Cells in multicellular organisms sense and respond to their environments is integral to the formation of tissues and organs in development, adaptation to changes in nutrient levels and hormone signals, and regeneration of damaged tissues in adults. Lesions in these sensing systems result in disease states such as birth defects, cancer, and degenerative diseases. Thus, understanding the molecular mechanisms behind cell sensing will not only provide a better understanding of biological processes, it will provide insights into the causes of human diseases, and will aid diagnosis, treatment, and cure. My laboratory has been studying one such pathway, the Notch signaling pathway. In Notch signaling, local information from neighboring cells is sensed through a transmembrane receptor encoded by the Notch gene(s), and is transduced into the nucleus to activate the expression of downstream genes, leading to cell differentiation. One unique feature of the Notch pathway is that upon activation, the receptor is converted to a transcription factor through cleavage of the Notch intracellular domain (NICD) from the membrane. Following cleavage, NICD activates transcription by binding a factor called CSL. This interaction involves bivalent contacts between distant regions of NICD and CSL, and is mediated by a ~100 residue RAM linker segment, which though largely disordered, plays a key role in orchestrating displacement of co-repressors, and recruitment of coactivators. NICD activity is also strongly modulated by a number of cytosolic proteins such as Deltex, although the mechanistic details are murky. In this proposal, we use traditional biophysical, structural methods, and solution thermodynamics to characterize these aspects of Notch signaling, but also combine these methods with functional assays for Notch signaling using mammalian cell culture. This second approach is a new direction for my laboratory, but results so far have been rewarding, giving results from biophysical studies a functional context, and focusing cell culture studies on quantitative, sharply focused mechanistic questions. We are also putting greater emphasis on NMR and computational simulations. Specifically, we are determining the structural basis of interaction between the Notch receptor and Deltex, are identifying surface substitutions that disrupt binding, and are determining how disrupting this interaction perturbs ubiqutination, transcriptional activation, receptor endocytosis, and interaction with a putative deubiquitinase. In addition, we are characterizing the RAM region of NICD using NMR, AUC, simulation, and mutagenesis. Finally, we are determining how RAM enhances the conserved bivalent interaction between NICD and CSL, and how this bivalent interaction thermodynamically couples corepressor dissociation with coactivator binding. The system under study here is ideal for understanding how intrinsically disordered regions influence protein structure and function.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research will determine how proteins in the Notch signaling pathway work together to form complex tissues and cells with specialized functions, like those in the immune system, nervous system, and organs. Disrupting this pathway results in diseases such as cancer, leukemia, and birth defects. By better understanding how the Notch pathway works, and what goes wrong when it is disrupted, we can better diagnose and treat these Notch-associated diseases.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BCMB-B (02))
Program Officer
Flicker, Paula F
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Johns Hopkins University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Sherry, Kathryn P; Das, Rahul K; Pappu, Rohit V et al. (2017) Control of transcriptional activity by design of charge patterning in the intrinsically disordered RAM region of the Notch receptor. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 114:E9243-E9252
Sherry, Kathryn P; Johnson, Scott E; Hatem, Christine L et al. (2015) Effects of Linker Length and Transient Secondary Structure Elements in the Intrinsically Disordered Notch RAM Region on Notch Signaling. J Mol Biol 427:3587-3597
Johnson, Scott E; Barrick, Douglas (2012) Dissecting and circumventing the requirement for RAM in CSL-dependent Notch signaling. PLoS One 7:e39093
Allgood, Andrea Gayle; Barrick, Doug (2011) Mapping the Deltex-binding surface on the notch ankyrin domain using analytical ultracentrifugation. J Mol Biol 414:243-59
Johnson, Scott E; Ilagan, M Xenia G; Kopan, Raphael et al. (2010) Thermodynamic analysis of the CSL x Notch interaction: distribution of binding energy of the Notch RAM region to the CSL beta-trefoil domain and the mode of competition with the viral transactivator EBNA2. J Biol Chem 285:6681-92
Barrick, Doug (2009) Biological regulation via ankyrin repeat folding. ACS Chem Biol 4:19-22
Bertagna, Angela; Toptygin, Dima; Brand, Ludwig et al. (2008) The effects of conformational heterogeneity on the binding of the Notch intracellular domain to effector proteins: a case of biologically tuned disorder. Biochem Soc Trans 36:157-66
Lubman, Olga Y; Ilagan, Ma Xenia G; Kopan, Raphael et al. (2007) Quantitative dissection of the Notch:CSL interaction: insights into the Notch-mediated transcriptional switch. J Mol Biol 365:577-89
Bradley, Christina Marchetti; Barrick, Doug (2006) The notch ankyrin domain folds via a discrete, centralized pathway. Structure 14:1303-12
Zweifel, Mark E; Leahy, Daniel J; Barrick, Doug (2005) Structure and Notch receptor binding of the tandem WWE domain of Deltex. Structure (Camb) 13:1599-611

Showing the most recent 10 out of 19 publications