The Computational Biology Research Group (CBRG) provides computing support for bioinformatics analysis at the University of Oxford. We have expertise in many aspects of bioinformatics and especially encourage collaborations that require writing custom software, bioinformatics tools and databases. An account with the CBRG gives automatic access to a large number of molecular biology computing packages.

CBRG Accounts

All members of the University of Oxford are eligible for a bioinformatics account with the CBRG. Accounts are free for researchers at WIMM and LICR.


Bioinformatics Training

The Computational Biology Research Group run training courses in sequence analysis, ChiP-Seq & RNA-Seq analysis and molecular biology software.


Analysis Tools

An account with the Computational Biology Research Group, allows you to log on to our server to use the bioinformatics tools that we provide.


Recent Papers see all

Kanellakis N, Asciak R, Hamid M, Yao X, McCole M, McGowan S, Seraia E, Hatch S, Hallifax R, Mercer R, Bedawi E, Jones S, Verrill C, Dobson M, George V, Stathopoulos G, Peng Y, Ebner D, Dong T, Rahman N, Psallidas I

Patient-derived malignant pleural mesothelioma cell cultures: a tool to advance biomarker-driven treatments

Thorax (2020) 75(11):1004-1008

Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is an aggressive cancer, associated with poor prognosis. We assessed the feasibility of patient-derived cell cultures to serve as an ex vivo model of MPM. Patient-derived MPM cell cultures (n=16) exhibited stemness features and reflected intratumour and interpatient heterogeneity. A subset of the cells were subjected to high-throughput drug screening and coculture assays with cancer-specific cytotoxic T cells and showed diverse responses. Some of the biphasic MPM cells were capable of processing and presenting the neoantigen SSX-2 endogenously. In conclusion, patient-derived MPM cell cultures are a promising and faithful ex vivo model of MPM.

Calpena E, Cuellar A, Bala K, Swagemakers SMA, Koelling N, McGowan SJ, Phipps JM, Balasubramanian M, Cunningham ML, Douzgou S, Lattanzi W, Morton JEV, Shears D, Weber A, Wilson LC, Lord H, Lester T, Johnson D, Wall SA, Twigg SRF, Mathijssen IMJ, Boyadjiev SA, Wilkie AOM

SMAD6 Variants in Craniosynostosis: Genotype and Phenotype Evaluation

Genet Med (2020) 22(9):1498-1506

Purpose: Enrichment of heterozygous missense and truncating SMAD6 variants was previously reported in nonsyndromic sagittal and metopic synostosis, and interaction of SMAD6 variants with a common polymorphism near BMP2 (rs1884302) was proposed to contribute to inconsistent penetrance. We determined the occurrence of SMAD6 variants in all types of craniosynostosis, evaluated the impact of different missense variants on SMAD6 function, and tested independently whether rs1884302 genotype significantly modifies the phenotype.
Methods: We performed resequencing of SMAD6 in 795 unsolved patients with any type of craniosynostosis and genotyped rs1884302 in SMAD6-positive individuals and relatives. We examined the inhibitory activity and stability of SMAD6 missense variants.
Results: We found 18 (2.3%) different rare damaging SMAD6 variants, with the highest prevalence in metopic synostosis (5.8%) and an 18.3-fold enrichment of loss-of-function variants comparedwith gnomAD data (P < 10-7). Combined with eight additional variants, ≥20/26 were transmitted from an unaffected parent but rs1884302 genotype did not predict phenotype.
Conclusion: Pathogenic SMAD6 variants substantially increase the risk of both nonsyndromic and syndromic presentations of craniosynostosis, especially metopic synostosis. Functional analysis is important to evaluate missense variants. Genotyping of rs1884302 is not clinically useful. Mechanisms to explain the remarkable diversity of phenotypes associated with SMAD6 variants remain obscure.

