Richard Wheeler

Research Area: Cell and Molecular Biology
Technology Exchange: Bioinformatics, Computational biology, Mass spectrometry, Microscopy (Confocal), Microscopy (EM), Microscopy (Video), Protein interaction and Transgenesis
Scientific Themes: Immunology & Infectious Disease and Physiology, Cellular & Molecular Biology

The Wheeler Lab is primarily researching how the highly motile single cell eukaryotic parasites which cause leishmaniasis (Leishmania species) and sleeping sickness (African trypanosomes) control their swimming and how this contributes to progression through their life cycles.

Research in this group exploits high content automated analysis of large data sets from light and electron microscopy, supported by mathematical modelling, to analyse how flagellum structure and cell shape contribute to cell swimming behaviours, how the cell generates these precisely defined structures and why parasites adapt their swimming to the different host and vector environments they encounter through their life cycles.

Much of this work also speaks to general questions regarding cell motility and flagellum function, including how defects in flagella cause human genetic disease - ciliopathies.

Supporting this work, Richard Wheeler co-manages the data set a project which has determined the sub-cellular localisation of every trypanosome protein. Protein localisation within the highly structured trypanosome cells is informative for function and is a major new cell biology and parasitology resource while also supporting research in his group.

There are no collaborations listed for this principal investigator.

Wang Z, Wheeler RJ, Sunter JD. 2019. Lysosome assembly and disassembly changes endocytosis rate through the Leishmania cell cycle. Microbiologyopen, pp. e969. | Show Abstract | Read more

The Leishmania lysosome has an atypical structure, consisting of an elongated vesicle-filled tubule running along the anterior-posterior axis of the cell, which is termed the multivesicular tubule (MVT) lysosome. Alongside, the MVT lysosome is one or more microtubules, the lysosomal microtubule(s). Previous work indicated there were cell cycle-related changes in MVT lysosome organization; however, these only provided snapshots and did not connect the changes in the lysosomal microtubule(s) or lysosomal function. Using mNeonGreen tagged cysteine peptidase A and SPEF1 as markers of the MVT lysosome and lysosomal microtubule(s), we examined the dynamics of these structures through the cell cycle. Both the MVT lysosome and lysosomal microtubule(s) elongated at the beginning of the cell cycle before plateauing and then disassembling in late G2 before cytokinesis. Moreover, the endocytic rate in cells where the MVT lysosome and lysosomal microtubule(s) had disassembled was extremely low. The dynamic nature of the MVT lysosome and lysosomal microtubule(s) parallels that of the Trypanosoma cruzi cytostome/cytopharynx, which also has a similar membrane tubule structure with associated microtubules. As the cytostome/cytopharynx is an ancestral feature of the kinetoplastids, this suggests that the Leishmania MVT lysosome and lysosomal microtubule(s) are a reduced cytostome/cytopharynx-like feature.

Wheeler RJ, Gull K, Sunter JD. 2019. Coordination of the Cell Cycle in Trypanosomes. Annu Rev Microbiol, 73 pp. 133-154. | Show Abstract | Read more

Trypanosomes have complex life cycles within which there are both proliferative and differentiation cell divisions. The coordination of the cell cycle to achieve these different divisions is critical for the parasite to infect both host and vector. From studying the regulation of the proliferative cell cycle of the Trypanosoma brucei procyclic life cycle stage, three subcycles emerge that control the duplication and segregation of (a) the nucleus, (b) the kinetoplast, and (c) a set of cytoskeletal structures. We discuss how the clear dependency relationships within these subcycles, and the potential for cross talk between them, are likely required for overall cell cycle coordination. Finally, we look at the implications this interdependence has for proliferative and differentiation divisions through the T. brucei life cycle and in related parasitic trypanosomatid species.

Wheeler RJ, Lee HO, Poser I, Pal A, Doeleman T, Kishigami S, Kour S, Anderson EN, Marrone L, Murthy AC et al. Small molecules for modulating protein driven liquid-liquid phase separation in treating neurodegenerative disease | Show Abstract | Read more

<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title><jats:p>Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease with few avenues for treatment. Many proteins implicated in ALS associate with stress granules, which are examples of liquid-like compartments formed by phase separation. Aberrant phase transition of stress granules has been implicated in disease, suggesting that modulation of phase transitions could be a possible therapeutic route. Here, we combine cell-based and protein-based screens to show that lipoamide, and its related compound lipoic acid, reduce the propensity of stress granule proteins to aggregate <jats:italic>in vitro</jats:italic>. More significantly, they also prevented aggregation of proteins over the life time of <jats:italic>Caenorhabditis elegans</jats:italic>. Observations that they prevent dieback of ALS patient-derived (FUS mutant) motor neuron axons in culture and recover motor defects in <jats:italic>Drosophila melanogaster</jats:italic> expressing FUS mutants suggest plausibility as effective therapeutics. Our results suggest that altering phase behaviour of stress granule proteins in the cytoplasm could be a novel route to treat ALS.</jats:p>

Walker BJ, Wheeler RJ. 2019. High-speed multifocal plane fluorescence microscopy for three-dimensional visualisation of beating flagella. J Cell Sci, 132 (16), pp. jcs231795-jcs231795. | Show Abstract | Read more

Analysis of flagellum and cilium beating in three dimensions (3D) is important for understanding cell motility, and using fluorescence microscopy to do so would be extremely powerful. Here, high-speed multifocal plane fluorescence microscopy, where the light path is split to visualise multiple focal planes simultaneously, was used to reconstruct Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana movement in 3D. These species are uniflagellate unicellular parasites for which motility is vital. It was possible to use either a fluorescent stain or a genetically-encoded fluorescent protein to visualise flagellum and cell movement at 200 Hz frame rates. This addressed two open questions regarding Trypanosoma and Leishmania flagellum beating, which contributes to their swimming behaviours: 1) how planar is the L. mexicana flagellum beat, and 2) what is the nature of flagellum beating during T. brucei 'tumbling'? We showed that L. mexicana has notable deviations from a planar flagellum beat, and that during tumbling the T. brucei flagellum bends the cell and beats only in the distal portion to achieve cell reorientation. This demonstrates high-speed multifocal plane fluorescence microscopy as a powerful tool for the analysis of beating flagella.

