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

Karamitros D, Stoilova B, Aboukhalil Z, Hamey F, Reinisch A, Samitsch M, Quek L, Otto G, Repapi E, Doondeea J, Usukhbayar B, Calvo J, Taylor S, Goardon N, Six E, Pflumio F, Porcher C, Majeti R, Göttgens B, Vyas P.

Single-cell analysis reveals the continuum of human lympho-myeloid progenitor cells.

Nat Immunol. (2018) 19(1):85-97

The hierarchy of human hemopoietic progenitor cells that produce lymphoid and granulocytic-monocytic (myeloid) lineages is unclear. Multiple progenitor populations produce lymphoid and myeloid cells, but they remain incompletely characterized. Here we demonstrated that lympho-myeloid progenitor populations in cord blood - lymphoid-primed multi-potential progenitors (LMPPs), granulocyte-macrophage progenitors (GMPs) and multi-lymphoid progenitors (MLPs) - were functionally and transcriptionally distinct and heterogeneous at the clonal level, with progenitors of many different functional potentials present. Although most progenitors had the potential to develop into only one mature cell type ('uni-lineage potential'), bi- and rarer multi-lineage progenitors were present among LMPPs, GMPs and MLPs. Those findings, coupled with single-cell expression analyses, suggest that a continuum of progenitors execute lymphoid and myeloid differentiation, rather than only uni-lineage progenitors' being present downstream of stem cells.


Hardman CS, Chen YL, Salimi M, Jarrett R, Johnson D, Järvinen VJ, Owens RJ, Repapi E, Cousins DJ, Barlow JL, McKenzie ANJ, Ogg G.

CD1a presentation of endogenous antigens by group 2 innate lymphoid cells

Sci Immunol. (2017) 2(18) pii: eaan5918

Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2) are effectors of barrier immunity, with roles in infection, wound healing, and allergy. A proportion of ILC2 express MHCII (major histocompatibility complex II) and are capable of presenting peptide antigens to T cells and amplifying the subsequent adaptive immune response. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of CD1a-reactive T cells in allergy and infection, activated by the presentation of endogenous neolipid antigens and bacterial components. Using a human skin challenge model, we unexpectedly show that human skin-derived ILC2 can express CD1a and are capable of presenting endogenous antigens to T cells. CD1a expression is up-regulated by TSLP (thymic stromal lymphopoietin) at levels observed in the skin of patients with atopic dermatitis, and the response is dependent on PLA2G4A. Furthermore, this pathway is used to sense Staphylococcus aureus by promoting Toll-like receptor-dependent CD1a-reactive T cell responses to endogenous ligands. These findings define a previously unrecognized role for ILC2 in lipid surveillance and identify shared pathways of CD1a- and PLA2G4A-dependent ILC2 inflammation amenable to therapeutic intervention.

Zinecker H, Ouaret D, Ebner D, Gaidt MM, Taylor S, Aulicino A, Jagielowicz M, Hornung V, Simmons A

ICG-001 affects DRP1 activity and ER stress correlative with its anti-proliferative effect.

Oncotarget (2017) 8(63): 106764-106777.

Mitochondria form a highly dynamic network driven by opposing scission and fusion events. DRP1 is an essential modulator of mitochondrial fission and dynamics within mammalian cells. Its fission activity is regulated by posttranslational modifications such as activating phosphorylation at serine 616. DRP1 activity has recently been implicated as being dysregulated in numerous human disorders such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Here we describe the development of a cell-based screening assay to detect DRP1 activation. We utilized this to undertake focused compound library screening and identified potent modulators that affected DRP1 activity including ICG-001, which is described as WNT/β-catenin signaling inhibitor. Our findings elucidate novel details about ICG-001's mechanism of action (MOA) in mediating anti-proliferative activity. We show ICG-001 both inhibits mitochondrial fission and activates an early endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response to induce cell death in susceptible colorectal cancer cell lines.

Schwessinger R, Suciu MC, McGowan SJ, Telenius J, Taylor S, Higgs DR, Hughes JR

Sasquatch: predicting the impact of regulatory SNPs on transcription factor binding from cell- and tissue-specific DNase footprints.

