Kirill Alexandrov

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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Publications (131)757.74 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Genetic code expansion is a key objective of synthetic biology and protein engineering. Most efforts in this direction are focused on reassigning termination or decoding quadruplet codons. While the redundancy of genetic code provides a large number of potentially reassignable codons, their utility is diminished by the inevitable interaction with cognate aminoacyl-tRNAs. To address this problem, we sought to establish an in vitro protein synthesis system with a simplified synthetic tRNA complement, thereby orthogonalizing some of the sense codons. This quantitative in vitro peptide synthesis assay allowed us to analyze the ability of synthetic tRNAs to decode all of 61 sense codons. We observed that, with the exception of isoacceptors for Asn, Glu, and Ile, the majority of 48 synthetic Escherichia coli tRNAs could support protein translation in the cell-free system. We purified to homogeneity functional Asn, Glu, and Ile tRNAs from the native E. coli tRNA mixture, and by combining them with synthetic tRNAs, we formulated a semisynthetic tRNA complement for all 20 amino acids. We further demonstrated that this tRNA complement could restore the protein translation activity of tRNA-depleted E. coli lysate to a level comparable to that of total native tRNA. To confirm that the developed system could efficiently synthesize long polypeptides, we expressed three different sequences coding for superfolder GFP. This novel semisynthetic translation system is a powerful tool for tRNA engineering and potentially enables the reassignment of at least 9 sense codons coding for Ser, Arg, Leu, Pro, Thr, and Gly.
    Journal of the American Chemical Society 03/2015; 137(13). DOI:10.1021/ja5131963 · 11.44 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Protein prenylation is a widespread and highly conserved eukaryotic post-translational modification that endows proteins with the ability to reversibly attach to intracellular membranes. The dynamic interaction of prenylated proteins with intracellular membranes is essential for their signalling functions and is frequently deregulated in disease processes such as cancer. As a result, protein prenylation has been pharmacologically targeted by numerous drug discovery programs, albeit with limited success. To a large extent, this can be attributed to an insufficient understanding of the interplay of different protein prenyltransferases and the combinatorial diversity of the prenylatable sequence space. Here, we report a high-throughput, growth-based genetic selection assay in Saccharomy-ces cerevisiae based on the Ras Recruitment System which, for the first time, has allowed us to create a comprehensive map of prenylatable protein sequences in S. cerevisiae. We demonstrate that potential prenylatable space is sparsely (6.2%) occupied leaving room for creation of synthetic orthogonal prenylatable sequences. To experimentally demonstrate that, we used the developed platform to engineer mutant farnesyltransferases that efficiently prenylate substrate motives that are not recognised by endogenous protein prenyltrans-ferases. These uncoupled mutants can now be used as starting points for the systematic engineering of the eukaryotic protein prenylation machinery.
    PLoS ONE 03/2015; 10(3). DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0120716 · 3.53 Impact Factor
  • Viktor Stein, Kirill Alexandrov
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    ABSTRACT: Protein switches are ubiquitous in biological signal transduction systems, enabling cells to sense and respond to a variety of molecular queues in a rapid, specific, and integrated fashion. Analogously, tailor-engineered protein switches with custom input and output functions have become invaluable research tools for reporting on distinct physiological states and actuating molecular functions in real time and in situ. Here, we analyze recent progress in constructing protein-based switches while assessing their potential in the assembly of defined signaling motifs. We anticipate such systems will ultimately pave the way towards a new generation of molecular diagnostics and facilitate the construction of artificial signaling systems that operate in parallel to the signaling machinery of a host cell for applications in synthetic biology. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Trends in Biotechnology 12/2014; 33(2). DOI:10.1016/j.tibtech.2014.11.010 · 10.04 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Although numerous techniques for protein expression and production are available the pace of genome sequencing outstrips our ability to analyse the encoded proteins. To address this bottleneck, we have established a system for parallelized cloning, DNA production and cell-free expression of large numbers of proteins. This system is based on a suite of pCellFree Gateway destination vectors that utilize a Species Independent Translation Initiation Sequence (SITS) that mediates recombinant protein expression in any in vitro translation system. These vectors introduce C or N terminal EGFP and mCherry fluorescent and affinity tags, enabling direct analysis and purification of the expressed proteins. To maximise throughput and minimise the cost of protein production we combined Gateway cloning with Rolling Circle DNA Amplification. We demonstrate that as little as 0.1 ng of plasmid DNA is sufficient for template amplification and production of recombinant human protein in L. tarentolae and E. coli cell-free expression systems. Our experiments indicate that this approach can be applied to large gene libraries as it can be reliably performed in multi-well plates. The resulting protein expression pipeline provides a valuable new tool for applications of the post genomic era. Copyright © 2014. Published by Elsevier B.V.