Abeywickrema M, Vachova H, Farr H, Mohr T, Wheeler RJ, Lai D-H, Vaughan S, Gull K, Sunter JD, Varga V. 2019. Non-equivalence in old- and new-flagellum daughter cells of a proliferative division in Trypanosoma brucei. Mol Microbiol, 112 (3), pp. 1024-1040. | Show Abstract | Read more

Differentiation of Trypanosoma brucei, a flagellated protozoan parasite, between life cycle stages typically occurs through an asymmetric cell division process, producing two morphologically distinct daughter cells. Conversely, proliferative cell divisions produce two daughter cells, which look similar but are not identical. To examine in detail differences between the daughter cells of a proliferative division of procyclic T. brucei we used the recently identified constituents of the flagella connector. These segregate asymmetrically during cytokinesis allowing the new-flagellum and the old-flagellum daughters to be distinguished. We discovered that there are distinct morphological differences between the two daughters, with the new-flagellum daughter in particular re-modelling rapidly and extensively in early G1. This re-modelling process involves an increase in cell body, flagellum and flagellum attachment zone length and is accompanied by architectural changes to the anterior cell end. The old-flagellum daughter undergoes a different G1 re-modelling, however, despite this there was no difference in G1 duration of their respective cell cycles. This work demonstrates that the two daughters of a proliferative division of T. brucei are non-equivalent and enables more refined morphological analysis of mutant phenotypes. We suggest all proliferative divisions in T. brucei and related organisms will involve non-equivalence.

Beneke T, Demay F, Hookway E, Ashman N, Jeffery H, Smith J, Valli J, Becvar T, Myskova J, Lestinova T et al. 2019. Genetic dissection of a Leishmania flagellar proteome demonstrates requirement for directional motility in sand fly infections. PLoS Pathog, 15 (6), pp. e1007828. | Show Abstract | Read more

The protozoan parasite Leishmania possesses a single flagellum, which is remodelled during the parasite's life cycle from a long motile flagellum in promastigote forms in the sand fly to a short immotile flagellum in amastigotes residing in mammalian phagocytes. This study examined the protein composition and in vivo function of the promastigote flagellum. Protein mass spectrometry and label free protein enrichment testing of isolated flagella and deflagellated cell bodies defined a flagellar proteome for L. mexicana promastigote forms (available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD011057). This information was used to generate a CRISPR-Cas9 knockout library of 100 mutants to screen for flagellar defects. This first large-scale knockout screen in a Leishmania sp. identified 56 mutants with altered swimming speed (52 reduced and 4 increased) and defined distinct mutant categories (faster swimmers, slower swimmers, slow uncoordinated swimmers and paralysed cells, including aflagellate promastigotes and cells with curled flagella and disruptions of the paraflagellar rod). Each mutant was tagged with a unique 17-nt barcode, providing a simple barcode sequencing (bar-seq) method for measuring the relative fitness of L. mexicana mutants in vivo. In mixed infections of the permissive sand fly vector Lutzomyia longipalpis, paralysed promastigotes and uncoordinated swimmers were severely diminished in the fly after defecation of the bloodmeal. Subsequent examination of flies infected with a single paralysed mutant lacking the central pair protein PF16 or an uncoordinated swimmer lacking the axonemal protein MBO2 showed that these promastigotes did not reach anterior regions of the fly alimentary tract. These data show that L. mexicana need directional motility for successful colonisation of sand flies.

Walker BJ, Ishimoto K, Wheeler RJ. 2019. Automated identification of flagella from videomicroscopy via the medial axis transform. Sci Rep, 9 (1), pp. 5015. | Show Abstract | Read more

Ubiquitous in eukaryotic organisms, the flagellum is a well-studied organelle that is well-known to be responsible for motility in a variety of organisms. Commonly necessitated in their study is the capability to image and subsequently track the movement of one or more flagella using videomicroscopy, requiring digital isolation and location of the flagellum within a sequence of frames. Such a process in general currently requires some researcher input, providing some manual estimate or reliance on an experiment-specific heuristic to correctly identify and track the motion of a flagellum. Here we present a fully-automated method of flagellum identification from videomicroscopy based on the fact that the flagella are of approximately constant width when viewed by microscopy. We demonstrate the effectiveness of the algorithm by application to captured videomicroscopy of Leishmania mexicana, a parasitic monoflagellate of the family Trypanosomatidae. ImageJ Macros for flagellar identification are provided, and high accuracy and remarkable throughput are achieved via this unsupervised method, obtaining results comparable in quality to previous studies of closely-related species but achieved without the need for precursory measurements or the development of a specialised heuristic, enabling in general the automated generation of digitised kinematic descriptions of flagellar beating from videomicroscopy.