Genome Res. (2017) 10: 1730-1742

In the era of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and personalized medicine, predicting the impact of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in regulatory elements is an important goal. Current approaches to determine the potential of regulatory SNPs depend on inadequate knowledge of cell-specific DNA binding motifs. Here, we present Sasquatch, a new computational approach that uses DNase footprint data to estimate and visualize the effects of noncoding variants on transcription factor binding. Sasquatch performs a comprehensive k-mer-based analysis of DNase footprints to determine any k-mer's potential for protein binding in a specific cell type and how this may be changed by sequence variants. Therefore, Sasquatch uses an unbiased approach, independent of known transcription factor binding sites and motifs. Sasquatch only requires a single DNase-seq data set per cell type, from any genotype, and produces consistent predictions from data generated by different experimental procedures and at different sequence depths. Here we demonstrate the effectiveness of Sasquatch using previously validated functional SNPs and benchmark its performance against existing approaches. Sasquatch is available as a versatile webtool incorporating publicly available data, including the human ENCODE collection. Thus, Sasquatch provides a powerful tool and repository for prioritizing likely regulatory SNPs in the noncoding genome.

Pasricha SR, Lim PJ, Duarte TL, Casu C, Oosterhuis D, Mleczko-Sanecka K, Suciu M, Da Silva AR, Al-Hourani K, Arezes J, McHugh K, Gooding S, Frost JN, Wray K, Santos A, Porto G, Repapi E, Gray N, Draper SJ, Ashley N, Soilleux E, Olinga P, Muckenthaler MU, Hughes JR, Rivella S, Milne TA, Armitage AE, Drakesmith H.

Hepcidin is regulated by promoter-associated histone acetylation and HDAC3.

Nat Commun. (2017) 8(1): 403.

Hepcidin regulates systemic iron homeostasis. Suppression of hepcidin expression occurs physiologically in iron deficiency and increased erythropoiesis but is pathologic in thalassemia and hemochromatosis. Here we show that epigenetic events govern hepcidin expression. Erythropoiesis and iron deficiency suppress hepcidin via erythroferrone-dependent and -independent mechanisms, respectively, in vivo, but both involve reversible loss of H3K9ac and H3K4me3 at the hepcidin locus. In vitro, pan-histone deacetylase inhibition elevates hepcidin expression, and in vivo maintains H3K9ac at hepcidin-associated chromatin and abrogates hepcidin suppression by erythropoietin, iron deficiency, thalassemia, and hemochromatosis. Histone deacetylase 3 and its cofactor NCOR1 regulate hepcidin; histone deacetylase 3 binds chromatin at the hepcidin locus, and histone deacetylase 3 knockdown counteracts hepcidin suppression induced either by erythroferrone or by inhibiting bone morphogenetic protein signaling. In iron deficient mice, the histone deacetylase 3 inhibitor RGFP966 increases hepcidin, and RNA sequencing confirms hepcidin is one of the genes most differentially regulated by this drug in vivo. We conclude that suppression of hepcidin expression involves epigenetic regulation by histone deacetylase 3.Hepcidin controls systemic iron levels by inhibiting intestinal iron absorption and iron recycling. Here, Pasricha et al. demonstrate that the hepcidin-chromatin locus displays HDAC3-mediated reversible epigenetic modifications during both erythropoiesis and iron deficiency.

Schwerd T, Twigg SRF, Aschenbrenner D, Manrique S, Miller KA, Taylor IB, Capitani M, McGowan SJ, Sweeney E, Weber A, Chen L, Bowness P, Riordan A, Cant A, Freeman AF, Milner JD, Holland SM, Frede N, Müller M, Schmidt-Arras D, Grimbacher B, Wall SA, Jones EY, Wilkie AOM, Uhlig HH.

A biallelic mutation in IL6ST encoding the GP130 co-receptor causes immunodeficiency and craniosynostosis

J Exp Med. (2017) 214(9): 2547-2562

Multiple cytokines, including interleukin 6 (IL-6), IL-11, IL-27, oncostatin M (OSM), and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), signal via the common GP130 cytokine receptor subunit. In this study, we describe a patient with a homozygous mutation of IL6ST (encoding GP130 p.N404Y) who presented with recurrent infections, eczema, bronchiectasis, high IgE, eosinophilia, defective B cell memory, and an impaired acute-phase response, as well as skeletal abnormalities including craniosynostosis. The p.N404Y missense substitution is associated with loss of IL-6, IL-11, IL-27, and OSM signaling but a largely intact LIF response. This study identifies a novel immunodeficiency with phenotypic similarities to STAT3 hyper-IgE syndrome caused by loss of function of GP130.