    Journal of Biotechnology 12/2014; 195. DOI:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2014.12.006 · 2.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Caveolae are cell-surface membrane invaginations that play critical roles in cellular processes including signaling and membrane homeostasis. The cavin proteins, in cooperation with caveolins, are essential for caveola formation. Here we show that a minimal N-terminal domain of the cavins, termed HR1, is required and sufficient for their homo- and hetero-oligomerization. Crystal structures of the mouse cavin1 and zebrafish cavin4a HR1 domains reveal highly conserved trimeric coiled-coil architectures, with intersubunit interactions that determine the specificity of cavin-cavin interactions. The HR1 domain contains a basic surface patch that interacts with polyphosphoinositides and coordinates with additional membrane-binding sites within the cavin C terminus to facilitate membrane association and remodeling. Electron microscopy of purified cavins reveals the existence of large assemblies, composed of a repeating rod-like structural element, and we propose that these structures polymerize through membrane-coupled interactions to form the unique striations observed on the surface of caveolae in vivo. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
  • Viktor Stein, Kirill Alexandrov
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    ABSTRACT: The bottom-up design of protein-based signaling networks is a key goal of synthetic biology; yet, it remains elusive due to our inability to tailor-make signal transducers and receptors that can be readily compiled into defined signaling networks. Here, we report a generic approach for the construction of protein-based molecular switches based on artficially autoinhibited proteases. Using structure-guided design and directed protein evolution, we created signal transducers based on artificially autoinhibited proteases that can be activated following site-specific proteolysis and also demonstrate the modular design of an allosterically regulated protease receptor following recombination with an affinity clamp peptide receptor. Notably, the receptor's mode of action can be varied from >5-fold switch-OFF to >30-fold switch-ON solely by changing the length of the connecting linkers, demonstrating a high functional plasticity not previously observed in naturally occurring receptor systems. We also create an integrated signaling circuit based on two orthogonal autoinhibited protease units that can propagate and amplify molecular queues generated by the protease receptor. Finally, we present a generic two-component receptor architecture based on proximity-based activation of two autoinhibited proteases. Overall, the approach allows the design of protease-based signaling networks that, in principle, can be connected to any biological process.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10/2014; 111(45). DOI:10.1073/pnas.1405220111 · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Munc18-1 is a critical component of the core machinery controlling neuroexocytosis. Recently, mutations in Munc18-1 leading to the development of early infantile epileptic encephalopathy have been discovered. However, which degradative pathway controls Munc18-1 levels and how it impacts on neuroexocytosis in this pathology is unknown. Using neurosecretory cells deficient in Munc18, we show that a disease-linked mutation, C180Y, renders the protein unstable at 37°C. Although the mutated protein retains its function as t-SNARE chaperone, neuroexocytosis is impaired, a defect that can be rescued at a lower permissive temperature. We reveal that Munc18-1 undergoes K48-linked polyubiquitination, which is highly increased by the mutation, leading to proteasomal, but not lysosomal, degradation. Our data demonstrate that functional Munc18-1 levels are controlled through polyubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. The C180Y disease-causing mutation greatly potentiates this degradative pathway, rendering Munc18-1 unable to facilitate neuroexocytosis, a phenotype that is reversed at a permissive temperature.
