Biography

Click here for current PhD opportunities in CHE, but feel free to email me to discuss projects outside these areas and alternative sources of funding.

Nick Le Brun graduated in 1990 with a first class degree in Chemistry from UEA. Supported through a Wellcome Trust Prize Studentship, he remained at UEA to begin his research career in the area of bioinorganic chemistry under the guidance of Prof Andrew Thomson, FRS OBE and Prof Geoff Moore. He gained his PhD in 1993, and continued his research in the School through a Wellcome Trust Fellowship. In 1996, he moved to the Department of Microbiology, Lund University, Sweden to take up an EMBO Fellowship, in the laboratory of Prof Lars Hederstedt. In 1999 Nick was appointed as Lecturer in biological chemistry at UEA,  and subsequently appointed as Senior Lecturer (2006-2009), Reader (2009-2011), and Professor (2011 - ).

Proteins that contain metal ions (metalloproteins) constitute a diverse and hugely important group. By utilising and fine-tuning the wide range of physical and chemical properties exhibited by metal ions, they fulfil many essential roles in many cellular processes. Nick's research interests lie in understanding how bacterial cells handle essential metal ions, the pathways by which metal-containing proteins are assembled, and the reactivities associated with metalloproteins.

Nick’s research has been funded over the past few years by BBSRC, The Wellcome Trust and EPRSC. He was a member of the BBSRC Pool of Experts (2009-2010) and served as a core member of BBSRC Committee D: Molecules, Cells and Industrial biotechnology from 2010-13. Since 2010, Nick has been Director of the UEA Centre for Molecular and Structural Biochemistry, and from 2014 he is Chair of the UK's Inorganic Biochemistry Discussion Group (IBDG, an Interest Group of the RSC).  In 2015 he became a member of RSC Dalton Council.  Nick currently serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry (JBIC) and Microbiology.

When he's not busy with all of that, he coaches junior football.

 

Selected Publications

Crystal structures of apo and holo forms of the nitric oxide sensor regulator NsrR reveal the role of the [4Fe-4S] cluster in modulating DNA binding.
A. Volbeda, E. L. Dodd, C. Darnault, J. C. Crack, O. Renoux, M. I. Hutchings, N. E. Le Brun, J. C. Fontecilla-Camps.
Nat. Commum., 2017, 8, 15052.
DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15052.

Mass spectrometric identification of intermediates in the O2 driven [4Fe-4S] to [2Fe-2S] cluster conversion in FNR.
J. C. Crack, A. J. Thomson, N. E. Le Brun
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017, 114, E3215-E3223.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620987114.

Diversity of Fe2+ entry and oxidation in ferritins.
J. M. Bradley, G. R. Moore, N. E. Le Brun
Curr. Opin. Chem. Biol., 2017, 37, 122-128.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2017.02.027.

Kinetic analysis of copper transfer from a chaperone to its target protein mediated by complex formation.
K. L. Kay, L. Zhou, L. Tenori, J. M. Bradley, C. Singleton, M. A. Kihlken, S. Ciofi-Baffoni, N. E. Le Brun Chem. Comm., 2017, 53, 1397-1400.
DOI: 10.1039/C6CC08966F.

Nitrosylation of nitric oxide-sensing regulatory proteins containing [4Fe-4S] clusters gives rise to multiple iron-nitrosyl complexes.
P. N. Serrano, H. Wang, J. C. Crack, C. Prior, M. I. Hutchings, A. J. Thomson, S. Kamali, Y. Yoda, J. Zhao, M. Y. Hu, E. E. Alp, V. S. Oganesyan, N. E. Le Brun, S. P. Cramer
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2016, 55, 14575-14579.
DOI: 10.1002/anie.201607033.