Mead AJ, Neo WH, Barkas N, Matsuoka S, Giustacchini A, Facchini R, Thongjuea S, Jamieson L, Booth CAG, Fordham N, Di Genua C, Atkinson D, Chowdhury O, Repapi E, Gray NE, Kharazi S, Clark SA, Bouriez T, Woll P, Suda T, Nerlov C, Jacobsen SEW

Niche-mediated depletion of the normal hematopoietic stem cell reservoir by Flt3-ITD-induced myeloproliferation.

J Exp Med. (2017) 214(7): 2005-2021

Although previous studies suggested that the expression of FMS-like tyrosine kinase 3 (Flt3) initiates downstream of mouse hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), FLT3 internal tandem duplications (FLT3 ITDs) have recently been suggested to intrinsically suppress HSCs. Herein, single-cell interrogation found Flt3 mRNA expression to be absent in the large majority of phenotypic HSCs, with a strong negative correlation between Flt3 and HSC-associated gene expression. Flt3-ITD knock-in mice showed reduced numbers of phenotypic HSCs, with an even more severe loss of long-term repopulating HSCs, likely reflecting the presence of non-HSCs within the phenotypic HSC compartment. Competitive transplantation experiments established that Flt3-ITD compromises HSCs through an extrinsically mediated mechanism of disrupting HSC-supporting bone marrow stromal cells, with reduced numbers of endothelial and mesenchymal stromal cells showing increased inflammation-associated gene expression. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a cell-extrinsic potent negative regulator of HSCs, was overexpressed in bone marrow niche cells from FLT3-ITD mice, and anti-TNF treatment partially rescued the HSC phenotype. These findings, which establish that Flt3-ITD-driven myeloproliferation results in cell-extrinsic suppression of the normal HSC reservoir, are of relevance for several aspects of acute myeloid leukemia biology.

Nguyen DT, Voon HPJ, Xella B, Scott C, Clynes D, Babbs C, Ayyub H, Kerry J, Sharpe JA, Sloane-Stanley JA, Butler S, Fisher CA, Gray NE, Jenuwein T, Higgs DR, Gibbons RJ.

The chromatin remodelling factor ATRX suppresses R-loops in transcribed telomeric repeats.

EMBO Rep. (2017) 18(6): 914-928

ATRX is a chromatin remodelling factor found at a wide range of tandemly repeated sequences including telomeres (TTAGGG)n ATRX mutations are found in nearly all tumours that maintain their telomeres via the alternative lengthening of telomere (ALT) pathway, and ATRX is known to suppress this pathway. Here, we show that recruitment of ATRX to telomeric repeats depends on repeat number, orientation and, critically, on repeat transcription. Importantly, the transcribed telomeric repeats form RNA-DNA hybrids (R-loops) whose abundance correlates with the recruitment of ATRX. Here, we show loss of ATRX is also associated with increased R-loop formation. Our data suggest that the presence of ATRX at telomeres may have a central role in suppressing deleterious DNA secondary structures that form at transcribed telomeric repeats, and this may account for the increased DNA damage, stalling of replication and homology-directed repair previously observed upon loss of ATRX function.

Yip BH, Steeples V, Repapi E, Armstrong RN, Llorian M, Roy S, Shaw J, Dolatshad H, Taylor S, Verma A, Bartenstein M, Vyas P, Cross NCP, Malcovati L, Cazzola M, Hellström-Lindberg E, Ogawa S, Smith CWJ, Pellagatti A, Boultwood J.

The U2AF1S34F mutation induces lineage-specific splicing alterations in myelodysplastic syndromes.

