FEBS Letters rewards team for outstanding paper of 2021

04 Mar 2021

CRM Associate Director and Group Leader Professor Ian Chambers and Dr Nicholas Mullin have been awarded the FEBS Letters Award 2022 for their outstanding paper 'Phosphorylation of NANOG by casein kinase I regulates embryonic stem cell renewal'.

The award-winning article was selected by a special committee, formed by appointed members of the FEBS Letters Editorial Board, plus one external member. The Award Committee was chaired by Michael Brunner, Editor in Chief of FEBS Letters.

Model of phosphorylated NANOG homeodomain in complex with DNA
Model of phosphorylated NANOG homeodomain in complex with DNA. Phosphorylated S131 is highlighted in pink and orange.

In the paper, the authors report a new mechanism by which NANOG regulates embryonic stem cell self-renewal in mice. NANOG is a transcriptional regulator, which means it binds DNA and switches on and off genes that are important in stem cell self-renewal. Self-renewal, a defining feature of stem cells, is when stem cells divide to make more stem cells to expand the population. 

Mullin and colleagues found that the enzyme casein kinase I phosphorylates NANOG and that this enhances self-renewal. 

The discovery was made by molecular mapping sites of casein kinase I phosphorylation on NANOG and focussing on novel phosphorylation sites in the DNA binding domain of NANOG.  The team mimicked phosphorylation by genetically engineering a negatively charged amino acid at the phosphorylation site and this mutant NANOG protein enhanced embryonic stem cell self-renewal. 

Nanog is named after Tir nan Og the legendary “Land of the Ever-Young”. Prof Chambers and colleagues chose the name as the gene effectively makes stem cells immortal.  

These novel findings indicate how phosphorylation may influence interactions with the NANOG DNA binding domain that underpin embryonic stem cell self-renewal. 

For our work to be recognized by FEBS letters is a great accolade and we are delighted to receive the award.

Dr Nick Mullin

Prof Ian Chambers who led the team said,

This was a fun collaborative effort. It will be exciting to find out what partner proteins bind to phosphorylated NANOG to mediate enhanced self-renewal.

Professor Ian Chambers

FEBS Letters is a not-for-profit society journal for the rapid publication of research reports that “significantly impact and advance knowledge in the molecular life sciences”.

Professor Chambers will present a plenary lecture about this work at the 46th FEBS Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, 9-14 July 2022, where he will officially accept the prize on behalf of himself and Dr Mullin.

Phosphorylation of NANOG by casein kinase I regulates embryonic stem cell renewal Nicholas P. Mullin, Job

Photos of Professor Ian Chambers and Dr Nick Mullin
Professor Ian Chambers and Dr Nick Mullin

y Varghese, Douglas Colby, Julia M. Richardson, Greg M. Findlay, Ian Chambers (2021), FEBS Lett, 595: 14-25.