NsrR from Streptomyces coelicolor is a nitric oxide-sensing [4Fe-4S] cluster protein with a specialized regulatory function.
J. C. Crack, J. Munnoch, E. L. Dodd, F. Knowles, M. M. Al Bassam, S. Kamali, A. A. Holland, S. P. Cramer, C. J. Hamilton, M. K. Johnson, A. J. Thomson, M. I. Hutchings, N. E. Le Brun
J. Biol. Chem., 2015 290,12689-12704.
DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M115.643072

 

 

 

Career History

  • 1987 to 1990 BSc Chemistry at UEA, first class
  • 1990 to 1993 Wellcome Trust PhD Prize Studentship at UEA
  • 1993 to 1995 Wellcome Trust Prize Fellowship at UEA
  • 1996 to 1998 EMBO Long Term Fellowship, Department of Microbiology, Lund University, Sweden
  • 1998 to 1999 Senior Research Associate at UEA
  • 1999 – 2006 Lecturer in Biological Chemistry at UEA.
  • 2006 – 2009 Senior Lecturer in Biological Chemistry at UEA
  • 2009 – 2011 Reader in Biological Chemistry at UEA
  • 2011 to present, Professor of Biological Chemistry at UEA

All Publications

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Bastow, E. L., Bych, K., Crack, J. C., Le Brun, N. E., Balk, J.

(2017)

NBP35 interacts with DRE2 in the maturation of cytosolic iron-sulfur proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana,

in The Plant Journal

89

(3)

pp. 590–600

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Kay, K. L., Zhou, L., Tenori, L., Bradley, J. M., Singleton, C., Kihlken, M. A., Ciofi-Baffoni, S., Le Brun, N.

(2017)

Kinetic analysis of copper transfer from a chaperone to its target protein mediated by complex formation,

in Chemical Communications

53

(8)

pp. 1397-1400

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Volbeda, A., Dodd, E. L., Darnault, C., Crack, J. C., Renoux, O., Hutchings, M. I., Le Brun, N. E., Fontecilla-Camps, J. C.

(2017)

Crystal structures of the NO sensor NsrR reveal how its iron-sulfur cluster modulates DNA binding,

in Nature Communications

8

article no. 15052

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Crack, J. C., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E.

(2017)

Mass spectrometric identification of intermediates in the O2-driven [4Fe-4S] to [2Fe-2S] cluster conversion in FNR,

in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)

114

(6)

pp. E3215–E3223

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Smith, L. J., Bochkareva, A., Rolfe, M. D., Hunt, D. M., Kahramanoglou, C., Braun, Y., Rodgers, A., Blockley, A., Coade, S., Lougheed, K. E., Hafneh, N. A., Glenn, S. M., Crack, J. C., Le Brun, N. E., Saldanha, J. W., Macarov, V., Nobeli, I., Arnvig, K., Mukamolova, G. V., Buxton, R. S., Green, J.

(2017)

Cmr is a redox-responsive regulator of DosR that contributes to M. tuberculosis virulence,

in Nucleic Acids Research

45

(11)

pp. 6600-6612

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Crack, J., Hutchings, M., Thomson, A., Le Brun, N.

(2016)

Biochemical properties of Paracoccus denitrificans FnrP: Reactions with molecular oxygen and nitric oxide,

in JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry

21

(1)

pp. 71-82

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Bradley, J., Le Brun, N., Moore, G.

(2016)

Ferritins: furnishing proteins with iron,

in JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry

21

(1)

pp. 13-28

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Crack, J., Svistunenko, D. A., Munnoch, J., Thomson, A., Hutchings, M., Le Brun, N.

(2016)

Differentiated, promoter-specific response of [4Fe-4S] NsrR DNA-binding to reaction with nitric oxide,

in Journal of Biological Chemistry

291

pp. 8663-8672

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Kay, K. L., Hamilton, C. J., Le Brun, N. E.

(2016)

Mass spectrometry of B. subtilis CopZ: Cu(I)-binding and interactions with bacillithiol,

in Metallomics

8

(7)

pp. 709-719

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Munnoch, J. T., Pellicer Martinez, M. T., Svistunenko, D. A., Crack, J. C., Le Brun, N. E., Hutchings, M. I.

(2016)

Characterization of a putative NsrR homologue in Streptomyces venezuelae reveals a new member of the Rrf2 superfamily,

in Scientific Reports

6

article no. 31597

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Serrano, P. N., Wang, H., Crack, J. C., Prior, C., Hutchings, M. I., Thomson, A. J., Kamali, S., Yoda, Y., Zhao, J., Hu, M. Y., Alp, E. E., Oganesyan, V. S., Le Brun, N. E., Cramer, S. P.

