Philpott headshot

Professor Anna Philpott

Proneural transcription factors


Laboratory Location:

Hutchison/MRC Research Centre, Cambridge Biomedical Campus

Departmental Affiliation:

Department of Oncology

Philpott research image

(A) Neurons generated by transcription factor-mediated forward programming. (B) Neurons stained purple in a developing Xenopus frog embryo. (C) Confetti coloured labelling of pancreatic ducts.


We aim to characterise mechanisms that co-ordinate cell cycling with stem cell maintenance and differentiation during development, homeostasis and disease.  In particular, we have uncovered a conserved regulatory mechanism where cdk-dependent phosphorylation of multiple proneural proteins promotes maintenance of progenitor/stem status, while dephosphorylation drives differentiation.

Our future aims are three-fold: we will further characterise the molecular mechanisms that link cell cycling and differentiation: We will use this understanding to develop methods potentiating the directed differentiation of proneural protein-regulated tissues, including neurons and pancreatic islets: We will also investigate perturbation of the balance between stem-ness/progenitor maintenance and differentiation that is a frequent hallmark of multiple cancers, focussing on molecular regulation of proliferation and differentiation in neuroblastoma, glioblastoma and insulinoma, with the aim of developing new therapeutic strategies.

Philpott group

Aoibheann McNally Roberta Azzarelli
Magdalena Sznurkowska John Davies
Fahad Ali Laura Hardwick
Sebastien Gillotin Goran Tomic
Daniel Marcos Corchado  

Plain English

Controlling the balance between division of cells and the process of differentiation, whereby cells stop dividing and adopt their specialised function, is critical both in development and in adult tissues that must maintain and repair themselves. Moreover, in many cancers and in particular cancers of children, this balance is disrupted. We are investigating the role of a class of proteins, the proneural factors, in controlling cell division and differentiation, and how their activity is controlled by chemical modification in response to their cellular environment. We are: - Studying how chemical modification of proneural proteins controls cell division versus differentiation in the nervous system, pancreas and gut. - Investigating how proneural proteins work to turn on different genes to either promote cell division or arrest it, depending on the environment the cells are in. - Developing treatments for the childhood cancer neuroblastoma by changing the chemical modification of proneural proteins using new drugs. In the longer term, our understanding of the control of this crucial class of proteins, the proneurals, will help us to turn stem cells into useful tissues such as nerve and pancreas, as well as aid us in rational development of new therapies for cancers where proneural protein activity has been disrupted.

Key Publications

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