Systems-level role of GSK3 in colonic epithelium homeostasis and drug resistance

Investigator: Steven Altschuler, PhD
Sponsor: NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Location(s): United States


A central question of our proposal is how a multitude of environmental cues is integrated by complex and diverse pathways to produce stereotypical cellular decisions required for maintaining tissue homeostasis. We investigate this question in the context of GSK-3, a quintessential signaling hub required for intestinal tissue homeostasis, which receives and deciphers multiple upstream microenvironmental signals and selectively affects multiple downstream cellular processes. We will also identify drug classes whose effects depend on GSK-3 activities.

Self-renewing intestinal epithelium requires layers of precise control for homeostasis. Amazingly, intestinal epithelium completely renews itself every five days, with multiple cell types maintained at just the right ratios throughout an individual's entire life. However, our understanding of how epithelium maintains such robust organization is far from complete. Lack of this exquisite homeostatic control is the basis for a variety of diseases, including Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and gastrointestinal cancers. GSK-3 is a quintessential signaling hub in intestinal tissue homeostasis: it receives and deciphers multiple upstream microenvironmental signals, selectively affects multiple downstream cellular processes, and alters cellular response to drugs. Despite GSK-3's presence in many cellular processes, its function remains unclear and understudied. We lack a systematic understanding of when and where GSK-3 affects the cascade of signals from the microenvironment through molecular networks to cellular decisions in the context of complex epithelial tissues. Here, we propose to study the role of GSK-3 as a hub for signal transduction and maintenance of tissue homeostasis as well as identify drug classes whose effects depend on GSK-3 activities in physiologically relevant conditions. To accomplish this, we have developed: innovative organotypic models of gut epithelium that are ideal for image-based perturbation assays; live-cell reporters of GSK-3 activity; and quantitative, single-cell approaches for deciphering GSK-3's role in transforming microenvironmental signals to homeostatic decisions. Together, we propose to: (Aim 1) identify GSK-3 interaction networks that regulate gut homeostasis; (Aim 2) understand GSK-3's role in signal insulation and crosstalk; and (Aim 3) elucidate how GSK-3 activity affects drug response.