(2016)

Nitrosylation of Nitric-Oxide-Sensing Regulatory Proteins Containing [4Fe-4S] Clusters Gives Rise to Multiple Iron-Nitrosyl Complexes,

in Angewandte Chemie International Edition

55

(47)

pp. 14575–14579

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Bradley, J. M., Le Brun, N. E., Moore, G. R.

(2016)

Commentary: Ferritins: Furnishing proteins with iron,

in Journal of Rare Diseases Research and Treatment

1

(3)

pp. 22-24

UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Wong, S., Grigg, J., Le Brun, N., Moore, G., Murphy, M., Mauk, G.

(2015)

The B-type Channel is a Major Route for Iron Entry into the Ferroxidase Center and Central Cavity of Bacterioferritin,

in The Journal of Biological Chemistry

290

(6)

pp. 3732-3739

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Crack, J., Munnoch, J. T., Dodd, E., Knowles, F., Al-Bassam, M., Kamali, S., Holland, A., Cramer, S., Hamilton, C., Johnson, M., Thomson, A., Hutchings, M., Le Brun, N.

(2015)

NsrR from Streptomyces coelicolor is a nitric oxide-sensing [4Fe-4S] cluster protein with a specialized regulatory function,

in The Journal of Biological Chemistry

290

pp. 12689-12704

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Ibrahim, S. A., Crack, J. C., Rolfe, M. D., Borrero-de Acuňa, J. M., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E., Schobert, M., Stapleton, M. R., Green, J.

(2015)

Three Pseudomonas putida FNR Family Proteins with Different Sensitivities to O2,

in The Journal of Biological Chemistry

290

pp. 16812-16823

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Handley, R. A., Mulholland, F., Reuter, M., Ramachandran, V. K., Musk, H., Clissold, L., Le Brun, N. E., van Vliet, A. H. M.

(2015)

PerR controls oxidative stress defence and aerotolerance but not motility-associated phenotypes of Campylobacter jejuni,

in Microbiology

161

pp. 1524-1536

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Pfaffen, S., Bradley, J., Abdulqadir, R., Firme, M. R., Moore, G., Le Brun, N., Murphy, M.

(2015)

A diatom ferritin optimized for iron oxidation but not iron storage,

in The Journal of Biological Chemistry

290

pp. 28416-28427

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Bradley, J. M., Svistunenko, D. A., Lawson, T. L., Hemmings, A. M., Moore, G. R., Le Brun, N. E.

(2015)

Three aromatic residues are required for electron transfer during iron mineralization in Bacterioferritin,

in Angewandte Chemie International Edition

127

(49)

pp. 14976–14980

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


Bradley, J. M., Moore, G. R., Le Brun, N. E.

(2014)

Mechanisms of iron mineralization in ferritins: one size does not fit all,

in JBIC Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry

19

(6)

pp. 775-785

Full Text UEA Repository

(Article)

(Published)


<- Page 1 of 4 ->

Key Research Interests

Nick's research interests lie in understanding how bacterial cells handle essential metal ions, the pathways by which metal-containing proteins are assembled, and the reactivities associated with metalloproteins.  Specifically, these are in the following areas:

  • O2 and nitric oxide sensing iron-sulfur cluster transcriptional regulators
  • Iron storage and release in the bacterial cell
  • Bacterial iron-dependent transcriptional regulators
  • Copper trafficking proteins of Bacillus subtilis


O2- and nitric oxide-sensing iron-sulfur cluster transcriptional regulators


Collaborators:
Prof Andrew Thomson (UEA), Prof Matt Hutchings (UEA), Prof Juan Fontecilla-Camps, Prof Michael Johnson (University of Georgia, USA), Prof Jeff Green (University of Sheffield), Prof Steve Cramer (UC Davis, USA).

Researchers:
Dr Jason Crack
Maria Pellicer Martinez
Melissa Stewart

Funding:
BBSRC

 

In terms of survival, bacteria are extremely adaptable.  For example, many, including the model Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli, can grow in the presence and absence of oxygen.  The cellular machineries that enable it to do this are distinct under the two sets of conditions and so the cell must have a mechanism of sensing the oxygen concentration such that, when it drops, genes encoding anaerobic respiratory enzymes can be switched on (and vice versa).  In E. coli and many other bacteria, oxygen is sensed through the transcription regulatory protein FNR.  In the absence of oxygen the protein is dimeric, contains a [4Fe-4S] cluster in each monomer, and adopts a conformation that enables it to bind to specific operator sequences of DNA, and thus regulates the transcription of many genes.  Exposure to oxygen causes the conversion of the [4Fe-4S] cluster into a [2Fe-2S] cluster, inducing a conformational change that results in dissociation of the protein into monomers and unable to bind specifically to DNA. 
We are using kinetic and spectroscopic methods to understand the mechanism by which the reaction with oxygen proceeds.