Karunanithy G, Wheeler RJ, Tear LR, Farrer NJ, Faulkner S, Baldwin AJ. 2019. INDIANA: An in-cell diffusion method to characterize the size, abundance and permeability of cells. J Magn Reson, 302 pp. 1-13. | Show Abstract | Read more

NMR and MRI diffusion experiments contain information describing the shape, size, abundance, and membrane permeability of cells although extracting this information can be challenging. Here we present the INDIANA (IN-cell DIffusion ANAlysis) method to simultaneously and non-invasively measure cell abundance, effective radius, permeability and intrinsic relaxation rates and diffusion coefficients within the inter- and intra-cellular populations. The method couples an experimental dataset comprising stimulated-echo diffusion measurements, varying both the gradient strength and the diffusion delay, together with software to fit a model based on the Kärger equations to robustly extract the relevant parameters. A detailed error analysis is presented by comparing the results from fitting simulated data from Monte Carlo simulations, establishing its effectiveness. We note that for parameters typical of mammalian cells the approach is particularly effective, and the shape of the underlying cells does not unduly affect the results. Finally, we demonstrate the performance of the experiment on systems of suspended yeast and mammalian cells. The extracted parameters describing cell abundance, size, permeability and relaxation are independently validated.

Walker BJ, Ishimoto K, Wheeler RJ, Gaffney EA. 2018. Response of monoflagellate pullers to a shearing flow: A simulation study of microswimmer guidance. Phys Rev E, 98 (6), pp. 063111. | Show Abstract | Read more

Microscale swimming may be intuited to be dominated by background flows, sweeping away any untethered bodies with the prevalent flow direction. However, it has been observed that many microswimmers utilize ambient flows as guidance cues, in some cases resulting in net motion upstream, contrary to the dominant background fluid direction and our accompanying intuition. Thus the hydrodynamic response of small-scale motile organisms requires careful analysis of the complex interaction between swimmer and environment. Here we investigate the effects of a Newtonian shear flow on monoflagellated swimmers with specified body symmetry, representing, for instance, the Leishmania mexicana promastigote, a parasitic hydrodynamic puller that inhabits the microenvironment of a sandfly vector midgut and is the cause of a major and neglected human tropical disease. We observe that a lack of symmetry-breaking cellular geometry results in the periodic tumbling of swimmers in the bulk, with the rotations exhibiting a linear response to changes in shearing rate enabling analytic approximation. In order to draw comparisons with the better-studied pushers, we additionally consider virtual Leishmania promastigotes in a confined but typical geometry, that of a no-slip planar solid boundary, and note that in general stable guided taxis is not exhibited amongst the range of observed behaviors. However, a repulsive boundary gives rise to significant continued taxis in the presence of shearing flow, a phenomenon that may be of particular pertinence to the infective lifecycle stage of such swimmers subject to the assumption of a Newtonian medium. We finally propose a viable and general in vitro method of controlling microswimmer boundary accumulation using temporally evolving background shear flows, based on the analysis of phase-averaged dynamics and verified in silico.

Halliday C, Billington K, Wang Z, Madden R, Dean S, Sunter JD, Wheeler RJ. 2019. Cellular landmarks of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana. Mol Biochem Parasitol, 230 pp. 24-36. | Show Abstract | Read more

The kinetoplastids Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana are eukaryotes with a highly structured cellular organisation that is reproduced with great fidelity in each generation. The pattern of signal from a fluorescently tagged protein can define the specific structure/organelle that this protein localises to, and can be extremely informative in phenotype analysis in experimental perturbations, life cycle tracking, post-genomic assays and functional analysis of organelles. Using the vast coverage of protein subcellular localisations provided by the TrypTag project, an ongoing project to determine the localisation of every protein encoded in the T. brucei genome, we have generated an inventory of reliable reference organelle markers for both parasites that combines epifluorescence images with a detailed description of the key features of each localisation. We believe this will be a useful comparative resource that will enable researchers to quickly and accurately pinpoint the localisation of their proteins of interest and will provide cellular markers for many types of cell biology studies. We see this as another important step in the post-genomic era analyses of these parasites, in which ever expanding datasets generate numerous candidates to analyse. Adoption of these reference proteins by the community is likely to enhance research studies and enable better comparison of data.

Walker BJ, Wheeler RJ, Ishimoto K, Gaffney EA. 2019. Boundary behaviours of Leishmania mexicana: A hydrodynamic simulation study. J Theor Biol, 462 pp. 311-320. | Show Abstract | Read more

It is well established that the parasites of the genus Leishmania exhibit complex surface interactions with the sandfly vector midgut epithelium, but no prior study has considered the details of their hydrodynamics. Here, the boundary behaviours of motile Leishmania mexicana promastigotes are explored in a computational study using the boundary element method, with a model flagellar beating pattern that has been identified from digital videomicroscopy. In particular a simple flagellar kinematics is observed and quantified using image processing and mode identification techniques, suggesting a simple mechanical driver for the Leishmania beat. Phase plane analysis and long-time simulation of a range of Leishmania swimming scenarios demonstrate an absence of stable boundary motility for an idealised model promastigote, with behaviours ranging from boundary capture to deflection into the bulk both with and without surface forces between the swimmer and the boundary. Indeed, the inclusion of a short-range repulsive surface force results in the deflection of all surface-bound promastigotes, suggesting that the documented surface detachment of infective metacyclic promastigotes may be the result of their particular morphology and simple hydrodynamics. Further, simulation elucidates a remarkable morphology-dependent hydrodynamic mechanism of boundary approach, hypothesised to be the cause of the well-established phenomenon of tip-first epithelial attachment of Leishmania promastigotes to the sandfly vector midgut.