    Cell Reports 10/2014; 9(1). DOI:10.1016/j.celrep.2014.08.059 · 7.21 Impact Factor
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    Zakir Tnimov, Daniel Abankwa, Kirill Alexandrov
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    ABSTRACT: Protein prenylation is a post-translational modification where farnesyl or geranylgeranyl groups are enzymatically attached to a C-terminal cysteine residue. This modification is essential for the activity of small cellular GTPases, as it allows them to associate with intracellular membranes. Dissociated from membranes, prenylated proteins need to be transported through the aqueous cytoplasm by protein carriers that shield the hydrophobic anchor from the solvent. One such carrier is Rho GDP dissociation inhibitor (RhoGDI). Recently, it was shown that prenylated Rho proteins that are not associated with RhoGDI are subjected to proteolysis in the cell. We hypothesized that the role of RhoGDI might be not only to associate with prenylated proteins but also to regulate prenylation process in the cell. This idea is supported by the fact that RhoGDI binds both unprenylated and prenylated Rho proteins with high affinity in vitro, and hence, these interactions may affect the kinetics of prenylation. We addressed this question experimentally and found that RhoGDI increased the catalytic efficiency of geranylgeranyl transferase-I in RhoA prenylation. Nevertheless, we did not observe formation of a ternary RhoGDI∗RhoA∗GGTase-I complex, indicating sequential operation of geranylgeranyltransferase-I and RhoGDI. Our results suggest that RhoGDI accelerates Rho prenylation by kinetically trapping the reaction product, thereby increasing the rate of product release.
    Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 09/2014; 452(4). DOI:10.1016/j.bbrc.2014.09.024 · 2.28 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Protein dimerisation and oligomerisation is commonly used by nature to increase the structural and functional complexity of proteins. Regulated protein assembly is essential to information transfer in signalling, transcriptional and membrane trafficking events. Here we show that a combination of cell-free protein expression, a proximity based interaction assay (AlphaScreen), and single-molecule fluorescence allows rapid mapping of homo and hetero oligomerisation of proteins. We have applied this approach to the family of BAR domain-containing sorting nexin (SNX-BAR) proteins, which are essential regulators of membrane trafficking and remodeling in all eukaryotes. Dimerisation of BAR domains is essential for creating a concave structure capable of sensing and inducing membrane curvature. We have systematically mapped 144 pairwise interactions between the human SNX-BAR proteins and generated an interaction matrix of preferred dimerisation partners for each family member. We find that while nine SNX-BAR proteins are able to form homodimers, all members including the retromer-associated SNX1, SNX2 and SNX5 can form selective heterodimers, while SNX2, SNX4, SNX6 and SNX8 are promiscuous binders of other SNX-BAR proteins. Remarkably, we also observed that the BAR domain lacking SNX3 interacts with SNX8 indicating a different interaction mode. We conclude that the presented combination of methods enables rapid reconstitution and analysis of protein-protein interaction networks in vitro.
    Molecular &amp Cellular Proteomics 05/2014; 13(9). DOI:10.1074/mcp.M113.037275 · 7.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Signaling from JAK (Janus kinase) protein kinases to STAT (signal transducers and activators of transcription) transcription factors is key to many aspects of biology and medicine, yet the mechanism by which cytokine receptors initiate signaling is enigmatic. We present a complete mechanistic model for activation of receptor-bound JAK2, based on an archetypal cytokine receptor, the growth hormone receptor. For this, we used fluorescence resonance energy transfer to monitor positioning of the JAK2 binding motif in the receptor dimer, substitution of the receptor extracellular domains with Jun zippers to control the position of its transmembrane (TM) helices, atomistic modeling of TM helix movements, and docking of the crystal structures of the JAK2 kinase and its inhibitory pseudokinase domain with an opposing kinase-pseudokinase domain pair. Activation of the receptor dimer induced a separation of its JAK2 binding motifs, driven by a ligand-induced transition from a parallel TM helix pair to a left-handed crossover arrangement. This separation leads to removal of the pseudokinase domain from the kinase domain of the partner JAK2 and pairing of the two kinase domains, facilitating trans-activation. This model may well generalize to other class I cytokine receptors.
