First-author publication for Jeanne Jodoin (Laura Lee Lab)

An article entitled Human Asunder promotes dynein recruitment and centrosomal tethering to the nucleus at mitotic entry was published in the October 24 issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell. Congratulations JJ!


Recruitment of dynein motors to the nuclear surface is an essential step for nucleus-centrosome coupling in prophase. In cultured human cells, this dynein pool is anchored to nuclear pore complexes through RanBP2-BICD2 and Nup133-CENP-F networks. We previously reported that the asunder (asun) gene is required in Drosophila spermatocytes for perinuclear dynein localization and nucleus-centrosome coupling at G2/M of male meiosis. We show herein that male germline expression of mammalian Asunder (ASUN) protein rescues asun flies, demonstrating evolutionary conservation of function. In cultured human cells, we find that ASUN down-regulation causes reduction of perinuclear dynein in prophase of mitosis. Additional defects following loss of ASUN include nucleus-centrosome uncoupling, abnormal spindles, and multinucleation. Co-immunoprecipitation and overlapping localization patterns of ASUN and LIS1, a dynein adaptor, suggest that ASUN interacts with dynein in the cytoplasm via LIS1. Our data indicate that ASUN controls dynein localization via a mechanism distinct from that of either BICD2 or CENP-F. We present a model in which ASUN promotes perinuclear enrichment of dynein at G2/M that facilitates BICD2- and CENP-F-mediated anchoring of dynein to nuclear pore complexes.

First-author publication for Poojitha Sitaram (Laurie Lee Lab)

An article entitled Regulation of dynein localization and centrosome positioning by Lis-1 and asunder during Drosophila spermatogenesis was published in the August issue of Development. Congratulations Pooji!


Dynein, a microtubule motor complex, plays crucial roles in cell-cycle progression in many systems. The LIS1 accessory protein directly binds dynein, although its precise role in regulating dynein remains unclear. Mutation of human LIS1 causes lissencephaly, a developmental brain disorder. To gain insight into the in vivo functions of LIS1, we characterized a male-sterile allele of the Drosophila homolog of human LIS1. We found that centrosomes do not properly detach from the cell cortex at the onset of meiosis in most Lis-1 spermatocytes; centrosomes that do break cortical associations fail to attach to the nucleus. In Lis-1 spermatids, we observed loss of attachments between the nucleus, basal body and mitochondria. The localization pattern of LIS-1 protein throughout Drosophila spermatogenesis mirrors that of dynein. We show that dynein recruitment to the nuclear surface and spindle poles is severely reduced in Lis-1 male germ cells. We propose that Lis-1 spermatogenesis phenotypes are due to loss of dynein regulation, as we observed similar phenotypes in flies null for Tctex-1, a dynein light chain. We have previously identified asunder (asun) as another regulator of dynein localization and centrosome positioning during Drosophila spermatogenesis. We now report that Lis-1 is a strong dominant enhancer of asun and that localization of LIS-1 in male germ cells is ASUN dependent. We found that Drosophila LIS-1 and ASUN colocalize and coimmunoprecipitate from transfected cells, suggesting that they function within a common complex. We present a model in which Lis-1 and asun cooperate to regulate dynein localization and centrosome positioning during Drosophila spermatogenesis.

First-author publication for Ali Hanson (Ethan Lee Lab)

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A research article entitled XIAP monoubiquitylates Groucho/TLE to promote canonical Wnt signaling was published in the March issue of Molecular Cell. Congratulations Ali!


A key event in Wnt signaling is conversion of TCF/Lef from a transcriptional repressor to an activator, yet how this switch occurs is not well understood. Here, we report an unanticipated role for X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis (XIAP) in regulating this critical Wnt signaling event that is independent of its antiapoptotic function. We identified DIAP1 as a positive regulator of Wingless signaling in a Drosophila S2 cell-based RNAi screen. XIAP, its vertebrate homolog, is similarly required for Wnt signaling in cultured mammalian cells and in Xenopus embryos, indicating evolutionary conservation of function. Upon Wnt pathway activation, XIAP is recruited to TCF/Lef where it monoubiquitylates Groucho (Gro)/TLE. This modification decreases affinity of Gro/TLE for TCF/Lef. Our data reveal a transcriptional switch involving XIAP-mediated ubiquitylation of Gro/TLE that facilitates its removal from TCF/Lef, thus allowing β-catenin-TCF/Lef complex assembly and initiation of a Wnt-specific transcriptional program

Review about Xenopus egg extracts as tools for biochemical screenings

A review entitled “Screening for small molecule inhibitors of embryonic pathways: sometimes you gotta crack a few eggs” was published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry. An article that summarizes the benefits of the Xenopus egg extract system as a tool to study cellular processes and proposes the use of this system for screening for modulators of major signal transduction pathways.