Corridoni D, Antanaviciute A, Gupta T, Fawkner-Corbett D, Aulicino A, Jagielowicz M, Parikh K, Repapi E, Taylor S, Ishikawa D, Hatano R, Yamada T, Xin W, Slawinski H, Bowden R, Napolitani G, Brain O, Morimoto C, Koohy H, Simmons A

Single-cell atlas of colonic CD8+ T cells in ulcerative colitis

Nat Med (2020) 26(9):1480-1490

Colonic antigen-experienced lymphocytes such as tissue-resident memory CD8+ T cells can respond rapidly to repeated antigen exposure. However, their cellular phenotypes and the mechanisms by which they drive immune regulation and inflammation remain unclear. Here we compiled an unbiased atlas of human colonic CD8+ T cells in health and ulcerative colitis (UC) using single-cell transcriptomics with T-cell receptor repertoire analysis and mass cytometry. We reveal extensive heterogeneity in CD8+ T-cell composition, including expanded effector and post-effector terminally differentiated CD8+ T cells. While UC-associated CD8+ effector T cells can trigger tissue destruction and produce tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, post-effector cells acquire innate signatures to adopt regulatory functions that may mitigate excessive inflammation. Thus, we identify colonic CD8+ T-cell phenotypes in health and UC, define their clonal relationships and characterize terminally differentiated dysfunctional UC CD8+ T cells expressing IL-26, which attenuate acute colitis in a humanized IL-26 transgenic mouse model.

Miyata M, Gillemans N, Hockman D, Demmers J, Cheng J, Hou J, Salminen M, Fisher C, Taylor S, Gibbons R, Ganis J, Zon L, Grosveld F, Mulugeta E, Sauka-Spengler T, Higgs D, Philipsen S

An evolutionary ancient mechanism for regulation of hemoglobin expression in vertebrate red cells

Blood (2020) 136(3):269-278

The oxygen-transport function of hemoglobin (HB) is thought to have arisen ~500 million years ago, roughly coinciding with the divergence between jawless (Agnatha) and jawed (Gnathostomata) vertebrates. Intriguingly, extant HBs of jawless and jawed vertebrates were shown to have evolved twice, and independently, from different ancestral globin proteins. This raises the question whether erythroid-specific expression of HB also evolved twice independently. In all jawed vertebrates studied to date, one of the Hb gene clusters is linked to the widely expressed Nprl3 gene. Here we show that the nprl3-linked hb locus of a jawless vertebrate, the river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis), shares a range of structural and functional properties with the equivalent jawed vertebrate Hb locus. Functional analysis demonstrates that an erythroid-specific enhancer is located in intron 7 of lamprey nprl3, which corresponds to the NPRL3 intron 7 MCS-R1 enhancer of jawed vertebrates. Collectively, our findings signify the presence of an nprl3-linked multi-globin gene locus, which contained a remote enhancer driving globin expression in erythroid cells, prior to the divergence of jawless and jawed vertebrates. Different globin genes from this ancestral cluster evolved in the current nprl3-linked hb genes in jawless and jawed vertebrates. This provides a solution for the enigma of how, in different species, globin genes linked to the same adjacent gene could undergo convergent evolution.

Chen YL, Gomes T, Hardman CS, Vieira Braga FA, Gutowska-Owsiak D, Salimi M, Gray N, Duncan DA, Reynolds G, Johnson D, Salio M, Cerundolo V, Barlow JL, McKenzie ANJ, Teichmann SA, Haniffa M, Ogg G.

Re-evaluation of human BDCA-2+ DC during acute sterile skin inflammation

J Exp Med. (2020) 2:217(3).

Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) produce type I interferon (IFN-I) and are traditionally defined as being BDCA-2+CD123+. pDCs are not readily detectable in healthy human skin, but have been suggested to accumulate in wounds. Here, we describe a CD1a-bearing BDCA-2+CD123int DC subset that rapidly infiltrates human skin wounds and comprises a major DC population. Using single-cell RNA sequencing, we show that these cells are largely activated DCs acquiring features compatible with lymph node homing and antigen presentation, but unexpectedly express both BDCA-2 and CD123, potentially mimicking pDCs. Furthermore, a third BDCA-2-expressing population, Axl+Siglec-6+ DCs (ASDC), was also found to infiltrate human skin during wounding. These data demonstrate early skin infiltration of a previously unrecognized CD123intBDCA-2+CD1a+ DC subset during acute sterile inflammation, and prompt a re-evaluation of previously ascribed pDC involvement in skin disease.