J Clin Invest. (2017) 127(6): 2206-2221

Mutations of the splicing factor-encoding gene U2AF1 are frequent in the myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a myeloid malignancy, and other cancers. Patients with MDS suffer from peripheral blood cytopenias, including anemia, and an increasing percentage of bone marrow myeloblasts. We studied the impact of the common U2AF1S34F mutation on cellular function and mRNA splicing in the main cell lineages affected in MDS. We demonstrated that U2AF1S34F expression in human hematopoietic progenitors impairs erythroid differentiation and skews granulomonocytic differentiation toward granulocytes. RNA sequencing of erythroid and granulomonocytic colonies revealed that U2AF1S34F induced a higher number of cassette exon splicing events in granulomonocytic cells than in erythroid cells. U2AF1S34F altered mRNA splicing of many transcripts that were expressed in both cell types in a lineage-specific manner. In hematopoietic progenitors, the introduction of isoform changes identified in the U2AF1S34F target genes H2AFY, encoding an H2A histone variant, and STRAP, encoding serine/threonine kinase receptor-associated protein, recapitulated phenotypes associated with U2AF1S34F expression in erythroid and granulomonocytic cells, suggesting a causal link. Furthermore, we showed that isoform modulation of H2AFY and STRAP rescues the erythroid differentiation defect in U2AF1S34F MDS cells, suggesting that splicing modulators could be used therapeutically. These data have critical implications for understanding MDS phenotypic heterogeneity and support the development of therapies targeting splicing abnormalities.

Cole SL, Dunning J, Kok WL, Benam KH, Benlahrech A, Repapi E, Martinez FO, Drumright L, Powell TJ, Bennett M, Elderfield R, Thomas C, Dong T, McCauley J, Liew FY, Taylor S, Zambon M, Barclay W, Cerundolo V, Openshaw PJ, McMichael AJ, Ho LP.

M1-like monocytes are a major immunological determinant of severity in previously healthy adults with life-threatening influenza.

JCI Insight. (2017) 2(7): e91868

In each influenza season, a distinct group of young, otherwise healthy individuals with no risk factors succumbs to life-threatening infection. To better understand the cause for this, we analyzed a broad range of immune responses in blood from a unique cohort of patients, comprising previously healthy individuals hospitalized with and without respiratory failure during one influenza season, and infected with one specific influenza A strain. This analysis was compared with similarly hospitalized influenza patients with known risk factors (total of n = 60 patients recruited). We found a sustained increase in a specific subset of proinflammatory monocytes, with high TNF-α expression and an M1-like phenotype (independent of viral titers), in these previously healthy patients with severe disease. The relationship between M1-like monocytes and immunopathology was strengthened using murine models of influenza, in which severe infection generated using different models (including the high-pathogenicity H5N1 strain) was also accompanied by high levels of circulating M1-like monocytes. Additionally, a raised M1/M2 macrophage ratio in the lungs was observed. These studies identify a specific subtype of monocytes as a modifiable immunological determinant of disease severity in this subgroup of severely ill, previously healthy patients, offering potential novel therapeutic avenues.

Kim S, Twigg SR, Scanlon VA, Chandra A, Hansen TJ, Alsubait A, Fenwick AL, McGowan SJ, Lord H, Lester T, Sweeney E, Weber A, Cox H, Wilkie AO, Golden A, Corsi AK

Localized TWIST1 and TWIST2 basic domain substitutions cause four distinct human diseases that can be modeled in C. elegans.

Hum Mol Genet. (2017) 26(11): 2118-2132

Twist transcription factors, members of the basic helix-loop-helix family, play crucial roles in mesoderm development in all animals. Humans have two paralogous genes, TWIST1 and TWIST2, and mutations in each gene have been identified in specific craniofacial disorders. Here we describe a new clinical entity, Sweeney-Cox syndrome, associated with distinct de novo amino acid substitutions (p.Glu117Val and p.Glu117Gly) at a highly conserved glutamic acid residue located in the basic DNA binding domain of TWIST1, in two subjects with frontonasal dysplasia and additional malformations. Although about one hundred different TWIST1 mutations have been reported in patients with the dominant haploinsufficiency Saethre-Chotzen syndrome (typically associated with craniosynostosis), substitutions uniquely affecting the Glu117 codon were not observed previously. Recently, subjects with Barber-Say and Ablepharon-macrostomia syndromes were found to harbor heterozygous missense substitutions in the paralogous glutamic acid residue in TWIST2 (p.Glu75Ala, p.Glu75Gln, and p.Glu75Lys). To study systematically the effects of these substitutions in individual cells of the developing mesoderm, we engineered all five disease-associated alleles into the equivalent Glu29 residue encoded by hlh-8, the single Twist homolog present in C. elegans. This allelic series revealed that different substitutions exhibit graded severity, in terms of both gene expression and cellular phenotype, which we incorporate into a model explaining the various human disease phenotypes. The genetic analysis favors a predominantly dominant-negative mechanism for the action of amino acid substitutions at this highly conserved glutamate residue and illustrates the value of systematic mutagenesis of C. elegans for focused investigation of human disease processes.