Extract prepared from Xenopus eggs represents a cell-free system that has been shown to recapitulate a multitude of cellular processes, including cell cycle regulation, DNA replication/repair, and cytoskeletal dynamics. In addition, this system has been used to successfully reconstitute the Wnt pathway. Xenopus egg extract, which can be biochemically manipulated, offers an ideal medium in which small molecule screening can be performed in near native milieu. Thus, the use of Xenopus egg extract for small molecule screening represents an ideal bridge between targeted and phenotypic screening approaches. This review focuses on the use of this system for small molecules modulators of major signal transduction pathways (Notch, Hedgehog, and Wnt) that are critical for the development of the early Xenopus embryo. We describe the properties of Xenopus egg extract and our own high throughput screen for small molecules that modulate the Wnt pathway using this cell-free system. We propose that Xenopus egg extract could similarly be adapted for screening for modulators of the Notch and Hedgehog pathways.

Two new Ph.D. candidates!

Congratulation Jeanne and Kenyi on passing your qualifying exam!!!

Nice job!!

Small-molecule screening using Xenopus egg extracts

An article entitled: A Biochemical Screen for Identification of Small-Molecule Regulators of the Wnt Pathway Using Xenopus Egg Extracts was published in the Journal of Biomolecule Screening. An article that comprises the efforts of a multidisciplinary team to validate the Xenopus egg extract system as a tool to identify small-molecules regulators of the Wnt pathway, and potentially Shh and Notch.


Misregulation of the Wnt pathway has been shown to be responsible for a variety of human diseases, most notably cancers. Screens for inhibitors of this pathway have been performed almost exclusively using cultured mammalian cells or with purified proteins. We have previously developed a biochemical assay using Xenopus egg extracts to recapitulate key cytoplasmic events in the Wnt pathway. Using this biochemical system, we show that a recombinant form of the Wnt coreceptor, LRP6, regulates the stability of two key components of the Wnt pathway (β-catenin and Axin) in opposing fashion. We have now fused β-catenin and Axin to firefly and Renilla luciferase, respectively, and demonstrate that the fusion proteins behave similarly as their wild-type counterparts. Using this dual luciferase readout, we adapted the Xenopus extracts system for high-throughput screening. Results from these screens demonstrate signal distribution curves that reflect the complexity of the library screened. Of several compounds identified as cytoplasmic modulators of the Wnt pathway, one was further validated as a bona fide inhibitor of the Wnt pathway in cultured mammalian cells and Xenopus embryos. We show that other embryonic pathways may be amendable to screening for inhibitors/modulators in Xenopus egg extracts.

New Ph.D. candidate!

Congratulations Jeanne on passing your qualifying exam!!

The first one of the season!

First-author publication for Curtis Thorne (Ethan Lee Lab)

A research article entitled Small-molecule inhibition of Wnt signaling through activation of casein kinase 1α was published in the October 3rd, 2010 online advance publication of Nature Chemical Biology. Curtis graduated on July 2010, after completing this study as a part of his Ph.D. thesis. This paper has been the number 1 download since its publication.


Wnt/β-catenin signaling is critically involved in metazoan development, stem cell maintenance and human disease. Using Xenopus laevis egg extract to screen for compounds that both stabilize Axin and promote β-catenin turnover, we identified an FDA-approved drug, pyrvinium, as a potent inhibitor of Wnt signaling (EC50 of ∼10 nM). We show pyrvinium binds all casein kinase 1 (CK1) family members in vitro at low nanomolar concentrations and pyrvinium selectively potentiates casein kinase 1α (CK1α) kinase activity. CK1α knockdown abrogates the effects of pyrvinium on the Wnt pathway. In addition to its effects on Axin and β-catenin levels, pyrvinium promotes degradation of Pygopus, a Wnt transcriptional component. Pyrvinium treatment of colon cancer cells with mutation of the gene for adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) or β-catenin inhibits both Wnt signaling and proliferation. Our findings reveal allosteric activation of CK1α as an effective mechanism to inhibit Wnt signaling and highlight a new strategy for targeted therapeutics directed against the Wnt pathway.

New Ph.D. candidates

Congratulations Tony and Brian on passing your qualifying exam!!

Well done guys!!!

The qualifying exam season is over… for now.

New Ph.D. candidates

Congratulations Poojitha and Sarah on passing your qualifying exams!!

Great job!!

Now you “can finally get back to the fun part of the Ph.D.-experiments!!!!”®