust, switch-like, and irreversible transitions between states. We have recently presented new mathematical models for two control systems that regulate crucial transitions in the cell cycle: mitotic entry and exit and the mitotic checkpoint.Each of the two control systems is characterized by two interlinked bistable switches. In the case of mitotic checkpoint control, these switches are mutually activating, whereas in the case of the mitotic entry/exit network, the switches are mutually inhibiting. In this Perspective we describe the qualitative features of these regulatory motifs and show that having two interlinked bistable mechanisms further enhances robustness and irreversibility. We speculate that these network motifs also underlie other cell cycle transitions and cellular transitions between distinct biochemical states.
  • Tuesday, Jun 20, 2017

    NucliTrack: An integrated nuclei tracking application

    Sam Cooper, Alexis Barr, Robert Glen, Chris Bakal
    • Abstract
      Live imaging studies give unparalleled insight into dynamic single cell behaviours and fate decisions. However, the challenge of reliably tracking single cells over long periods of time limits both the throughput and ease with which such studies can be performed. Here, we present NucliTrack, a cross platform solution for automatically segmenting, tracking and extracting features from fluorescently-labelled nuclei. NucliTrack performs similarly to other state-of-the-art cell tracking algorithms, but NucliTrack’s interactive, graphical interface makes it significantly more user friendly.
  • Monday, May 22, 2017
    Current Biology

    APC/C:Cdh1 Enables Removal of Shugoshin-2 from the Arms of Bivalent Chromosomes by Moderating Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Activity

    Ahmed Rattani, Randy Ballesteros Mejia, Katherine Roberts, Maurici B. Roig, Jonathan Godwin, Michael Hopkins, Manuel Eguren, Luis Sanchez-Pulido, Elwy Okaz, Sugako Ogushi, Magda Wolna, Jean Metson, Alberto M. Pendas, Marcos Malumbres, Bela Novak, Mary Herbert, Kim Nasmyth
    • Abstract
      In mammalian females, germ cells remain arrested as primordial follicles. Resumption of meiosis is heralded by germinal vesicle breakdown, condensation of chromosomes, and their eventual alignment on metaphase plates. At the first meiotic division, anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome associated with Cdc20 (APC/CCdc20) activates separase and thereby destroys cohesion along chromosome arms. Because cohesion around centromeres is protected by shugoshin-2, sister chromatids remain attached through centromeric/pericentromeric cohesin. We show here that, by promoting proteolysis of cyclins and Cdc25B at the germinal vesicle (GV) stage, APC/C associated with the Cdh1 protein (APC/CCdh1) delays the increase in Cdk1 activity, leading to germinal vesicle breakdown (GVBD). More surprisingly, by moderating the rate at which Cdk1 is activated following GVBD, APC/CCdh1 creates conditions necessary for the removal of shugoshin-2 from chromosome arms by the Aurora B/C kinase, an event crucial for the efficient resolution of chiasmata.
  • Monday, Mar 20, 2017
    Nature Communications

    DNA damage during S-phase mediates the proliferation-quiescence decision in the subsequent G1 via p21 expression

    Alexis Barr, Samuel Cooper, Stefan Heldt, Francesca Butera, Henriette Stoy, Jörg Mansfeld, Bela Novak, Chris Bakal
    • Abstract
      Following DNA damage caused by exogenous sources, such as ionising radiation, the tumour suppressor p53 mediates cell cycle arrest via expression of the CDK inhibitor, p21. However, the role of p21 in maintaining genomic stability in the absence of exogenous DNA damaging agents is unclear. Here, using live single cell measurements of p21 protein in proliferating cultures, we show that naturally-occurring DNA damage incurred over S-phase causes p53-dependent accumulation of p21 during mother G2- and daughter G1-phases. High p21 levels mediate G1 arrest via CDK inhibition, yet lower levels have no impact on G1 progression, and the ubiquitin ligases CRL4Cdt2 and SCFSkp2 couple to degrade p21 prior to the G1/S transition. Mathematical modelling reveals that a bistable switch, created by CRL4Cdt2, promotes irreversible S-phase entry by keeping p21 levels low, preventing premature S-phase exit upon DNA damage. Thus, we characterise how p21 regulates the proliferation-quiescence decision to maintain genomic stability.
  • Wednesday, Nov 23, 2016
    Current Biology