Li X, Wang R, Fan P, Yao X, Qin L, Peng Y, Ma M, Asley N, Chang X, Feng Y, Hu Y, Zhang Y, Li C, Fanning G, Jones S, Verrill C, Maldonado-Perez D, Sopp P, Waugh C, Taylor S, Mcgowan S, Cerundolo V, Conlon C, McMichael A, Lu S, Wang X, Li N, Dong T.

A Comprehensive Analysis of Key Immune Checkpoint Receptors on Tumor-Infiltrating T Cells From Multiple Types of Cancer.

Front Oncol. (2019) 9:1066

Background: Cancer patients often display dysfunctional antitumor T-cell responses. Because noteworthy benefits of immune checkpoint pathway blockade, such as programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) inhibitors, have been achieved in multiple advanced cancers, the next critical question is which mono-blockade or combinatorial blockade regimens may reinvigorate antitumor T-cell immunity in those cancer patients while limiting immune-related adverse effects.
Method: This study recruited, in total, 172 primary cancer patients (131 were blood-tumor-matched patients) who were treatment-naïve prior to the surgeries or biopsies covering the eight most prevalent types of cancer. With access to fresh surgical samples, this study simultaneously investigated the ex vivo expression level of eight known immune checkpoint receptors [PD-1, cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 [CTLA-4], T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin-domain containing-3 [Tim-3], 2B4, killer cell lectin like receptor G1 [KLRG-1], TIGIT, B- and T-lymphocyte attenuator [BTLA], and CD160] on tumor-infiltrating T cells (TILs) and paired circulating T cells in blood from a 131-patient cohort.
Results: We found increased an expression of PD-1 and Tim-3 but a decreased expression of BTLA on TILs when compared with peripheral blood from multiple types of cancer. Moreover, our co-expression analysis of key immune checkpoint receptors delineates "shared" subsets as PD-1+Tim-3+TIGIT+2B4+KLRG-1-CTLA-4- and PD-1+TIGIT+2B4+Tim-3-KLRG-1-CTLA-4- from bulk CD8 TILs. Furthermore, we found that a higher frequency of advanced differentiation stage T cells (CD27-CCR7-CD45RA-) among the "shared" subset (PD-1+Tim-3+TIGIT+2B4+KLRG-1-CTLA-4-) in bulk CD8 TILs was associated with poorly differentiated cancer type in cervical cancer patients.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, our study is the first comprehensive analysis of key immune checkpoint receptors on T cells in treatment-naïve, primary cancer patients from the eight most prevalent types of cancer. These findings might provide useful information for future design of mono-blockade/combinatorial blockades and/or genetically modified T-cell immunotherapy.

Williams RM, Candido-Ferreira I, Repapi E, Gavriouchkina D, Senanayake U, Ling ITC, Telenius J, Taylor S, Hughes J, Sauka-Spengler T.

Reconstruction of the Global Neural Crest Gene Regulatory Network In Vivo.

Dev Cell. (2019) 51:255-276

Precise control of developmental processes is encoded in the genome in the form of gene regulatory networks (GRNs). Such multi-factorial systems are difficult to decode in vertebrates owing to their complex gene hierarchies and dynamic molecular interactions. Here we present a genome-wide in vivo reconstruction of the GRN underlying development of the multipotent neural crest (NC) embryonic cell population. By coupling NC-specific epigenomic and transcriptional profiling at population and single-cell levels with genome/epigenome engineering in vivo, we identify multiple regulatory layers governing NC ontogeny, including NC-specific enhancers and super-enhancers, novel trans-factors, and cis-signatures allowing reverse engineering of the NC-GRN at unprecedented resolution. Furthermore, identification and dissection of divergent upstream combinatorial regulatory codes has afforded new insights into opposing gene circuits that define canonical and neural NC fates early during NC ontogeny. Our integrated approach, allowing dissection of cell-type-specific regulatory circuits in vivo, has broad implications for GRN discovery and investigation.

Gooding S, Olechnowicz SWZ, Morris EV, Armitage AE, Arezes J, Frost J, Repapi E, Edwards JR, Ashley N, Waugh C, Gray N, Martinez-Hackert E, Lim PJ, Pasricha SR, Knowles H, Mead AJ, Ramasamy K, Drakesmith H, Edwards CM.

