Christopher Maxwell

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Hereditary Cancer
Cell division
Cell migration
Differentiation
Cell polarity

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
 
 

Recruitment

Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round
I support experiential learning experiences, such as internships and work placements, for my graduate students and Postdocs.
I am open to hosting Visiting International Research Students (non-degree, up to 12 months).

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
The non-motor protein RHAMM locates TPX2 to coordinate spindle assembly and balance motor forces needed to segregate chromosomes and complete cell division (2017)

Cell division requires the assembly and organization of a microtubule-based mitotic spindle. Microtubule assembly at multiple sites is dependent on Aurora kinase A activity, which is promoted through a complex with TPX2 (targeting protein for XKlp2). Subsequent organization of these microtubules and progression into anaphase requires balance between forces orchestrated by antagonistic motor complexes. My studies show that the non-motor protein RHAMM (receptor for hyaluronan mediated motility) integrates structural and biochemical pathways to ensure the fidelity of cell division. Silencing RHAMM in HeLa cells delayed the kinetics of spindle assembly. I located RHAMM to centrosomes and non-centrosome sites for microtubule nucleation and found it necessary for TPX2 localization and Aurora A activity at kinetochores. The RHAMM-TPX2 complex requires a conserved leucine zipper motif in RHAMM and a domain that includes the nuclear localization signal in TPX2. These findings indicate RHAMM is needed for spatially-regulated activation of Aurora A by TPX2, which coordinates spindle assembly. I monitored mouse embryonic fibroblasts deficient for RHAMM through division and identified defects progressing through the spindle checkpoint. In RHAMM-silenced HeLa cells, I identified sustained activation of the checkpoint with unfocused spindles and unattached kinetochores, implicating unbalanced motor activities mediated by kinesins. In metaphase-delayed cells, the abundance or location of checkpoint proteins was not altered. Moreover, aberrant spindle orientation could not account for each delayed division. In RHAMM-silenced cells, I found that the reciprocal immunoprecipitation of Eg5-TPX2, an inhibitory complex, was reduced and that the concurrent inhibition of Eg5-generated force recovered division kinetics. I also observed a prolonged metaphase delay in a proportion of RHAMM-silenced cells, which resolved through cohesion fatigue. Together, my findings indicate that RHAMM-mediated attenuation of Eg5-dependent outward forces is needed to align chromosomes and progress through division. Lastly, I identified defects in spindle structure and function in redundant models for RHAMM over-expression. Collectively, my studies demonstrate that RHAMM coordinates Aurora A signaling and balances motor forces that are needed for cell division. These findings provide novel insights into processes that are essential for mammalian cell division and the maintenance of genome stability.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Modification of rhamm and TPX2 optimizes Aurora Kinase A (aurica) inhibition in malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (2013)

Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (MPNST) are rare, hereditary cancers associated with neurofibromatosis type I. MPNSTs lack effective treatments as they often resist chemotherapies and have high rates of disease recurrence. Published analysis of copy number variation identified hemizygous loss of Hyaluronan Mediated Motility Receptor (HMMR, encodes RHAMM) in half of the examined high-grade MPNST, but not in benign neurofibromas or low grade tumours. RHAMM is a molecular brake for the mitotic kinase Aurora A (AURKA), so this loss of HMMR in high-grade MPNST may cause tumours to rely on AURKA activity and sensitizes them to aurora kinase inhibitors (AKI).Three MPNST cell-lines were profiled for the expression and activity of AURKA, as well as their responses to three AKI. The sensitivity of cell-lines with amplification of AURKA was reliant upon kinase activity, which correlated with the expression of the regulatory gene products TPX2 and RHAMM. Silencing of RHAMM, but not TPX2, increased AURKA activity and sensitized MPNST cells to AKI. All three AKIs reduced kinase activity in a dose-dependent manner, and AKI treatment induced cellular responses such as apoptosis, endoreduplication and cellular senescence. Additionally, two primary human MPNSTs grown in vivo as xenotransplants were treated with the AURKA-specific inhibitor MLN8237. Treatment resulted in tumour cells exiting the cell cycle and undergoing endoreduplication, which cumulated in stabilized disease. The MPNST cell-line S462 has a population of tumorigenic stem-like cells that can be grown in sphere culture. AURKA activity was critical to the propagation and self-renewal of sphere-enriched MPNST stem-like cells. AKI treatment significantly reduced the formation of spheroids, attenuated the self-renewal of spheroid forming cells, and promoted their differentiation. Silencing of TPX2 decreased AURKA activity, while silencing of RHAMM was sufficient to endow MPNST cells with an ability to form and maintain sphere culture. Collectively, our data indicate that AURKA is a rationale therapeutic target for MPNST, and tumour cell responses to AKI, which include differentiation, are modulated by the abundance of RHAMM and TPX2.

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Publications

Prospective Student Info Sessions

Faculty of Medicine Information Session

Date: Tuesday, 08 December 2020
Time: 11:00 to 12:00
UBC’s Faculty of Medicine is a global leader in both the science and the practice of medicine, and is home to more than 1,700 graduate students across over 20 graduate programs. In this session hosted by Dr Michael Hunt, Associate Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, we’ll provide an overview of the diverse array of graduate programs available, including cutting-edge research experiences in the biosciences, globally recognized population health education, quality health professional training, as well as certificate and online training options. Dr Hunt will also be joined by program advisors from across the faculty to take an inside look at the application process and provide some application tips to help make your application as strong as possible.
 
 

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