Nitric oxide is a poisonous molecule that is generated by soil and other bacteria, and in our bodies as a defence against pathogenic organisms trying to establish infection. One of the major ways by which nitric oxide exerts its toxic effects is through reaction with a widespread group of proteins that contain a type of cofactor made from both iron and sulfur (called an iron-sulfur (FeS) cluster). Members of this group play crucial roles in a very wide range of cellular processes. To avoid nitric oxide toxicity, disease-causing (as well as benign) bacteria have evolved protective systems that function to detoxify nitric oxide by removing it through chemical reaction. The fact that iron-sulfur cofactors are particularly sensitive to nitric oxide has been exploited in Nature, through the evolution of a number of regulatory proteins that themselves contain an iron-sulfur cluster and which function as biological switches, turning on the cellular nitric oxide detoxification response in the presence of nitric oxide. Despite the importance and widespread nature of the reaction of iron-sulfur clusters with NO, very little is known about this reaction process. We are interested in understanding how NO-responsive iron-sulfur cluster-containing regulators function.

We are working on a number of regulators. Some of these are members of the WhiB-like (or Wbl) family of proteins that are found only in a small number of bacteria (which includes Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, one of the world's major killers, and Streptomyces coelicolor, the source of many of the antibiotics currently in use in the clinic). Wbl proteins are known to play key roles in these bacteria in cell developmental processes associated with stress response, and are crucial for the ability of M. tuberculosis to survive in the inhospitable environment of a human host for years, in a dormant state that is highly resistant to antibiotics. Another regulator that we work on, NsrR from S. coelicolor, is a member of a widely distributed but largely unstudied family of regulators. It functions as a primary NO sensor by controlling the cellular response to NO toxicity. Our recent work has revealed important new insight into the nature of these regulatory proteins, including, for the first time, detailed mechanistic information about the reaction of a protein-bound iron-sulfur cluster with nitric oxide, leading to the formation of previously unreported products, and, most recently, the structures of cluster-bound and cluster-free NsrR.

  • Volbeda, A., Dodd, E. L., Darnault, C., Crack, J. C., Renoux, O., Hutchings, M. I., Le Brun, N. E. and Fontecilla-Camps, J. C. (2017)
    Crystal structures of apo and holo forms of the nitric oxide sensor regulator NsrR reveal the role of the [4Fe-4S] cluster in modulating DNA binding. Nat. Commum. 8, 15052. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15052.

  • Crack, J. C., Thomson, A. J. and Le Brun, N. E. (2017)
    Mass spectrometric identification of intermediates in the O2 driven [4Fe-4S] to [2Fe-2S] cluster conversion in FNR. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 114, E3215-E3223. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1620987114.

  • Serrano, P. N., Wang, H., Crack, J. C., Prior, C., Hutchings, M. I., Thomson, A. J., Kamali, S., Yoda, Y., Zhao, J., Hu, M. Y., Alp, E. E., Oganesyan, V. S., Le Brun, N. E. and Cramer, S. P. (2016)
    Nitrosylation of nitric oxide-sensing regulatory proteins containing [4Fe-4S] clusters gives rise to multiple iron-nitrosyl complexes. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 55, 14575-14579. doi: 10.1002/anie.201607033.

  • Bastow, E., Bych, K., Crack, J. C., Le Brun, N. E., Balk, J. (2016)
    NBP35 interacts with DRE2 in the maturation of cytosolic iron-sulfur proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana. Plant J. 89, 590-600. doi: 10.1111/tpj.13409.