Lukeš J, Wheeler R, Jirsová D, David V, Archibald JM. 2018. Massive mitochondrial DNA content in diplonemid and kinetoplastid protists. IUBMB Life, 70 (12), pp. 1267-1274. | Show Abstract | Read more

The mitochondrial DNA of diplonemid and kinetoplastid protists is known for its suite of bizarre features, including the presence of concatenated circular molecules, extensive trans-splicing and various forms of RNA editing. Here we report on the existence of another remarkable characteristic: hyper-inflated DNA content. We estimated the total amount of mitochondrial DNA in four kinetoplastid species (Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanoplasma borreli, Cryptobia helicis, and Perkinsela sp.) and the diplonemid Diplonema papillatum. Staining with 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole and RedDot1 followed by color deconvolution and quantification revealed massive inflation in the total amount of DNA in their organelles. This was further confirmed by electron microscopy. The most extreme case is the ∼260 Mbp of DNA in the mitochondrion of Diplonema, which greatly exceeds that in its nucleus; this is, to our knowledge, the largest amount of DNA described in any organelle. Perkinsela sp. has a total mitochondrial DNA content ~6.6× greater than its nuclear genome. This mass of DNA occupies most of the volume of the Perkinsela cell, despite the fact that it contains only six protein-coding genes. Why so much DNA? We propose that these bloated mitochondrial DNAs accumulated by a ratchet-like process. Despite their excessive nature, the synthesis and maintenance of these mtDNAs must incur a relatively low cost, considering that diplonemids are one of the most ubiquitous and speciose protist groups in the ocean. © 2018 IUBMB Life, 70(12):1267-1274, 2018.

Edwards BFL, Wheeler RJ, Barker AR, Moreira-Leite FF, Gull K, Sunter JD. 2018. Direction of flagellum beat propagation is controlled by proximal/distal outer dynein arm asymmetry. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 115 (31), pp. E7341-E7350. | Show Abstract | Read more

The 9 + 2 axoneme structure of the motile flagellum/cilium is an iconic, apparently symmetrical cellular structure. Recently, asymmetries along the length of motile flagella have been identified in a number of organisms, typically in the inner and outer dynein arms. Flagellum-beat waveforms are adapted for different functions. They may start either near the flagellar tip or near its base and may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. We hypothesized that proximal/distal asymmetry in the molecular composition of the axoneme may control the site of waveform initiation and the direction of waveform propagation. The unicellular eukaryotic pathogens Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana often switch between tip-to-base and base-to-tip waveforms, making them ideal for analysis of this phenomenon. We show here that the proximal and distal portions of the flagellum contain distinct outer dynein arm docking-complex heterodimers. This proximal/distal asymmetry is produced and maintained through growth by a concentration gradient of the proximal docking complex, generated by intraflagellar transport. Furthermore, this asymmetry is involved in regulating whether a tip-to-base or base-to-tip beat occurs, which is linked to a calcium-dependent switch. Our data show that the mechanism for generating proximal/distal flagellar asymmetry can control waveform initiation and propagation direction.

Wheeler RJ, Hyman AA. 2018. Controlling compartmentalization by non-membrane-bound organelles. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 373 (1747), pp. 20170193-20170193. | Show Abstract | Read more

Compartmentalization is a characterizing feature of complexity in cells, used to organize their biochemistry. Membrane-bound organelles are most widely known, but non-membrane-bound liquid organelles also exist. These have recently been shown to form by phase separation of specific types of proteins known as scaffolds. This forms two phases: a condensate that is enriched in scaffold protein separated by a phase boundary from the cytoplasm or nucleoplasm with a low concentration of the scaffold protein. Phase separation is well known for synthetic polymers, but also appears important in cells. Here, we review the properties of proteins important for forming these non-membrane-bound organelles, focusing on the energetically favourable interactions that drive condensation. On this basis we make qualitative predictions about how cells may control compartmentalization by condensates; the partition of specific molecules to a condensate; the control of condensation and dissolution of condensates; and the regulation of condensate nucleation. There are emerging data supporting many of these predictions, although future results may prove incorrect. It appears that many molecules may have the ability to modulate condensate formation, making condensates a potential target for future therapeutics. The emerging properties of condensates are fundamentally unlike the properties of membrane-bound organelles. They have the capacity to rapidly integrate cellular events and act as a new class of sensors for internal and external environments.This article is part of the theme issue 'Self-organization in cell biology'.

Crozier TWM, Tinti M, Wheeler RJ, Ly T, Ferguson MAJ, Lamond AI. 2018. Proteomic Analysis of the Cell Cycle of Procylic Form Trypanosoma brucei. Mol Cell Proteomics, 17 (6), pp. 1184-1195. | Show Abstract | Read more

We describe a single-step centrifugal elutriation method to produce synchronous Gap1 (G1)-phase procyclic trypanosomes at a scale amenable for proteomic analysis of the cell cycle. Using ten-plex tandem mass tag (TMT) labeling and mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics technology, the expression levels of 5325 proteins were quantified across the cell cycle in this parasite. Of these, 384 proteins were classified as cell-cycle regulated and subdivided into nine clusters with distinct temporal regulation. These groups included many known cell cycle regulators in trypanosomes, which validates the approach. In addition, we identify 40 novel cell cycle regulated proteins that are essential for trypanosome survival and thus represent potential future drug targets for the prevention of trypanosomiasis. Through cross-comparison to the TrypTag endogenous tagging microscopy database, we were able to validate the cell-cycle regulated patterns of expression for many of the proteins of unknown function detected in our proteomic analysis. A convenient interface to access and interrogate these data is also presented, providing a useful resource for the scientific community. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD008741 (

Skalický T, Dobáková E, Wheeler RJ, Tesařová M, Flegontov P, Jirsová D, Votýpka J, Yurchenko V, Ayala FJ, Lukeš J. 2017. Extensive flagellar remodeling during the complex life cycle of Paratrypanosoma, an early-branching trypanosomatid. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 114 (44), pp. 11757-11762. | Show Abstract | Read more