Kerry J, Godfrey L, Repapi E, Tapia M, Blackledge NP, Ma H, Ballabio E, O'Byrne S, Ponthan F, Heidenreich O, Roy A, Roberts I, Konopleva M, Klose RJ, Geng H, Milne TA

MLL-AF4 Spreading Identifies Binding Sites that Are Distinct from Super-Enhancers and that Govern Sensitivity to DOT1L Inhibition in Leukemia.

Cell Reports. (2017) 18(2): 482-495

Understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms of defined cancers is crucial for effective personalized therapies. Translocations of the mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) gene produce fusion proteins such as MLL-AF4 that disrupt epigenetic pathways and cause poor-prognosis leukemias. Here, we find that at a subset of gene targets, MLL-AF4 binding spreads into the gene body and is associated with the spreading of Menin binding, increased transcription, increased H3K79 methylation (H3K79me2/3), a disruption of normal H3K36me3 patterns, and unmethylated CpG regions in the gene body. Compared to other H3K79me2/3 marked genes, MLL-AF4 spreading gene expression is downregulated by inhibitors of the H3K79 methyltransferase DOT1L. This sensitivity mediates synergistic interactions with additional targeted drug treatments. Therefore, epigenetic spreading and enhanced susceptibility to epidrugs provides a potential marker for better understanding combination therapies in humans.

Razaq MA, Taylor S, Roberts DJ, Carpenter L

A molecular roadmap of definitive erythropoiesis from human induced pluripotent stem cells

Br J Haematol. (2017) 176(6): 971-983

Human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) are being considered for use in understanding haematopoietic disorders and as a potential source of in vitro manufactured red cells. Here, we show that hiPSCs are able to recapitulate various stages of developmental erythropoiesis. We show that primitive erythroblasts arise first, express CD31+ with CD235a+ , embryonic globins and red cell markers, but fail to express the hallmark red cell transcripts of adult erythropoiesis. When hiPSC-derived CD45+ CD235a- haematopoietic progenitors are isolated on day 12 and further differentiated on OP9 stroma, they selectively express CD36+ and CD235a+ , adult erythroid transcripts for transcription factors (e.g., BCL11A, KLF1) and fetal/adult globins (HBG1/2, HBB). Importantly, hiPSC- and cord-derived CD36+ CD235a+ erythroblasts show a striking homology by transcriptome array profiling (only 306 transcripts with a 2Log fold change >15- or 28-fold). Phenotypic and transcriptome profiling of CD45+ CD117+ CD235a+ pro-erythroblasts and terminally differentiated erythroblasts is also provided, including evidence of a HbF (fetal) to HbA (adult) haemoglobin switch and enucleation, that mirrors their definitive erythroblast cord-derived counterparts. These findings provide a molecular roadmap of developmental erythropoiesis from hiPSC sources at several critical stages, but also helps to inform on their use for clinical applications and modelling human haematopoietic disease.

Godfrey L, Kerry J, Thorne R, Repapi E, Davies JO, Tapia M, Ballabio E, Hughes JR, Geng H, Konopleva M, Milne TA.

MLL-AF4 binds directly to a BCL-2 specific enhancer and modulates H3K27 acetylation.