  • Munnoch, J., Pellicer Martinez, M.T., Svistunenko, D. A., Crack, J. C., Le Brun, N. E., and Hutchings, M. I. (2016)
    Characterization of a putative NsrR homologue in Streptomyces venezuelae reveals a new member of the Rrf2 superfamily. Sci. Reports, 6, 31597. doi: 10.1038/srep31597

  • Crack, J. C., Svistunenko, D. A., Munnoch., J., Thomson, A. J., Hutchings, M. I., and Le Brun, N. E. (2016)
    Differentiated, promoter-specific response of [4Fe-4S] NsrR DNA-binding to reaction with nitric oxide. J. Biol. Chem. 291, 8663-8672. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.693192

  • Crack J. C., Hutchings, M. I., M. K., Thomson, A. J., and Le Brun, N. E. (2016)
    Biochemical properties of Paracoccus denitrificans FnrP: Reactions with molecular oxygen and nitric oxide. J. Biol. Inorg. Chem. 21, 71-82. doi: 10.1007/s00775-015-1326-7

  • Ibrahim, S. A., Crack, J. C., Rolfe, M. D., Borrero-de Acuňa, J. M., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E., Schobert, M., Stapleton, M. R., and Green, J. (2015)
    Three Pseudomonas putida FNR family proteins with different sensitivities to O2. J. Biol. Chem., 290,16812-16823.

  • Crack J. C., Munnoch, J. Dodd, E. L., Knowles, F. Al Bassam, M. M., Kamali, S., Holland, A. A., Cramer, S. P., Hamilton, C. J., Johnson, M. K., Thomson, A. J., Hutchings, M. I., and Le Brun, N. E. (2015)
    NsrR from Streptomyces coelicolor is a nitric oxide-sensing [4Fe-4S] cluster protein with a specialized regulatory function. J. Biol. Chem. 290,12689-12704

  • Crack, J. C., Stapleton, M. R. Green, J., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E. (2014)
    Influence of association state and DNA binding on the O2-reactivity of [4Fe-4S] fumarate and nitrate reduction (FNR) regulator. Biochem. J. 463, 83-92.

  • Crack, J. C., Green, J., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E. (2014)
    Iron-sulfur clusters as biological sensors: the chemistry of reactions with molecular oxygen and nitric oxide. Acc. Chem. Res. 47, 3196-3205

  • Crack, J. C., Stapleton, M. R. Green, J., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E. (2013)
    Mechanism of [4Fe-4S](Cys)4 cluster nitrosylation is conserved amongst NO-responsive regulators. J. Biol. Chem. 288, 11492-11502.

  • Crack, J. C., Green, J., Thomson, A. J. and Le Brun, N. E. (2012)
    Iron-sulfur sensor-regulators. Curr. Opin. Chem. Biol. 16, 35-44.

  • Crack, J. C., Green, J., Hutchings, M. I., Thomson, A. J. and Le Brun, N. E. (2012)
    Bacterial iron-sulfur regulatory proteins as biological sensor-switches. Antiox Red Signal. 17, 1215-1231.

  • Crack, J. C., Smith, L. J., Stapleton, M. R., Peck, J., Watmough, N. J., Buttner, M. J., Buxton, R. S., Green, J., Oganesyan, V. S., Thomson, A. J., and Le Brun, N. E. (2011)
    Mechanistic insight into the nitrosylation of the [4Fe-4S] cluster of WhiB-like proteins. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 133, 1112-1121.

  • Tucker, N. P., Le Brun, N. E., Dixon, R and Hutchings, M. I. (2010)
    There’s NO stopping NsrR, a global regulator of the bacterial NO stress response. Trends Microbiol., 18, 149-156

  • Smith, L. J., Stapleton, M. R., Fullstone, G. J. M., Crack, J. C., Thomson, A. J., Le Brun, N. E., Hunt, D. M., Harvey, E., Adinolfi, S., Buxton, R. S. and Green, J. (2010)
    Mycobacterium tuberculosis WhiB1 is an essential DNA-binding protein with a nitric oxide sensitive iron-sulphur cluster. Biochem. J. 432, 417-427.

  • Crack, J.C., den Hengst, C. D., Jakimowicz, P., Subramanian, S., Johnson, M. K., Buttner, M. J., Thomson, A. J. and Le Brun, N. E. (2009)
    Characterization of [4Fe-4S]-containing and cluster-free forms of Streptomyces WhiD. Biochemistry, 48, 12252-12264

  • Tucker, N. P., Hicks, M. G., Clarke T. A., Crack, J. C., Chandra, G. C., Le Brun, N. E., Dixon, R and Hutchings, M. I. (2008)
    The transcriptional repressor protein NsrR senses nitric oxide directly via a [2Fe-2S] cluster. PLoS One, 3, e3623.

