Christopher Loewen


Research Interests

Membranes and Organelles
Lipid Signalling
Lipid Traffic
Membrane Contact Sites
Genetic Networks
Systems Biology
Super Resolution Microscopy
Cell polarity
Endoplasmic Reticulum
Membrane Diffusion Barriers
Cell Biology
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Cancer Cell Metabolism

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters



Master's students
Doctoral students
Any time / year round

We currently have projects in the areas of genetic networks, cell signalling, membrane contact sites, cell polarity, cancer metabolism and autism. We use multiple model systems to study these topics including budding yeast for genetic network analysis, model human cell lines for cell signalling and microscopy, and knockout mouse genetic models for in vivo functional analysis.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
The TMEM16 tethering protein Ist2 directly interacts with the ORP lipid transporters Osh6 and Osh7 to maintain aminophospholipid metabolism (2020)

No abstract available.

Regulation of lipin phosphorylation and lipid homeostasis by glycogen synthase kinase 3 (2019)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Endoplasmic reticulum membrane contact sites: Roles in phospholipid synthesis and cell polarity (2014)

Membrane contact sites between the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and other organelles are present in all eukaryotic cells. Their roles in calcium signaling and transport between the ER and the plasma membrane (PM) or the ER and mitochondria are quite well understood, but the molecular mechanisms underlying their roles in lipid synthesis and transport remains unknown. In order to identify the importance of organelle-ER contact sites, I used Saccharomyces cerevisiae - a model organism that has proven to be a particularly informative for studying lipid-related cellular processes. Previously, we found a role for an ER anchor protein, Scs2, being important for PM-ER contact sites. Further, SCS2 interacts genetically with ICE2, an ER gene with unknown function. In Chapter 2, I investigated a role for PM–ER contact sites in regulating phosphatidylcholine (PC) synthesis and I found that Δscs2Δice2 cells are choline auxotrophs and PM–ER contacts are required for PC synthesis. Osh2 and Osh3, the oxysterol-binding protein homologues in yeast, rescued the choline auxotrophy phenotype of Δscs2Δice2 cells but did not restore pmaER, indicating that they may function with Opi3 in PC synthesis. In search for regulators of pmaER, we identified the phosphatidic acid phosphohydrolase Pah1 that seems to be involved in establishing pmaER, independent of its enzymatic activity. Finally, we proposed that PE to PC synthesis by Opi3 happens “in trans” at PM-ER contacts. In Chapter 3, I aimed to discover novel genes involved in PE synthesis/traffic from ER to mitochondria. By doing a genome-wide screen for CHO2, we identified genetic interactions between CHO2 and Emc proteins indicating that Emc proteins are important for PE metabolism and we proposed that Emc facilitates PS transfer from the ER to mitochondria for PE synthesis. In Chapter 4, I investigated for roles of SCS2 in polarized growth. I found a physiologically important function of the ER diffusion barrier, which is to restrict diffusion of the spindle from mother to bud until M phase. Scs2 interacts directly with the spindle capture protein Num1 and it prevents Num1 from diffusing from the mother into the bud during S and G2 phases.

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Lipids as pH biosensors (2014)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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The endoplasmic reticulum diffusion barrier and inter-organelle contact sites (2013)

Polarization of cellular membranes into domains is an important mechanism tocompartmentalize cellular activities within the membrane and establish cell polarity.Recent studies have uncovered that the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is polarized bydiffusion barriers, which in neurons controls glutamate signaling in dendritic spines, butthe molecular identity of these diffusion barriers is unknown. In Chapter 2 we show thata direct interaction between integral ER protein Scs2 and septin Shs1 creates the ERdiffusion barrier in yeast. We uncovered a new ER-associated polarisome subunit,Epo1, which is required for the tethering of ER to septins. The human homologue ofScs2, VAP-B, also interacts with Shs1 in yeast indicating that the tether may beconserved. As mutations in VAP-B cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, loss of ERpolarization in dendritic spines is a potential mechanism underlying motorneurondisease.Synthesis of phospholipids, sterols and sphingolipids is thought to occur atcontact sites between the ER and other organelles because many lipid synthesizingenzymes are enriched at contact sites. In only a few cases have the enzymes beenlocalized to contacts in vivo and in no instances have the contacts been demonstratedto be required for enzyme function. In Chapter 3 we show that plasma membrane (PM) -endoplasmic reticulum (ER) contact sites in yeast are required for phosphatidylcholinesynthesis and regulate the activity of a key enzyme, Opi3, whose activity requires a lipidbinding protein, Osh3. Thus, membrane contact sites provide a structural mechanism toregulate lipid synthesis.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
PI4P pH-biosensing regulates Osh1-mediated lipid counter-transport (2018)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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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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