Paratrypanosoma confusum is a monoxenous kinetoplastid flagellate that constitutes the most basal branch of the highly diverse parasitic trypanosomatids, which include human pathogens Trypanosoma and Leishmania This makes Paratrypanosoma uniquely informative for the evolution of obligatory parasitism from free-living lifestyle and the evolution of human parasitism in some trypanosomatid lineages. It has typical promastigote morphology but also forms surface-attached haptomonads and amastigotes. Haptomonads form by attachment to a surface via a large bulge at the base of the flagellum, which is then remodeled into a thin attachment pad associated with flagellum shortening. Promastigotes and haptomonads multiply by binary division, and the progeny of a haptomonad can either remain attached or grow a flagellum and resume swimming. Whole genome sequencing and transcriptome profiling, in combination with analysis of the cell ultrastructure, reveal how the cell surface and metabolism are adapted to parasitism and how characteristic cytoskeletal features are conserved. Our data demonstrate that surface attachment by the flagellum and the flagellar pocket, a Leishmania-like flagellum attachment zone, and a Trypanosoma cruzi-like cytostome are ancestral features, while evolution of extant trypanosomatids, including the human parasites, is associated with genome streamlining and diversification of membrane proteins.

Dean S, Sunter JD, Wheeler RJ. 2017. A Trypanosome Genome-wide Protein Localisation Resource. Trends Parasitol, 33 (2), pp. 80-82. | Read more

Wheeler RJ. 2017. Use of chiral cell shape to ensure highly directional swimming in trypanosomes. PLoS Comput Biol, 13 (1), pp. e1005353. | Show Abstract | Read more

Swimming cells typically move along a helical path or undergo longitudinal rotation as they swim, arising from chiral asymmetry in hydrodynamic drag or propulsion bending the swimming path into a helix. Helical paths are beneficial for some forms of chemotaxis, but why asymmetric shape is so prevalent when a symmetric shape would also allow highly directional swimming is unclear. Here, I analyse the swimming of the insect life cycle stages of two human parasites; Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana. This showed quantitatively how chirality in T. brucei cell shape confers highly directional swimming. High speed videomicrographs showed that T. brucei, L. mexicana and a T. brucei RNAi morphology mutant have a range of shape asymmetries, from wild-type T. brucei (highly chiral) to L. mexicana (near-axial symmetry). The chiral cells underwent longitudinal rotation while swimming, with more rapid longitudinal rotation correlating with swimming path directionality. Simulation indicated hydrodynamic drag on the chiral cell shape caused rotation, and the predicted geometry of the resulting swimming path matched the directionality of the observed swimming paths. This simulation of swimming path geometry showed that highly chiral cell shape is a robust mechanism through which microscale swimmers can achieve highly directional swimming at low Reynolds number. It is insensitive to random variation in shape or propulsion (biological noise). Highly symmetric cell shape can give highly directional swimming but is at risk of giving futile circular swimming paths in the presence of biological noise. This suggests the chiral T. brucei cell shape (associated with the lateral attachment of the flagellum) may be an adaptation associated with the bloodstream-inhabiting lifestyle of this parasite for robust highly directional swimming. It also provides a plausible general explanation for why swimming cells tend to have strong asymmetries in cell shape or propulsion.

Cheung JLY, Wand NV, Ooi C-P, Ridewood S, Wheeler RJ, Rudenko G. 2016. Blocking Synthesis of the Variant Surface Glycoprotein Coat in Trypanosoma brucei Leads to an Increase in Macrophage Phagocytosis Due to Reduced Clearance of Surface Coat Antibodies. PLoS Pathog, 12 (11), pp. e1006023. | Show Abstract | Read more

The extracellular bloodstream form parasite Trypanosoma brucei is supremely adapted to escape the host innate and adaptive immune system. Evasion is mediated through an antigenically variable Variant Surface Glycoprotein (VSG) coat, which is recycled at extraordinarily high rates. Blocking VSG synthesis triggers a precytokinesis arrest where stalled cells persist for days in vitro with superficially intact VSG coats, but are rapidly cleared within hours in mice. We therefore investigated the role of VSG synthesis in trypanosome phagocytosis by activated mouse macrophages. T. brucei normally effectively evades macrophages, and induction of VSG RNAi resulted in little change in phagocytosis of the arrested cells. Halting VSG synthesis resulted in stalled cells which swam directionally rather than tumbling, with a significant increase in swim velocity. This is possibly a consequence of increased rigidity of the cells due to a restricted surface coat in the absence of VSG synthesis. However if VSG RNAi was induced in the presence of anti-VSG221 antibodies, phagocytosis increased significantly. Blocking VSG synthesis resulted in reduced clearance of anti-VSG antibodies from the trypanosome surface, possibly as a consequence of the changed motility. This was particularly marked in cells in the G2/ M cell cycle stage, where the half-life of anti-VSG antibody increased from 39.3 ± 4.2 seconds to 99.2 ± 15.9 seconds after induction of VSG RNAi. The rates of internalisation of bulk surface VSG, or endocytic markers like transferrin, tomato lectin or dextran were not significantly affected by the VSG synthesis block. Efficient elimination of anti-VSG-antibody complexes from the trypanosome cell surface is therefore essential for trypanosome evasion of macrophages. These experiments highlight the essentiality of high rates of VSG recycling for the rapid removal of host opsonins from the parasite surface, and identify this process as a key parasite virulence factor during a chronic infection.

Ishmukhametov RR, Russell AN, Wheeler RJ, Nord AL, Berry RM. 2016. A Simple low-cost device enables four epi-illumination techniques on standard light microscopes. Sci Rep, 6 (1), pp. 20729. | Show Abstract | Read more

Back-scattering darkfield (BSDF), epi-fluorescence (EF), interference reflection contrast (IRC), and darkfield surface reflection (DFSR) are advanced but expensive light microscopy techniques with limited availability. Here we show a simple optical design that combines these four techniques in a simple low-cost miniature epi-illuminator, which inserts into the differential interference-contrast (DIC) slider bay of a commercial microscope, without further additions required. We demonstrate with this device: 1) BSDF-based detection of Malarial parasites inside unstained human erythrocytes; 2) EF imaging with and without dichroic components, including detection of DAPI-stained Leishmania parasite without using excitation or emission filters; 3) RIC of black lipid membranes and other thin films, and 4) DFSR of patterned opaque and transparent surfaces. We believe that our design can expand the functionality of commercial bright field microscopes, provide easy field detection of parasites and be of interest to many users of light microscopy.