 

Iron storage and release in the bacterial cell

Collaborators:
Prof. Geoff Moore (UEA), Dr Dima Svistunenko, Prof Michael Murphy (UBC Vancouver), Prof Grant Mauk (UBC Vancouver).

Researchers:
Dr Justin Bradley

Funding:
BBSRC

Iron is essential for virtually all cells where it plays an important role in many processes, e.g. DNA synthesis, respiration and oxygen transport.  The importance of iron for pathogens is such that they often do not become virulent unless they have a supply of iron.

Iron presents organisms with two major problems that must be overcome for the useful properties of the metal ion to be exploited.  Firstly, at neutral pH and normal oxygen pressure, it is most stable in the +3 oxidation state which is extremely insoluble.  Secondly, it is potentially extremely toxic because of its ability to catalyse formation of reactive free radicals via Fenton and Haber-Weiss chemistry.

Organisms have developed strategies to overcome these problems.  A common one is to store iron within the cell in a form that is safe, i.e. away from molecules with which it can react to produce toxic free radicals.  This is achieved by iron-storage proteins called ferritins, which consist of 24 subunits that pack together to form an approximately spherical molecule with a central cavity in which iron is safely stored as an inorganic ferric iron oxy-hydroxide mineral.

We are studying a number of ferritin proteins, including those from bacteria and a simple marine eukaryote.  Our aim is to understand how the protein catalyses the formation of its iron core, and more recently, we have begun to address the question of how and under what circumstances the protein releases its iron into the cell.

 


Copper trafficking proteins of Bacillus subtilis

Collaborators:
Dr Andrew Hemmings (UEA), Prof Geoff Moore (UEA)

Researchers:
Kristine Kay

Funding:

Copper plays an essential role in many cellular processes (eg respiration and photosynthesis). One example of copper enzymes in action that we are all familiar with it fruit browning. When you expose the flesh of a fruit to air, it quickly becomes brown. This is due to a copper enzyme called tyrosinase which oxidises tyrosine to eventually form pigments.  As with iron, copper is also potentially extremely toxic. This is due to its ability to redox cycle and catalyse the formation of hydroxyl radicals via Haber-Weiss like chemistry, and its ability to displace native metals from protein sites.
As well as there being conditions such as Menkes' and Wilson's diseases that result from a breakdown in copper transport, it is becoming clear that copper is an important factor in the development of a wide range of neurological disorders in humans, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  Amyloid precursor proteins from a variety of species have been shown to bind copper and this may promote aggregation leading to plaque formation.  The human prion protein is a copper-binding protein in its normal conformation, suggesting that it may have a role in brain copper metabolism.  In diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and CJD it appears, therefore, that copper trafficking has gone wrong, and to understand such processes it is essential to understand how copper is  handled in normally functioning cells.

We are studying two proteins, CopZ and CopA, that are involved in trafficking copper around and out of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis.  We are using a combination of spectroscopic, bioanalytical and structural methods to understand how these proteins bind copper and interact with one another to effect copper export.

 

 

Bacterial iron-dependent transcriptional regulators

Collaborators:
Dr Jon Todd (BIO), Prof Andy Johnston (BIO), Dr Myles Cheesman, Dr Arnoud van Vliet (IFR)

Researchers:
Maria Pellicer Martinez

Funding:

Bacteria use metallo-regulators for a wide range of functions, from controlling levels of metals themselves to sensing of oxidative stress.  For iron, bacteria control the intracellular concentration of the metal by regulating expression of many genes involved in the uptake, metabolism and use of iron.  This subject has been much-studied, but only in a few models, most notably the Ferric Uptake Regulator (Fur) and DtxR.  However, little or nothing is known about iron-responsive gene regulation in the vast majority of bacteria, including the -proteobacteria, which includes several groups that have been sequenced and studied in some detail. Working with the symbiotic, N2-fixing -proteobacterium Rhizobium leguminosarum, Andy Johnston and Jon Todd (BIO) showed that gene expression is regulated in response to iron in a way that is very different from the Fur or DtxR models. These studies form the basis of a new paradigm for global iron-responsive gene regulation in many bacteria, some of which are of medical, biotechnological or environmental importance – e.g. Agrobacterium, Bartonella, Brucella, Magnetospirillum and Novosphingobium.