    Two Bistable Switches Govern M Phase Entry

    Satoru Mochida, Scott Rata, Hirotsugu Hino, Takeharu Nagai, Bela Novak
    • Abstract
      The abrupt and irreversible transition from interphase to M phase is essential to separate DNA replication from chromosome segregation. This transition requires the switch-like phosphorylation of hundreds of proteins by the cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1):cyclin B (CycB) complex. Previous studies have ascribed these switch-like phosphorylations to the auto-activation of Cdk1:CycB through the removal of inhibitory phosphorylations on Cdk1-Tyr15 [1 and 2]. The positive feedback in Cdk1 activation creates a bistable switch that makes mitotic commitment irreversible [2, 3 and 4]. Here, we surprisingly find that Cdk1 auto-activation is dispensable for irreversible, switch-like mitotic entry due to a second mechanism, whereby Cdk1:CycB inhibits its counteracting phosphatase (PP2A:B55). We show that the PP2A:B55-inhibiting Greatwall (Gwl)-endosulfine (ENSA) pathway is both necessary and sufficient for switch-like phosphorylations of mitotic substrates. Using purified components of the Gwl-ENSA pathway in a reconstituted system, we found a sharp Cdk1 threshold for phosphorylation of a luminescent mitotic substrate. The Cdk1 threshold to induce mitotic phosphorylation is distinctly higher than the Cdk1 threshold required to maintain these phosphorylations—evidence for bistability. A combination of mathematical modeling and biochemical reconstitution show that the bistable behavior of the Gwl-ENSA pathway emerges from its mutual antagonism with PP2A:B55. Our results demonstrate that two interlinked bistable mechanisms provide a robust solution for irreversible and switch-like mitotic entry.
  • Monday, Aug 22, 2016
    Journal of Cell Biology

    A PP2A-B55 recognition signal controls substrate dephosphorylation kinetics during mitotic exit

    Michael Cundell, Lukas Hutter, Ricardo Nunes-Bastos, Elena Poser, James Holder, Shabaz Mohammed, Bela Novak, Francis Barr
    • Abstract
      PP2A-B55 is one of the major phosphatases regulating cell division. Despite its importance for temporal control during mitotic exit, how B55 substrates are recognized and differentially dephosphorylated is unclear. Using phosphoproteomics combined with kinetic modeling to extract B55-dependent rate constants, we have systematically identified B55 substrates and assigned their temporal order in mitotic exit. These substrates share a bipartite polybasic recognition determinant (BPR) flanking a Cdk1 phosphorylation site. Experiments and modeling show that dephosphorylation rate is encoded into B55 substrates, including its inhibitor ENSA, by cooperative action of basic residues within the BPR. A complementary acidic surface on B55 decodes this signal, supporting a cooperative electrostatic mechanism for substrate selection. A further level of specificity is encoded into B55 substrates because B55 displays selectivity for phosphothreonine. These simple biochemical properties, combined with feedback control of B55 activity by the phosphoserine-containing substrate/inhibitor ENSA, can help explain the temporal sequence of events during exit from mitosis.
  • Friday, May 27, 2016

    Bistability of mitotic entry and exit switches during open mitosis in mammalian cells

    Nadia Hegarat, Scott Rata, Helfrid Hochegger
    • Abstract
      Mitotic entry and exit are switch-like transitions that are driven by the activation and inactivation of Cdk1 and mitotic cyclins. This simple on/off reaction turns out to be a complex interplay of various reversible reactions, feedback loops, and thresholds that involve both the direct regulators of Cdk1 and its counteracting phosphatases. In this review, we summarize the interplay of the major components of the system and discuss how they work together to generate robustness, bistability, and irreversibility. We propose that it may be beneficial to regard the entry and exit reactions as two separate reversible switches that are distinguished by differences in the state of phosphatase activity, mitotic proteolysis, and a dramatic rearrangement of cellular components after nuclear envelope breakdown, and discuss how the major Cdk1 activity thresholds could be determined for these transitions.
  • Monday, Feb 8, 2016
    Current Biology

