Short CV/Education and training

  • 1994 – 1997
    B.A. (Hons) Natural Sciences. Part II Zoology, Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, UK

  • 1997 – 2002
    PhD Biochemistry with Prof. Julian Downward and Prof. Gerard Evan, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, UK

Selected publications

  • Inesta-Vaquera F, Galloway A, Chandler L, Rojas-Fernandez A, Chaugule VK, Weidlich S, Peggie M and Cowling VH (2018) DHX15 regulates CMTR1-dependent gene expression and cell proliferation bioRxiv 113209; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/113209 (and accepted in Life Science Alliance)

  • Varshney D, Lombardi O, Schweikert G, Dunn S, Suska O and Cowling VH (2018) mRNA cap methyltransferase (RNMT-RAM) is required for RNA pol II-dependent transcription Cell Rep. 2018 May 1;23(5):1530-1542. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.04.004 PMID: 29719263

  • Jantsch M, Quattrone A, O'Connell M,…. Cowling V…..Fray R (2018) Positioning Europe for the EPITRANSCRIPTOMICS challenge RNA Biol. 2018 Apr 19:1-8. doi: 10.1080/15476286.2018.1460996. PMID: 29671387

    c-Myc deregulation induces mRNA capping enzyme dependency (2016) Lombardi O, Varshney D, Phillips NM and Cowling VH (2016) Oncotarget 2016 2016 DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.12701

  • Molecular basis of RNA guanine-7 methyltransferase (RNMT) activation by RAM (2016) Varshney D, Petit A, Juan Bueren-Calabuig J, Jansen C, Peggie M, Piskialov A and Cowling VH Nucleic Acids Research 2016 Jul 15. pii: gkw637. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:27422871

  • Grasso L, Suska O, Davidson L, Gonatopoulos-Pournatzis T, Williamson R, Wasmus L, Wiedlich S, Peggie M, Stavridis MP and Cowling VH (2016) mRNA cap methylation in pluripotency and differentiation Cell Reports 2016 Aug 2;16(5):1352-65. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.06.089. Epub 2016 Jul 21. PMID:27452456

  • Aregger M, Kaskar A, Fernandez-Sanchez ME, Simone Weidlich S and Cowling VH (2016) CDK1-cyclinB activates RNMT co-ordinating mRNA cap methylation with G1 phase transcription Molecular Cell 2016 Mar 3;61(5):734-46. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2016.02.008

  • Preston GC, Sinclair LV, Kaskar A, Hukelmann JL, Navarro MN, Ferrero I, MacDonald HR, Cowling VH and Cantrell DA (2015) Single Cell Tuning of Myc Expression by Antigen Receptor Signal Strength and Interleukin 2 in T Lymphocytes EMBO J. 2015 Jul 1. pii: e20149025

  • Gonatopoulos-Pournatzis T, Dunn S, Bounds R, and Cowling VH (2011) RAM/Fam103a1 is required for mRNA cap methylation Molecular Cell 2011 Nov18;44(4):585-596

  • Fernandez-Sanchez ME, Gonatopoulos-Pournatzis T, Preston G, Lawlor MA, and Cowling VH (2009) S-Adenosyl Homocysteine Hydrolase (SAHH) is required for Myc-induced mRNA cap methylation, protein synthesis and cell proliferation Mol Cell Biol 2009, Dec;29(23):6182-91. Epub 2009 Oct 5.


Selected projects

  • Investigating the regulation and function of the mRNA cap

  • We investigate the regulation and function of the mRNA cap, and use this information to develop new therapies targeted at inhibiting tumour cell and parasite growth and proliferation.

  • Human cells contain about 25000 protein-encoding genes. We are only beginning to understand how the cell co-ordinately controls expression of these genes. Our focus is on a modification of mRNA called the mRNA cap. The mRNA cap structure protects transcripts from degradation and recruits factors which mediate processing events. We have found that different signals which the cell encounters (developmental, immunological, oncogenic) can alter the rate and extent to which the mRNA cap forms, either across the transcriptome or on specific transcripts. Thus the mRNA cap is an integrator of cellular signalling information, which directs reshaping of the cellular proteome in response to external and internal signals.

  • The mRNA cap describes a collection of structures which form on the 5’ end of RNA pol II transcripts. Capping enzymes catalyse modification of the first few nucleotides to form the cap. Most of these enzymes are recruited to phosphorylated RNA pol II at the early stages of transcription, thus capping the transcript as it is being synthesised. One cap structure and the enzymes involved in its synthesis are shown below. Our research involves investigating how these capping enzymes function biochemically and how they influence gene expression. We look at how cellular signalling pathways influence the expression or activity of these enzymes to change the genes which are expressed.

  • How does the cell regulate formation of the mRNA cap?

  • We strive to understand the function of mRNA cap regulation in mammals, in health and disease. The mRNA cap is an important but poorly understood structure which recruits the enzymes and co-factors involved in RNA processing and translation initiation. We have recently discovered mechanisms by which mRNA cap formation is regulated by oncogenes, signalling pathways and developmental pathways, resulting in changes in transcription and translation, which impact on cellular fate and function. The enzymes which catalyse mRNA cap synthesis are emerging as integrators of cellular signals which govern cell physiology. Our challenge now is to understand how the regulation of the mRNA cap impacts on specific mechanisms of gene expression and cell function.

  • Currently we are investigating how mRNA cap formation is regulated during embryonic stem cell differentiation, in T cells and in response to oncogenes.

  • mRNA cap regulation in T cells: We are using mouse models to investigate how the mRNA capping enzymes are regulated following T cell activation. We investigate how T cell activation is dependent on the different cap methyltransferases. We use the latest gene expression analyses technologies to investigate the impact of the mRNA cap on gene expression. We use immunological techniques to investigate the impact of the cap on T cell activation and function. Project funded by an ERC grant.

  • mRNA cap regulation in embryonic stem cells: We investigate how the mRNA cap is regulated during different differentiation pathways. We investigate the impact of mRNA cap regulation on pluripotency and differentiation. We use the latest transcriptomic and proteomic analyses to understand the mechanisms by which the capping enzymes impact on cell function. Project funded by MRC Senior Fellowship and Lister Fellowship

  • Considering mRNA capping enzymes as therapeutic targets?

  • We are currently asking whether cancer cells with deregulated gene expression pathways are more sensitive to inhibition of mRNA capping than healthy cells. We have found that particular oncogenes sensitise breast cancer cell lines to inhibition of RNMT. This suggests use of RNMT inhibitors may be most successful therapeutically at treating cancers with these oncogenic mutations.

  • We are working with the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit to screen for inhibitors of the mRNA capping enzymes. Small molecule inhibitors will be used to explore the use of targeting mRNA capping in cancers and immune disorders.

Membership in scientific bodies/juries

  • 2019 – Review Panel for Volkswagen Foundation

  • 2018 – Institute Review Panel for Foundation for Polish Science International Research Agenda

  • 2017 – Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance : Dundee University Scientific Advisor

  • 2017 – Institute Review Panel for Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) (Excelencia Maria de Maeztu/Severo Ochoa)

  • 2017 – Institute Review Panel for Cancer Science Institute of Singapore RNA Biology Center

Additional qualifications

  • Post-doctoral research with Prof. Michael Cole, 2003 – 2007

  • Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Dartmouth College, NH, USA

  • Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, NJ, USA


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