This bacterium has two very different “global” iron transcriptional regulators, which act in diametrically opposite ways depending on iron availability. One of these, RirA, represses >100 genes in iron-replete conditions; the other, Irr, represses a different, but partially overlapping, suite of genes when iron is abundant. Recent work on free-living Rhizobium cells indicates that Irr and RirA very likely interact with haem and FeS clusters, respectively, leading us to propose a general model for iron-responsive gene regulation, which is more subtle and integrative than is believed to occur in bacteria that use Fur as a global iron-responsive transcriptional regulator.  Our aim is to understand the molecular mechanisms by which these regulators act.

We are also interested in the Gram-negative bacterium Campylobacter jejuni, which is a leading cause of human gastrointestinal disease in the Western world.  This is a microaerophilic organism that requires 2-10% oxygen for growth. Under laboratory conditions it is unable to survive in atmospheric oxygen levels, but outside the laboratory it is clearly able to do so because the majority of Campylobacter infections are food-related (often via the consumption of chicken meat contaminated by cecal contents during slaughter).  Understanding how Campylobacter combats oxidative stress may lead to much needed new intervention and prevention methods that restrict the numbers of campylobacters on meat.  The ability to survive in high oxygen environments (aerotolerance) is intimately connected to mechanisms of resistance to oxidative stress.  The regulatory protein PerR plays a key role in this process.  Like Irr (above), PerR is a member of the Fur family of regulators  Studies of PerR from the Gram-positive organism Bacillus subtilis have revealed the presence of a structural Zn2+ site and a sensory Fe2+/Mn2+ site, and an unusual regulatory mechanism in which Fe2+ at the sensory site catalyses irreversible oxidation of the protein (at histidine residues) which reduces DNA-binding affinity.  We are studying C. jejuni PerR to determine the mechanisms of peroxide sensing and DNA binding and therefore regulation.

 

 

Research Group Membership

PDRA

Dr Jason Crack (funded by the BBSRC to work on mechanisms of O2-sensing by the iron-sulfur cluster global regulator FNR with Prof Andrew Thomson (CHE) and Prof Jeff Green (Sheffield).

Dr Justin Bradley (funded by the BBSRC to work on the iron storage management project with Prof Geoff Moore [CHE])

 

PhD students


Maria Pellicer Martinez (working on mechanisms of sensing by iron-sulfur cluster regulators). Submitted thesis 2017

Krissy Kay (working on copper trafficking proteins and the application of mass spec to metalloprotein studies).  Graduating 2017

Sophie Bennett (working on the assembly of nitrous oxide reductase, a key enzyme in denitrification and climate change).

Melissa Stewart (working on iron-sulfur cluster regulatory proteins)

Leanne Sims (supervised jointly with Prof Colin Murrell (ENV), working on isoprene monooxygenase, a key enzyme in the bacterial utilisation of the important environmental volatile isoprene)

 

 

Technicians

Maria Pellicer Martinez

Teaching Interests

Nick has many years’ experience of teaching across a range of subjects at the chemistry-biology interface, including the areas of biophysical chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry and DNA forensics.

External Activities and Indicators of Esteem

  • Director, UEA Centre for Molecular and Structural Biochemistry - 2010 to present
  • Chair, Inorganic Biochemistry Discussion Group (IBDG) - 2014 to present
  • Member of BBSRC pool of experts - 2009
  • Core member of BBSRC Committee D: Molecules, Cells and Industrial Biotechnology - 2010 to 2013
  • Associate Editor and then Editor, Microbiology Journal - 2012 to present
  • Member of the Royal Society International Exchanges Assessment Panel - 2012 -2015
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Chartered Chemist (FRSC, CChem) - since 1991
  • Member of the Biochemical Society - since 1992

Enterprise and Engagement activities

  • UEA Proof of Concept Fund Award - 2011
  • BBSRC Impact Award - 2013
  • Metals in Biology NIBB Proof of Concept Award 2015-16
  • UEA Proof of Concept Fund Award - 2016