    Science 05/2014; 344(6185):1249783. DOI:10.1126/science.1249783 · 31.48 Impact Factor
  • Experimental Biology Meeting; 04/2014
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    ABSTRACT: CCadherin junctions arise from the integrated action of cell adhesion, signaling and the cytoskeleton. At the zonula adherens (ZA)1, a WAVE2-Arp2/3 actin nucleation apparatus is necessary for junctional tension and integrity. But how this is coordinated with cadherin adhesion is not known. We now identify cortactin as a key scaffold for actin regulation at the ZA, that localizes to the ZA through influences from both E-cadherin and N-WASP. Using cell-free protein expression and fluorescent single molecule coincidence assays we demonstrate that cortactin binds directly to the cadherin cytoplasmic tail. However, its concentration with cadherin at the apical ZA also requires N-WASP. Cortactin is known to bind Arp2/3 directly (1). We further show that cortactin can directly bind WAVE2, as well as Arp2/3, and both these interactions are necessary for actin assembly at the ZA. We propose that cortactin serves as a platform that integrates regulators of junctional actin assembly at the ZA.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 01/2014; 289(11). DOI:10.1074/jbc.M113.544478 · 4.60 Impact Factor
  • Wayne A Johnston, Kirill Alexandrov
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    ABSTRACT: In this chapter, we describe the production and application of a eukaryotic cell-free expression system based on Leishmania tarentolae. This single-celled flagellate allows straightforward and inexpensive cultivation in flasks or bioreactors. Unlike many other Leishmania species, it is nonpathogenic to humans and does not require special laboratory precautions. An additional reason it is a convenient source organism for cell-free lysate production is that all endogenous protein expression can be suppressed by a single antisense oligonucleotide targeting splice leader sequence on the 5'-end of all protein coding RNAs. We describe simple procedures for cell disruption and lysate processing starting from bioreactor culture. We also describe introduction of genetic information via vectors containing species-independent translation initiation sites (SITS). We consider that such an inexpensive eukaryotic cell-free production system has many advantages when expressing multi-subunit proteins or difficult to express proteins.
    Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) 01/2014; 1118:1-15. DOI:10.1007/978-1-62703-782-2_1 · 1.29 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Protein prenylation is a widespread post-translational modification in eukaryotes that plays a crucial role in membrane targeting and signal transduction. RabGTPases is the largest group of post-translationally C-terminally geranylgeranylated. All Rabs are processed by Rab geranylgeranyl-transferase and Rab escort protein (REP). Human genetic defects resulting in the loss one of two REP isoforms REP-1, lead to underprenylation of RabGTPases that manifests in retinal degradation and blindness known as choroideremia. In this study we used a combination of microinjections and chemo-enzymatic tagging to establish whether Rab GTPases are prenylated and delivered to their target cellular membranes with the same rate. We demonstrate that although all tested Rab GTPases display the same rate of membrane delivery, the extent of Rab prenylation in 5 hour time window vary by more than an order of magnitude. We found that Rab27a, Rab27b, Rab38 and Rab42 display the slowest prenylation in vivo and in the cell. Our work points to possible contribution of Rab38 to the emergence of choroideremia in addition to Rab27a and Rab27b.
    PLoS ONE 12/2013; 8(12):e81758. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0081758 · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Biochemical and structural analysis of macromolecular protein assemblies remains challenging due to technical difficulties in recombinant expression, engineering and reconstitution of multisubunit complexes. Here we use a recently developed cell-free protein expression system based on the protozoan Leishmania tarentolae to produce in vitro all six subunits of the 600 kDa HOPS and CORVET membrane tethering complexes. We demonstrate that both subcomplexes and the entire HOPS complex can be reconstituted in vitro resulting in a comprehensive subunit interaction map. To our knowledge this is the largest eukaryotic protein complex in vitro reconstituted to date. Using the truncation and interaction analysis, we demonstrate that the complex is assembled through short hydrophobic sequences located in the C-terminus of the individual Vps subunits. Based on this data we propose a model of the HOPS and CORVET complex assembly that reconciles the available biochemical and structural data.
    PLoS ONE 12/2013; 8(12):e81534. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0081534 · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Protein-protein interactions are highly desirable targets in drug discovery, yet only a fraction of drugs act as binding inhibitors. Here, we review the different technologies used to find and validate protein-protein interactions. We then discuss how the novel combination of cell-free protein expression, AlphaScreen and single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy can be used to rapidly map protein interaction networks, determine the architecture of protein complexes, and find new targets for drug discovery.