Exp Hematol. (2017) 47: 64-75

Survival rates for children and adults carrying mutations in the Mixed Lineage Leukemia (MLL) gene continue to have a very poor prognosis. The most common MLL mutation in ALL is the t(4;11)(q21;q23) chromosome translocation that fuses MLL in frame with the AF4 gene producing MLL-AF4 and AF4-MLL fusion proteins. Previously, we demonstrated that MLL-AF4 binds to the BCL-2 gene and directly activates it through DOT1L recruitment and increased H3K79me2/3 levels. Here, we perform a detailed analysis of MLL-AF4 regulation of the entire BCL-2 family. By measuring nascent RNA production in MLL-AF4 knockdowns, we find that of all the BCL-2 family genes, MLL-AF4 directly controls the active transcription of both BCL-2 and MCL-1, and also represses BIM via binding of the polycomb group repressor 1 (PRC1) complex component CBX8. We further analyze MLL-AF4 activation of the BCL-2 gene using Capture C and identify a BCL-2 specific enhancer, consisting of two clusters of H3K27Ac at the 3'end of the gene. Loss of MLL-AF4 activity results in a reduction of H3K79me3 levels in the gene body and H3K27Ac levels at the 3' BCL-2 enhancer, revealing a novel regulatory link between these two histone marks and MLL-AF4 mediated activation of BCL-2.


Miller KA, Twigg SR, McGowan SJ, Phipps JM, Fenwick AL, Johnson D, Wall SA, Noons P, Rees KE, Tidey EA, Craft J, Taylor J, Taylor JC, Goos JA, Swagemakers SM, Mathijssen IM, van der Spek PJ, Lord H, Lester T, Abid N, Cilliers D, Hurst JA, Morton JE, Sweeney E, Weber A, Wilson LC, Wilkie AO

Diagnostic value of exome and whole genome sequencing in craniosynostosis.

J Med Genet. (2016) 54(4): 260-268

Craniosynostosis, the premature fusion of one or more cranial sutures, occurs in ~1 in 2250 births, either in isolation or as part of a syndrome. Mutations in at least 57 genes have been associated with craniosynostosis, but only a minority of these are included in routine laboratory genetic testing. We used exome or whole genome sequencing to seek a genetic cause in a cohort of 40 subjects with craniosynostosis, selected by clinical or molecular geneticists as being high-priority cases, and in whom prior clinically driven genetic testing had been negative. We identified likely associated mutations in 15 patients (37.5%), involving 14 different genes. All genes were mutated in single families, except for IL11RA (two families). We classified the other positive diagnoses as follows: commonly mutated craniosynostosis genes with atypical presentation (EFNB1, TWIST1); other core craniosynostosis genes (CDC45, MSX2, ZIC1); genes for which mutations are only rarely associated with craniosynostosis (FBN1, HUWE1, KRAS, STAT3); and known disease genes for which a causal relationship with craniosynostosis is currently unknown (AHDC1, NTRK2). In two further families, likely novel disease genes are currently undergoing functional validation. In 5 of the 15 positive cases, the (previously unanticipated) molecular diagnosis had immediate, actionable consequences for either genetic or medical management (mutations in EFNB1, FBN1, KRAS, NTRK2, STAT3). This substantial genetic heterogeneity, and the multiple actionable mutations identified, emphasises the benefits of exome/whole genome sequencing to identify causal mutations in craniosynostosis cases for which routine clinical testing has yielded negative results.

Mettananda S, Fisher CA, Sloane-Stanley JA, Taylor S, Oppermann U, Gibbons RJ, Higgs DR.

Selective silencing of α-globin by the histone demethylase inhibitor IOX1: A potentially new pathway for treatment of β-thalassemia.

Haematologica. (2016) 102(3): e80-e84

Thalassemia is the world's most common form of inherited anemia and in economically undeveloped countries, still accounts for tens of thousands of premature deaths every year(1). Accumulation of free excess α-globin chains in red blood cells and their precursors, as a result of decreased production of β-globin, is believed to be the main pathophysiological mechanism leading to hemolytic anemia and ineffective erythropoiesis in β-thalassemia(2). Clinical-genetic data accumulated over the last 30 years indicate that a natural reduction in α-globin chain output by 25%-50% resulting from co-inherited α-thalassemia ameliorates the disease phenotype in patients with β-thalassemia(3-5). Here, we have developed and performed a targeted small molecule screen to identify compounds which downregulate α-globin expression. This identified IOX1, a pan-histone demethylase inhibitor, which selectively down regulates α-globin expression without perturbing erythroid differentiation or general gene expression, more specifically β-like globin expression. Our data show that selective silencing of α-globin expression in erythroid cells is pharmacologically feasible and IOX1 is a lead compound to develop new therapy to treat β-thalassemia through the novel pathway of down-regulating α-globin expression.