Transcriptomic profiling of the myeloma bone-lining niche reveals BMP signalling inhibition to improve bone disease.

Nat Commun. (2019) 10:4533

Multiple myeloma is an incurable, bone marrow-dwelling malignancy that disrupts bone homeostasis causing skeletal damage and pain. Mechanisms underlying myeloma-induced bone destruction are poorly understood and current therapies do not restore lost bone mass. Using transcriptomic profiling of isolated bone lining cell subtypes from a murine myeloma model, we find that bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signalling is upregulated in stromal progenitor cells. BMP signalling has not previously been reported to be dysregulated in myeloma bone disease. Inhibition of BMP signalling in vivo using either a small molecule BMP receptor antagonist or a solubilized BMPR1a-FC receptor ligand trap prevents trabecular and cortical bone volume loss caused by myeloma, without increasing tumour burden. BMP inhibition directly reduces osteoclastogenesis, increases osteoblasts and bone formation, and suppresses bone marrow sclerostin levels. In summary we describe a novel role for the BMP pathway in myeloma-induced bone disease that can be therapeutically targeted.

Mettananda S, Yasara N, Fisher CA, Taylor S, Gibbons R, Higgs D

Synergistic silencing of α-globin and induction of γ-globin by histone deacetylase inhibitor, vorinostat as a potential therapy for β-thalassaemia.

Sci Rep. (2019) 9:11649

β-Thalassaemia is one of the most common monogenic diseases with no effective cure in the majority of patients. Unbalanced production of α-globin in the presence of defective synthesis of β-globin is the primary mechanism for anaemia in β-thalassaemia. Clinical genetic data accumulated over three decades have clearly demonstrated that direct suppression of α-globin and induction of γ-globin are effective in reducing the globin chain imbalance in erythroid cells hence improving the clinical outcome of patients with β-thalassaemia. Here, we show that the histone deacetylase inhibitor drug, vorinostat, in addition to its beneficial effects for patients with β-thalassaemia through induction of γ-globin, has the potential to simultaneously suppress α-globin. We further show that vorinostat exhibits these synergistic beneficial effects in globin gene expression at nanomolar concentrations without perturbing erythroid expansion, viability, differentiation or the transcriptome. This new evidence will be helpful for the interpretation of existing clinical trials and future clinical studies that are directed towards finding a cure for β-thalassaemia using vorinostat.

Roy NBA, Zaal AI, Hall G, Wilkinson N, Proven M, McGowan S, Hipkiss R, Buckle V, Kavirayani A, Babbs C

Majeed syndrome: description of a novel mutation and therapeutic response to bisphosphonates and IL-1 blockade with anakinra.

Rheumatology (2019)

Majeed syndrome, resulting from biallelic mutations in LPIN2, is a rare autosomal recessive autoinflammatory syndrome, originally described as a triad of chronic recurrent multifocal osteomyelitis (CRMO) or chronic non-bacterial osteomyelitis (CNO), congenital dyserythropoietic anaemia (CDA) and inflammatory neutrophilic dermatosis. The CNO can affect various bones including the mandible, clavicle, spine and tibia. Unlike sporadic CNO, which usually affects children between 4 and 15 years, CNO in Majeed syndrome is earlier in onset and is often refractory to conventionally prescribed NSAIDs and steroids. The CDA reflects bone marrow ineffective erythropoiesis, with typical morphological abnormalities (e.g. binucleate erythroblasts, inter-nuclear bridging). The anaemia is microcytic and highly variable, ranging from sub-clinical to transfusion-dependent, and is distinct from anaemia of chronic disease. The inflammatory neutrophilic dermatosis or Sweet syndrome can present as pustulosis, plaques, nodules or ulceration and has been recognized as being variably present in Majeed syndrome while penetrance of the CNO and CDA has been described as complete. We describe a consanguineous Pakistani family where the index child presented in infancy with a conglomeration of features indicative of possible Majeed syndrome.

Godfrey L, Crump NT, Thorne R, Lau IJ, Repapi E, Dimou D, Smith AL, Harman JR, Telenius JM, Oudelaar AM, Downes DJ, Vyas P, Hughes JR, Milne TA.