Wheeler RJ, Sunter JD, Gull K. 2016. Flagellar pocket restructuring through the Leishmania life cycle involves a discrete flagellum attachment zone. J Cell Sci, 129 (4), pp. 854-867. | Show Abstract | Read more

Leishmania promastigote parasites have a flagellum, which protrudes from the flagellar pocket at the cell anterior, yet, surprisingly, have homologs of many flagellum attachment zone (FAZ) proteins--proteins used in the related Trypanosoma species to laterally attach the flagellum to the cell body from the flagellar pocket to the cell posterior. Here, we use seven Leishmania mexicana cell lines that expressed eYFP fusions of FAZ protein homologs to show that the Leishmania flagellar pocket includes a FAZ structure. Electron tomography revealed a precisely defined 3D organisation for both the flagellar pocket and FAZ, with striking similarities to those of Trypanosoma brucei. Expression of two T. brucei FAZ proteins in L. mexicana showed that T. brucei FAZ proteins can assemble into the Leishmania FAZ structure. Leishmania therefore have a previously unrecognised FAZ structure, which we show undergoes major structural reorganisation in the transition from the promastigote (sandfly vector) to amastigote (in mammalian macrophages). Morphogenesis of the Leishmania flagellar pocket, a structure important for pathogenicity, is therefore intimately associated with a FAZ; a finding with implications for understanding shape changes involving component modules during evolution.

Wheeler RJ, Gluenz E, Gull K. 2015. Basal body multipotency and axonemal remodelling are two pathways to a 9+0 flagellum. Nat Commun, 6 (1), pp. 8964. | Show Abstract | Read more

Eukaryotic cilia/flagella exhibit two characteristic ultrastructures reflecting two main functions; a 9+2 axoneme for motility and a 9+0 axoneme for sensation and signalling. Whether, and if so how, they interconvert is unclear. Here we analyse flagellum length, structure and molecular composition changes in the unicellular eukaryotic parasite Leishmania during the transformation of a life cycle stage with a 9+2 axoneme (the promastigote) to one with a 9+0 axoneme (the amastigote). We show 9+0 axonemes can be generated by two pathways: by de novo formation and by restructuring of existing 9+2 axonemes associated with decreased intraflagellar transport. Furthermore, pro-basal bodies formed under conditions conducive for 9+2 axoneme formation can form a 9+0 axoneme de novo. We conclude that pro-centrioles/pro-basal bodies are multipotent and not committed to form either a 9+2 or 9+0 axoneme. In an alternative pathway structures can also be removed from existing 9+2 axonemes to convert them to 9+0.

Wheeler RJ. 2015. Analyzing the dynamics of cell cycle processes from fixed samples through ergodic principles. Mol Biol Cell, 26 (22), pp. 3898-3903. | Show Abstract | Read more

Tools to analyze cyclical cellular processes, particularly the cell cycle, are of broad value for cell biology. Cell cycle synchronization and live-cell time-lapse observation are widely used to analyze these processes but are not available for many systems. Simple mathematical methods built on the ergodic principle are a well-established, widely applicable, and powerful alternative analysis approach, although they are less widely used. These methods extract data about the dynamics of a cyclical process from a single time-point "snapshot" of a population of cells progressing through the cycle asynchronously. Here, I demonstrate application of these simple mathematical methods to analysis of basic cyclical processes--cycles including a division event, cell populations undergoing unicellular aging, and cell cycles with multiple fission (schizogony)--as well as recent advances that allow detailed mapping of the cell cycle from continuously changing properties of the cell such as size and DNA content. This includes examples using existing data from mammalian, yeast, and unicellular eukaryotic parasite cell biology. Through the ongoing advances in high-throughput cell analysis by light microscopy, electron microscopy, and flow cytometry, these mathematical methods are becoming ever more important and are a powerful complementary method to traditional synchronization and time-lapse cell cycle analysis methods.

Dean S, Sunter J, Wheeler RJ, Hodkinson I, Gluenz E, Gull K. 2015. A toolkit enabling efficient, scalable and reproducible gene tagging in trypanosomatids. Open Biol, 5 (1), pp. 140197. | Show Abstract | Read more

One of the first steps in understanding a protein's function is to determine its localization; however, the methods for localizing proteins in some systems have not kept pace with the developments in other fields, creating a bottleneck in the analysis of the large datasets that are generated in the post-genomic era. To address this, we developed tools for tagging proteins in trypanosomatids. We made a plasmid that, when coupled with long primer PCR, can be used to produce transgenes at their endogenous loci encoding proteins tagged at either terminus or within the protein coding sequence. This system can also be used to generate deletion mutants to investigate the function of different protein domains. We show that the length of homology required for successful integration precluded long primer PCR tagging in Leishmania mexicana. Hence, we developed plasmids and a fusion PCR approach to create gene tagging amplicons with sufficiently long homologous regions for targeted integration, suitable for use in trypanosomatids with less efficient homologous recombination than Trypanosoma brucei. Importantly, we have automated the primer design, developed universal PCR conditions and optimized the workflow to make this system reliable, efficient and scalable such that whole genome tagging is now an achievable goal.