Benamore R, Kendrick YR, Repapi E, Helm E, Cole SL, Taylor S, Ho LP.

CTAS: a CT score to quantify disease activity in pulmonary sarcoidosis.

Thorax (2016) 71(12): 1161-1163

A major gap in the management of sarcoidosis is the lack of accessible and objective methods to measure disease activity. Since 90% of patients have pulmonary involvement, we explored if a disease activity score based on thoracic CT scans could address this clinical issue.
High-resolution CT scans from 100 consecutive patients with sarcoidosis at a regional sarcoidosis service were scored for extent of CT abnormalities known to relate to granuloma or lymphocytic infiltration from published CT-pathological studies. These individual abnormality scores were then correlated against serum ACE, sIL-2R and change in FVC to identify CT abnormalities that reflect contemporaneous disease activity. The sum of these scores, or CT Activity Score (CTAS), was then validated against FVC response to treatment.
CT extent scores for nodularity, ground-glass opacification, interlobular septal thickening and consolidation correlated significantly with at least one of the disease activity parameters and were used to form CTAS. CTAS was found to predict FVC response to treatment at 1 year and was highly reproducible between radiologists. An abbreviated CTAS (aCTAS), constructed from presence or absence of the four CT abnormalities, also showed significant correlation with FVC response to treatment. CTAS and aCTAS also correlated with response to treatment in the fibrotic subgroup.
CTAS provides a concept for an objective and reproducible CT scoring method to quantify disease activity in sarcoidosis. The score can potentially be used to stratify patients according to disease activity, determine response to treatment and establish if fibrotic sarcoidosis is active.

Timosenko E, Ghadbane H, Silk JD, Shepherd D, Gileadi U, Howson LJ, Laynes R, Zhao Q, Strausberg RL, Olsen LR, Taylor S, Buffa FM, Boyd R, Cerundolo V

Nutritional stress induced by tryptophan-degrading enzymes results in ATF4-dependent reprogramming of the amino acid transporter profile in tumor cells

Cancer Res. (2016) 76(21): 6193-6204

Tryptophan degradation is an immune escape strategy shared by many tumors. However, cancer cells' compensatory mechanisms remain unclear. We demonstrate here that a shortage of tryptophan caused by expression of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) and tryptophan 2,3-dioxygenase (TDO) resulted in ATF4-dependent upregulation of several amino acid transporters, including SLC1A5 and its truncated isoforms. which in turn enhanced tryptophan and glutamine uptake. Importantly, SLC1A5 failed to be up-regulated in resting human T cells kept under low tryptophan conditions, but was enhanced upon cognate antigen T cell receptor engagement. Our results highlight key differences in the ability of tumor and T cells to adapt to tryptophan starvation and provide important insights into the poor prognosis of tumors co-expressing IDO and SLC1A5

Monteiro R, Pinheiro P, Joseph N, Peterkin T, Koth J, Repapi E, Bonkhofer F, Kirmizitas A, Patient R.

Transforming Growth Factor β Drives Hemogenic Endothelium Programming and the Transition to Hematopoietic Stem Cells.

Dev Cell (2016) 38(4): 358-370

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are self-renewing multipotent stem cells that generate mature blood lineages throughout life. They, together with hematopoietic progenitor cells (collectively known as HSPCs), emerge from hemogenic endothelium in the floor of the embryonic dorsal aorta by an endothelial-to-hematopoietic transition (EHT). Here we demonstrate that transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) is required for HSPC specification and that it regulates the expression of the Notch ligand Jagged1a in endothelial cells prior to EHT, in a striking parallel with the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The requirement for TGFβ is two fold and sequential: autocrine via Tgfβ1a and Tgfβ1b produced in the endothelial cells themselves, followed by a paracrine input of Tgfβ3 from the notochord, suggesting that the former programs the hemogenic endothelium and the latter drives EHT. Our findings have important implications for the generation of HSPCs from pluripotent cells in vitro.