DOT1L inhibition reveals a distinct subset of enhancers dependent on H3K79 methylation.

Nat Commun. (2019) 10:2803

Enhancer elements are a key regulatory feature of many important genes. Several general features including the presence of specific histone modifications are used to demarcate potentially active enhancers. Here we reveal that putative enhancers marked with H3 lysine 79 (H3K79) di or trimethylation (me2/3) (which we name H3K79me2/3 enhancer elements or KEEs) can be found in multiple cell types. Mixed lineage leukemia gene (MLL) rearrangements (MLL-r) such as MLL-AF4 are a major cause of incurable acute lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL). Using the DOT1L inhibitor EPZ-5676 in MLL-AF4 leukemia cells, we show that H3K79me2/3 is required for maintaining chromatin accessibility, histone acetylation and transcription factor binding specifically at KEEs but not non-KEE enhancers. We go on to show that H3K79me2/3 is essential for maintaining enhancer-promoter interactions at a subset of KEEs. Together, these data implicate H3K79me2/3 as having a functional role at a subset of active enhancers in MLL-AF4 leukemia cells.

Morotti M, Bridges E, Valli A, Choudhry H, Sheldon H, Wigfield S, Gray N, Zois CE, Grimm F, Jones D, Teoh EJ, Cheng WC, Lord S, Anastasiou D, Haider S, McIntyre A, Goberdhan DCI, Buffa F, Harris AL.

Hypoxia-induced switch in SNAT2/SLC38A2 regulation generates endocrine resistance in breast cancer

PNAS (2019)

Tumor hypoxia is associated with poor patient outcomes in estrogen receptor-α-positive (ERα+) breast cancer. Hypoxia is known to affect tumor growth by reprogramming metabolism and regulating amino acid (AA) uptake. Here, we show that the glutamine transporter, SNAT2, is the AA transporter most frequently induced by hypoxia in breast cancer, and is regulated by hypoxia both in vitro and in vivo in xenografts. SNAT2 induction in MCF7 cells was also regulated by ERα, but it became predominantly a hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α)-dependent gene under hypoxia. Relevant to this, binding sites for both HIF-1α and ERα overlap in SNAT2's cis-regulatory elements. In addition, the down-regulation of SNAT2 by the ER antagonist fulvestrant was reverted in hypoxia. Overexpression of SNAT2 in vitro to recapitulate the levels induced by hypoxia caused enhanced growth, particularly after ERα inhibition, in hypoxia, or when glutamine levels were low. SNAT2 up-regulation in vivo caused complete resistance to antiestrogen and, partially, anti-VEGF therapies. Finally, high SNAT2 expression levels correlated with hypoxia profiles and worse outcome in patients given antiestrogen therapies. Our findings show a switch in the regulation of SNAT2 between ERα and HIF-1α, leading to endocrine resistance in hypoxia. Development of drugs targeting SNAT2 may be of value for a subset of hormone-resistant breast cancer.

Rodriguez-Meira A, Buck G, Clark SA, Povinelli BJ, Alcolea V, Louka E, McGowan S, Hamblin A, Sousos N, Barkas N, Giustacchini A, Psaila B, Jacobsen SEW, Thongjuea S, Mead AJ.

Unravelling Intratumoral Heterogeneity through High-Sensitivity Single-Cell Mutational Analysis and Parallel RNA Sequencing

Mol Cell. (2019) pii: S1097-2765(19)30009-7

Single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) has emerged as a powerful tool for resolving transcriptional heterogeneity. However, its application to studying cancerous tissues is currently hampered by the lack of coverage across key mutation hotspots in the vast majority of cells; this lack of coverage prevents the correlation of genetic and transcriptional readouts from the same single cell. To overcome this, we developed TARGET-seq, a method for the high-sensitivity detection of multiple mutations within single cells from both genomic and coding DNA, in parallel with unbiased whole-transcriptome analysis. Applying TARGET-seq to 4,559 single cells, we demonstrate how this technique uniquely resolves transcriptional and genetic tumor heterogeneity in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) stem and progenitor cells, providing insights into deregulated pathways of mutant and non-mutant cells. TARGET-seq is a powerful tool for resolving the molecular signatures of genetically distinct subclones of cancer cells.