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Title: FAM49 : a novel regulator of the protrusive behaviour and motility of cells
Author: Batista, José Miguel Sebastiao Fernandes
ISNI:       0000 0004 5994 8023
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2016
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Most eukaryotic cell motility relies on plasma membrane protrusions, which depend on the actin cytoskeleton and its tight regulation. The SCAR/WAVE complex, a pentameric assembly comprising SCAR/WAVE, Nap1, CYFIP/Pir121, Abi and HSPC300, is a key driver of actin-based protrusions such as pseudopods. SCAR/WAVE is thought to activate the Arp2/3 complex, a crucial actin nucleator, after being itself activated by upstream signals such as active Rac1. Despite recent progress on the study of the SCAR/WAVE complex, its regulation is still incompletely understood, with Nap1’s role being particularly enigmatic. Upon screening for potential Nap1 binding partners in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum – a well established model organism in the study of the actin cytoskeleton and cell motility – we found FAM49, a ~36 kDa protein of unknown function which is highly conserved in Metazoa (animals) and evolutionarily closer species such as D. discoideum. Interestingly, D. discoideum’s FAM49 and its homologs contain a DUF1394 domain, which is also predicted in CYFIP/Pir121 proteins and most likely involved in their direct binding to active Rac1, which in turn contributes to SCAR/WAVE’s activation. FAM49’s unknown role, apparent high degree of conservation and potential connections to SCAR/WAVE and Rac1 persuaded us to start investigating its function and biological relevance in D. discoideum, leading to the work presented in this thesis. Several pieces of our data collectively support a function for FAM49 in modulating the protrusive behaviour, and ultimately motility, of D. discoideum cells, as well as a regulatory link between FAM49 and Rac1. FAM49’s involvement in protrusion regulation was first hinted at by our observation that GFP-tagged FAM49 is enriched in pseudopods. The possibility of a link with Rac1 was then strengthened by two additional observations: first, pseudopodial GFP-FAM49 is substantially co-enriched with active Rac, both showing fairly comparable spatio-temporal accumulation dynamics; second, when dominant-active (G12V) Rac1 is expressed in cells, it triggers the recruitment and persistent accumulation of GFP-FAM49 at the plasma membrane, where both become highly co-enriched. We subsequently determined that fam49 KO cells differ from wild-type cells in the way they protrude and move, as assessed in under-agarose chemotaxis assays. In particular, our data indicate that fam49 KO cells tend to display a lower degree of global protrusive activity, their protrusions extend more slowly and are less discrete, and the cells end up moving at lower speeds and with higher directional persistence. This phenotype was substantially rescued by FAM49 re-expression. While re-expressing FAM49 in fam49 KO cells we generated putative FAM49 overexpressor cells; compared to wild-type cells, they displayed atypically thin pseudopods and what seemed to be an excessively dynamic, and perhaps less coordinated, protrusive behaviour. Additional data in our study suggest that pseudopods made by fam49 KO cells are still driven by SCAR/WAVE, which is clearly not being replaced by WASP (as is now known to be the case in D. discoideum cells lacking a functional SCAR/WAVE complex). Nonetheless, the peculiar dynamics of those pseudopods imply that SCAR/WAVE’s activity is regulated differently when FAM49 is lost, though it remains to be determined how. This thesis is the first report of a dedicated study on FAM49 and lays the foundation for future research on it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Q Science (General)