Gluenz E, Wheeler RJ, Hughes L, Vaughan S. 2015. Scanning and three-dimensional electron microscopy methods for the study of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana flagella. Methods Cell Biol, 127 pp. 509-542. | Show Abstract | Read more

Three-dimensional electron microscopy tools have revolutionized our understanding of cell structure and molecular complexes in biology. Here, we describe methods for studying flagellar ultrastructure and biogenesis in two unicellular parasites-Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania mexicana. We describe methods for the preparation of these parasites for scanning electron microscopy cellular electron tomography, and serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBFSEM). These parasites have a highly ordered cell shape and form, with a defined positioning of internal cytoskeletal structures and organelles. We show how knowledge of these can be used to dissect cell cycles in both parasites and identify the old flagellum from the new in T. brucei. Finally, we demonstrate the use of SBFSEM three-dimensional models for analysis of individual whole cells, demonstrating the excellent potential this technique has for future studies of mutant cell lines.

Wheeler R, Gull K, Gluenz E. 2015. 9+2 to 9+0 axoneme conversion in Leishmania Cilia, 4 (S1), | Read more

Wheeler RJ, Gluenz E, Gull K. 2013. The limits on trypanosomatid morphological diversity. PLoS One, 8 (11), pp. e79581. | Show Abstract | Read more

Cell shape is one, often overlooked, way in which protozoan parasites have adapted to a variety of host and vector environments and directional transmissions between these environments. Consequently, different parasite life cycle stages have characteristic morphologies. Trypanosomatid parasites are an excellent example of this in which large morphological variations between species and life cycle stage occur, despite sharing well-conserved cytoskeletal and membranous structures. Here, using previously published reports in the literature of the morphology of 248 isolates of trypanosomatid species from different hosts, we perform a meta-analysis of the occurrence and limits on morphological diversity of different classes of trypanosomatid morphology (trypomastigote, promastigote, etc.) in the vertebrate bloodstream and invertebrate gut environments. We identified several limits on cell body length, cell body width and flagellum length diversity which can be interpreted as biomechanical limits on the capacity of the cell to attain particular dimensions. These limits differed for morphologies with and without a laterally attached flagellum which we suggest represent two morphological superclasses, the 'juxtaform' and 'liberform' superclasses. Further limits were identified consistent with a selective pressure from the mechanical properties of the vertebrate bloodstream environment; trypanosomatid size showed limits relative to host erythrocyte dimensions. This is the first comprehensive analysis of the limits of morphological diversity in any protozoan parasite, revealing the morphogenetic constraints and extrinsic selection pressures associated with the full diversity of trypanosomatid morphology.

Wheeler RJ, Scheumann N, Wickstead B, Gull K, Vaughan S. 2013. Cytokinesis in Trypanosoma brucei differs between bloodstream and tsetse trypomastigote forms: implications for microtubule-based morphogenesis and mutant analysis. Mol Microbiol, 90 (6), pp. 1339-1355. | Show Abstract | Read more

Trypanosomes use a microtubule-focused mechanism for cell morphogenesis and cytokinesis. We used scanning electron and video microscopy of living cells to provide the first detailed description of cell morphogenesis and cytokinesis in the early-branching eukaryote Trypanosoma brucei. We outline four distinct stages of cytokinesis and show that an asymmetric division fold bisects the two daughter cells, with a cytoplasmic bridge-like structure connecting the two daughters immediately prior to abscission. Using detection of tyrosinated α-tubulin as a marker for new or growing microtubules and expression of XMAP215, a plus end binding protein, as a marker for microtubule plus ends we demonstrate spatial asymmetry in the underlying microtubule cytoskeleton throughout the cell division cycle. This leads to inheritance of different microtubule cytoskeletal patterns and demonstrates the major role of microtubules in achieving cytokinesis. RNA interference techniques have led to a large set of mutants, often with variations in phenotype between procyclic and bloodstream life cycle forms. Here, we show morphogenetic differences between these two life cycle forms of this parasite during new flagellum growth and cytokinesis. These discoveries are important tools to explain differences between bloodstream and procyclic form RNAi phenotypes involving organelle mis-positioning during cell division and cytokinesis defects.

Wheeler RJ, Gull K, Gluenz E. 2012. Detailed interrogation of trypanosome cell biology via differential organelle staining and automated image analysis. BMC Biol, 10 (1), pp. 1. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Many trypanosomatid protozoa are important human or animal pathogens. The well defined morphology and precisely choreographed division of trypanosomatid cells makes morphological analysis a powerful tool for analyzing the effect of mutations, chemical insults and changes between lifecycle stages. High-throughput image analysis of micrographs has the potential to accelerate collection of quantitative morphological data. Trypanosomatid cells have two large DNA-containing organelles, the kinetoplast (mitochondrial DNA) and nucleus, which provide useful markers for morphometric analysis; however they need to be accurately identified and often lie in close proximity. This presents a technical challenge. Accurate identification and quantitation of the DNA content of these organelles is a central requirement of any automated analysis method. RESULTS: We have developed a technique based on double staining of the DNA with a minor groove binding (4'', 6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI)) and a base pair intercalating (propidium iodide (PI) or SYBR green) fluorescent stain and color deconvolution. This allows the identification of kinetoplast and nuclear DNA in the micrograph based on whether the organelle has DNA with a more A-T or G-C rich composition. Following unambiguous identification of the kinetoplasts and nuclei the resulting images are amenable to quantitative automated analysis of kinetoplast and nucleus number and DNA content. On this foundation we have developed a demonstrative analysis tool capable of measuring kinetoplast and nucleus DNA content, size and position and cell body shape, length and width automatically. CONCLUSIONS: Our approach to DNA staining and automated quantitative analysis of trypanosomatid morphology accelerated analysis of trypanosomatid protozoa. We have validated this approach using Leishmania mexicana, Crithidia fasciculata and wild-type and mutant Trypanosoma brucei. Automated analysis of T. brucei morphology was of comparable quality to manual analysis while being faster and less susceptible to experimentalist bias. The complete data set from each cell and all analysis parameters used can be recorded ensuring repeatability and allowing complete data archiving and reanalysis.

