All Publications

  • STEM Pride: Perspectives from transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer scientists CELL Armada-Moreira, A., Cizauskas, C., Fleury, G., Forslund, S., Guthman, E., Hanafiah, A., Hope, J. M., Jayasinghe, I., McSweeney, D., Young, I. D. 2021; 184 (13): 3352-3355


    In celebration of Pride Month, we asked transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary scientists to tell us about what fascinates them, their ambitions and achievements, and how their gender identities have shaped their experiences in STEM. We owe a special thanks to 500 Queer Scientists (, whose network and efforts at increasing LGBTQ+ scientists' visibility made this article possible.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000665547300002

    View details for PubMedID 34171316

  • Optical Activation of TrkB Signaling. Journal of molecular biology Huang, P., Liu, A., Song, Y., Hope, J. M., Cui, B., Duan, L. 2020


    Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), via activation of tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB), plays a critical role in neuronal proliferation, differentiation, survival, and death. Dysregulation of TrkB signaling is implicated in neurodegenerative disorders and cancers. Precise activation of TrkB signaling with spatial and temporal resolution is greatly desired to study the dynamic nature of TrkB signaling and its role in related diseases. Here we develop different optogenetic approaches that use light to activate TrkB signaling. Utilizing the photosensitive protein Arabidopsis thaliana cryptochrome 2 (CRY2), the light-inducible homo-interaction of the intracellular domain of TrkB (iTrkB) in the cytosol or on the plasma membrane is able to induce the activation of downstream MAPK/ERK and PI3K/Akt signaling as well as the neurite outgrowth of PC12 cells. Moreover, we prove that such strategies are generalizable to other optical homo-dimerizers by demonstrating the optical TrkB activation based on the light-oxygen-voltage domain of aureochrome 1 from Vaucheria frigida. The results open up new possibilities of many other optical platforms to activate TrkB signaling to fulfill customized needs. By comparing all the different strategies, we find that the CRY2-integrated approach to achieve light-induced cell membrane recruitment and homo-interaction of iTrkB is most efficient in activating TrkB signaling. The optogenetic strategies presented are promising tools to investigate BDNF/TrkB signaling with tight spatial and temporal control.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jmb.2020.05.002

    View details for PubMedID 32422149

  • Construction of Light-Activated Neurotrophin Receptors Using the Improved Light-Induced Dimerizer (iLID). Journal of molecular biology Hope, J. M., Liu, A., Calvin, G. J., Cui, B. 2020


    Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) play crucial roles in human health, and their misregulation is implicated in disorders ranging from neurodegenerative diseases to cancers. The highly conserved mechanism of activation of RTKs makes them especially appealing candidates for control via optogenetic dimerization methods. This work offers a strategy for using the improved Light-Induced Dimer (iLID) system with a constructed tandem-dimer of its binding partner nano (tdnano) to build light-activatable versions of RTKs. In the absence of light, the iLID-RTK is cytosolic, monomeric and inactive. Under blue light, the iLID + tdnano system recruits two copies of iLID-RTK to tdnano, dimerizing and activating the RTK. We demonstrate that iLID opto-iTrkA and opto-iTrkB are capable of reproducing downstream ERK and Akt signaling only in the presence of tdnano. We further show with our opto-iTrkA that the system is compatible with multi-day and population-level activation of TrkA in PC12 cells. By leveraging genetic targeting of tdnano, we achieve RTK activation at a specific subcellular location even with whole-cell illumination, allowing us to confidently probe the impact of context on signaling outcome.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jmb.2020.04.018

    View details for PubMedID 32335036

  • Optical Activation of TrkA Signaling. ACS synthetic biology Duan, L., Hope, J. M., Guo, S., Ong, Q., Francois, A., Kaplan, L., Scherrer, G., Cui, B. 2018


    Nerve growth factor/tropomyosin receptor kinase A (NGF/TrkA) signaling plays a key role in neuronal development, function, survival, and growth. The pathway is implicated in neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, inflammation, and cancer. NGF binds the extracellular domain of TrkA, leading to the activation of the receptor's intracellular kinase domain. As TrkA signaling is highly dynamic, mechanistic studies would benefit from a tool with high spatial and temporal resolution. Here we present the design and evaluation of four strategies for light-inducible activation of TrkA in the absence of NGF. Our strategies involve the light-sensitive protein Arabidopsis cryptochrome 2 and its binding partner CIB1. We demonstrate successful recapitulation of native NGF/TrkA functions by optical induction of plasma membrane recruitment and homo-interaction of the intracellular domain of TrkA. This approach activates PI3K/AKT and Raf/ERK signaling pathways, promotes neurite growth in PC12 cells, and supports survival of dorsal root ganglion neurons in the absence of NGF. This ability to activate TrkA using light bestows high spatial and temporal resolution for investigating NGF/TrkA signaling.

    View details for PubMedID 29975841

  • Optical Activation of TrkA Signaling ACS SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY Duan, L., Hope, J. M., Guo, S., Ong, Q., Francois, A., Kaplan, L., Scherrer, G., Cui, B. 2018; 7 (7): 1685-1693
  • Understanding CRY2 interactions for optical control of intracellular signaling NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Duan, L., Hope, J., Ong, Q., Lou, H., Kim, N., McCarthy, C., Acero, V., Lin, M. Z., Cui, B. 2017; 8: 547


    Arabidopsis cryptochrome 2 (CRY2) can simultaneously undergo light-dependent CRY2-CRY2 homo-oligomerization and CRY2-CIB1 hetero-dimerization, both of which have been widely used to optically control intracellular processes. Applications using CRY2-CIB1 interaction desire minimal CRY2 homo-oligomerization to avoid unintended complications, while those utilizing CRY2-CRY2 interaction prefer robust homo-oligomerization. However, selecting the type of CRY2 interaction has not been possible as the molecular mechanisms underlying CRY2 interactions´╗┐ are unknown. Here we report CRY2-CIB1 and CRY2-CRY2 interactions are governed by well-separated protein interfaces at the two termini of CRY2. N-terminal charges are critical for CRY2-CIB1 interaction. Moreover, two C-terminal charges impact CRY2 homo-oligomerization, with positive charges facilitating oligomerization and negative charges inhibiting it. By engineering C-terminal charges, we develop CRY2high and CRY2low with elevated or suppressed oligomerization respectively, which we use to tune the levels of Raf/MEK/ERK signaling. These results contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying light-induced CRY2 interactions and enhance the controllability of CRY2-based optogenetic systems.Cryptochrome 2 (CRY2) can form light-regulated CRY2-CRY2 homo-oligomers or CRY2-CIB1 hetero-dimers, but modulating these interactions is difficult owing to the lack of interaction mechanism. Here the authors identify the interactions facilitating homo-oligomers and introduce mutations to create low and high oligomerization versions.

    View details for PubMedID 28916751