    Nutritional Control of Cell Size by the Greatwall-Endosulfine-PP2A·B55 Pathway

    Nathalia Chica, Ana Rozalen, Livia Perez-Hidalgo, Angela Rubio, Bela Novak, Sergio Moreno
    • Abstract
      Proliferating cells adjust their cell size depending on the nutritional environment. Cells are large in rich media and small in poor media. This physiological response has been demonstrated in both unicellular and multicellular organisms. Here we show that the greatwall-endosulfine (Ppk18-Igo1 in fission yeast) pathway couples the nutritional environment to the cell-cycle machinery by regulating the activity of PP2A·B55. In the presence of nutrients, greatwall (Ppk18) protein kinase is inhibited by TORC1 and PP2A·B55 is active. High levels of PP2A·B55 prevent the activation of mitotic Cdk1·Cyclin B, and cells increase in size in G2 before they undergo mitosis. When nutrients are limiting, TORC1 activity falls off, and the activation of greatwall (Ppk18) leads to the phosphorylation of endosulfine (Igo1) and inhibition of PP2A·B55, which in turn allows full activation of Cdk1·CyclinB and entry into mitosis with a smaller cell size. Given the conservation of this pathway, it is reasonable to assume that this mechanism operates in higher eukaryotes, as well.
  • Wednesday, Jan 27, 2016
    Cell Systems

    A Dynamical Framework for the All-or-None G1/S Transition

    Alexis Barr, Stefan Heldt, Tongli Zhang, Chris Bakal, Bela Novak
    • Abstract
      The transition from G1 into DNA replication (S phase) is an emergent behavior resulting from dynamic and complex interactions between cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks), Cdk inhibitors (CKIs), and the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C). Understanding the cellular decision to commit to S phase requires a quantitative description of these interactions. We apply quantitative imaging of single human cells to track the expression of G1/S regulators and use these data to parametrize a stochastic mathematical model of the G1/S transition. We show that a rapid, proteolytic, double-negative feedback loop between Cdk2:Cyclin and the Cdk inhibitor p27Kip1 drives a switch-like entry into S phase. Furthermore, our model predicts that increasing Emi1 levels throughout S phase are critical in maintaining irreversibility of the G1/S transition, which we validate using Emi1 knockdown and live imaging of G1/S reporters. This work provides insight into the general design principles of the signaling networks governing the temporally abrupt transitions between cell-cycle phases.
  • Thursday, Oct 8, 2015
    Cell Reports

    Premature Sister Chromatid Separation Is Poorly Detected by the Spindle Assembly Checkpoint as a Result of System-Level Feedback

    Mihailo Mirkovic, Lukas Hutter, Bela Novak, Raquel Oliveira
    • Abstract
      Sister chromatid cohesion, mediated by the cohesin complex, is essential for faithful mitosis. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the surveillance mechanism that governs mitotic fidelity, the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), is not robust enough to halt cell division when cohesion loss occurs prematurely. The mechanism behind this poor response is not properly understood. Using developing Drosophila brains, we show that full sister chromatid separation elicits a weak checkpoint response resulting in abnormal mitotic exit after a short delay. Quantitative live-cell imaging approaches combined with mathematical modeling indicate that weak SAC activation upon cohesion loss is caused by weak signal generation. This is further attenuated by several feedback loops in the mitotic signaling network. We propose that multiple feedback loops involving cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1) gradually impair error-correction efficiency and accelerate mitotic exit upon premature loss of cohesion. Our findings explain how cohesion defects may escape SAC surveillance.
  • Wednesday, Jul 1, 2015
    BMC Biology

    Models in biology: lessons from modeling regulation of the eukaryotic cell cycle

    John Tyson, Bela Novak
    • Abstract
      In this essay we illustrate some general principles of mathematical modeling in biology by our experiences in studying the molecular regulatory network underlying eukaryotic cell division. We discuss how and why the models moved from simple, parsimonious cartoons to more complex, detailed mechanisms with many kinetic parameters. We describe how the mature models made surprising and informative predictions about the control system that were later confirmed experimentally. Along the way, we comment on the ‘parameter estimation problem’ and conclude with an appeal for a greater role for mathematical models in molecular cell biology.
  • Thursday, Feb 12, 2015
    FEBS Letters

    Model scenarios for switch-like mitotic transitions

    Vinod PK, Bela Novak
    • Abstract
      To facilitate rapid accumulation of Cdk1-phosphorylated substrate proteins, the Cdk1 counter-acting phosphatase, PP2A-B55 is inhibited during M phase by stoichiometric inhibitors (ENSA and Arpp19). These inhibitors are activated when phosphorylated by Cdk1-activated Greatwall-kinase. Recent experiments show that ENSA is dephosphorylated and inactivated by the PP2A-B55 itself, and acts as an unfair substrate inhibiting PP2A-B55 activity towards other Cdk1 substrates. Mathematical modelling shows that this mutual antagonism between the phosphatase and its inhibitor is insufficient to explain the switch-like characteristics of mitotic entry and exit. We show that the feedback regulation of Greatwall activating kinase and/or inactivating phosphatase can explain the abruptness of these cell cycle transitions.