Dushek O, Aleksic M, Wheeler RJ, Zhang H, Cordoba S-P, Peng Y-C, Chen J-L, Cerundolo V, Dong T, Coombs D, van der Merwe PA. 2011. Antigen potency and maximal efficacy reveal a mechanism of efficient T cell activation. Sci Signal, 4 (176), pp. ra39. | Show Abstract | Read more

T cell activation, a critical event in adaptive immune responses, depends on productive interactions between T cell receptors (TCRs) and antigens presented as peptide-bound major histocompatibility complexes (pMHCs). Activated T cells lyse infected cells, secrete cytokines, and perform other effector functions with various efficiencies, which depend on the binding parameters of the TCR-pMHC complex. The mechanism through which binding parameters are translated to the efficiency of T cell activation, however, remains controversial. The "affinity model" suggests that the dissociation constant (KD) of the TCR-pMHC complex determines the response, whereas the "productive hit rate model" suggests that the off-rate (koff) is critical. Here, we used mathematical modeling to show that antigen potency, as determined by the EC50 (half-maximal effective concentration), which is used to support KD-based models, could not discriminate between the affinity and the productive hit rate models. Both models predicted a correlation between EC50 and KD, but only the productive hit rate model predicted a correlation between maximal efficacy (Emax), the maximal T cell response induced by pMHC, and koff. We confirmed the predictions made by the productive hit rate model in experiments with cytotoxic T cell clones and a panel of pMHC variants. Thus, we propose that the activity of an antigen is determined by both its potency (EC50) and maximal efficacy (Emax).

Wheeler RJ, Gluenz E, Gull K. 2011. The cell cycle of Leishmania: morphogenetic events and their implications for parasite biology. Mol Microbiol, 79 (3), pp. 647-662. | Show Abstract | Read more

The cell cycle is central to understanding fundamental biology of Leishmania, a group of human-infective protozoan parasites. Leishmania have two main life cycle morphologies: the intracellular amastigote in the mammalian host and the promastigote in the fly. We have produced the first comprehensive and quantitative description of a Leishmania promastigote cell cycle taking a morphometric approach to position any cell within the cell cycle based on its length and DNA content. We describe timings of cell cycle phases and rates of morphological changes; kinetoplast and nucleus S phase, division and position, cell body growth and morphology changes, flagellum growth and basal body duplication. We have shown that Leishmania mexicana undergoes large changes in morphology through the cell cycle and that the wide range of morphologies present in cultures during exponential growth represent different cell cycle stages. We also show promastigote flagellum growth occurs over multiple cell cycles. There are clear implications for the mechanisms of flagellum length regulation, life cycle stage differentiation and trypanosomatid division in general. This data set therefore provides a platform which will be of use for post-genomic analyses of Leishmania cell biology in relation to differentiation and infection.

Wheeler RJ. 2010. The trypanolytic factor-mechanism, impacts and applications. Trends Parasitol, 26 (9), pp. 457-464. | Show Abstract | Read more

The Trypanosoma brucei subspecies T. brucei brucei is non-human infective due to susceptibility to lysis by trypanolytic factor (TLF) in human serum. Reviewed here are the advances which have revealed apolipoprotein L1 (ApoL1), found in high density lipoprotein, as the lysis-inducing component of TLF, the means of uptake via haptoglobin-related protein receptor and the mechanism of resistance in T. b. rhodesiense via its serum resistance-associated (SRA) protein. The first practical steps to application of these discoveries are now in progress; transgenic animals expressing either baboon or minimally truncated human ApoL1 show resistance to both T. b. brucei and T. b. rhodesiense. This has major implications for treatment and prevention of human and animal African trypanosomiasis.

Vaughan S, Kohl L, Ngai I, Wheeler RJ, Gull K. 2008. A repetitive protein essential for the flagellum attachment zone filament structure and function in Trypanosoma brucei. Protist, 159 (1), pp. 127-136. | Show Abstract | Read more

The flagellum is attached along the length of the cell body in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei and is a defining morphological feature of this parasite. The flagellum attachment zone (FAZ) is a complex structure and has been characterised morphologically as comprising a FAZ filament structure and the specialised microtubule quartet (MtQ) plus the specialised areas of flagellum: plasma membrane attachment. Unfortunately, we have no information as to the molecular identity of the FAZ filament components. Here, by screening an expression library with the monoclonal antibody L3B2 which identifies the FAZ filament we identify a novel repeat containing protein FAZ1. It is kinetoplastid-specific and provides the first molecular component of the FAZ filament. Knockdown of FAZ1 by RNA interference (RNAi) results in the assembly of a compromised FAZ and defects in flagellum attachment and cytokinesis in procyclic trypanosomes. The complexity of FAZ structure and assembly is revealed by the use of other monoclonal antibody markers illustrating that FAZ1 is only one protein of a complex structure. The cytokinesis defects provide further evidence for the role of an attached flagellum in cellular morphogenesis in these trypanosomes.

Dissecting chemotaxis in the human parasite Leishmania

Leishmania are unicellular eukaryotic parasites which cause the neglected tropical disease Leishmaniasis. For one half of the life cycle they have a long flagellum and are highly active swimmers. This motility is critical to get from the initial site of infection in the sandfly vector, its gut, to the mouthparts, for transmission. The infective life cycle stage, the metacyclic form found in the sandfly mouthparts, is also highly motile with the longest flagellum of any life cycle stage – but ...

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