    Interface focus: a theme supplement of Journal of the Royal Society interface 10/2013; 3(5):20130018. DOI:10.1098/rsfs.2013.0018 · 3.12 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Hundreds of eukaryotic signaling proteins require myristoylation to functionally associate with intracellular membranes. N-myristoyl transferases (NMT) responsible for this modification are established drug targets in cancer and infectious diseases. Here we describe NANOMS (NANOclustering and Myristoylation Sensors), biosensors that exploit the FRET resulting from plasma membrane nanoclustering of myristoylated membrane targeting sequences of Gαi2, Yes- or Src-kinases fused to fluorescent proteins. When expressed in mammalian cells, NANOMS report on loss of membrane anchorage due to chemical or genetic inhibition of myristoylation e.g. by blocking NMT and methionine-aminopeptidase (Met-AP). We used Yes-NANOMS to assess inhibitors of NMT and a cherry-picked compound library of putative Met-AP inhibitors. Thus we successfully confirmed the activity of DDD85646 and fumagillin in our cellular assay. The developed assay is unique in its ability to identify modulators of signaling protein nanoclustering, and is amenable to high throughput screening for chemical or genetic inhibitors of functional membrane anchorage of myristoylated proteins in mammalian cells.
    PLoS ONE 06/2013; 8(6):e66425. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0066425 · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: eLife digest If you could look closely enough at the surface of some animal cells, especially fat or muscle cells, you would see that they are covered with pocket-like indents called ‘caveolae’. These structures are thought to help the cells communicate with the outside world, but they can also be used by viruses to gain entry into living cells. Examining these caveolae even closer would reveal that these pockets contain proteins called caveolins that bind to each other—and also to cholesterol and fatty acids—to form a scaffold that help to maintain the shape of the caveolae from inside the cell. Each caveolae in a mammalian cell typically contains over 100 caveolin proteins. Caveolar coat proteins, or cavins for short, are also important building blocks for caveolae: however, we know relatively little about the interactions between caveolins and cavins. Now, Gambin et al. have used powerful new single-molecule techniques to study these interactions. These experiments looked at the three main types of cavin proteins that associate with caveolae, and by tracking individual protein molecules they showed that cavin1 can interact with either cavin2 or cavin3, but that cavin2 and cavin3 do not interact with each other. Furthermore, cavin2 and cavin3 exist in separate stripes on a caveolae. Gambin et al. also stretched the cell membrane by forcing cells to take in extra water, and showed that this caused the cavin coat to peel away from the caveolae and break down into distinct cavin1-cavin2 and cavin1-cavin3 building blocks. Faulty versions of caveolins and cavins have both been associated with several diseases in humans, including heart disease and muscle disorders. As such, an improved understanding of the formation and break down of caveolae may prove useful for developing treatments for these conditions. DOI:
    eLife Sciences 01/2013; 3:e01434. DOI:10.7554/eLife.01434 · 8.52 Impact Factor
  • Biophysical Journal 01/2013; 104(2):96a. DOI:10.1016/j.bpj.2012.11.569 · 3.83 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

3k Citations
757.74 Total Impact Points


  • 2008–2015
    • University of Queensland
      • • Institute for Molecular Bioscience
      • • Division of Molecular Cell Biology
      Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  • 1998–2012
    • Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology
      • Department of Physical Biochemistry
      Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • 2010
    • Gracie Square Hospital, New York, NY
      New York City, New York, United States
  • 2007
    • Ruhr-Universität Bochum
      • Institut für Physiologische Chemie
      Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • 2001–2006
    • Russian Academy of Sciences
      • • Department of Cell molecular biology
      • • Institute of Protein Research
      Moskva, Moscow, Russia
  • 2005
    • Technische Universität Dortmund
      • Faculty of Chemistry
      Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  • 1993–1995
    • European Molecular Biology Laboratory
      • Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit (Heidelberg)
      Heidelburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • 1994
    • University of Cambridge
      Cambridge, England, United Kingdom