Professor Kathryn Ayscough

School of Biosciences

Professor of Molecular Cell Biology

  • 2021-Present: Professor, Biomedical Science 
  • 2016-2021: Head of Department, Biomedical Science
  • 2012-2016: Professor, Deputy Head of Biomedical Science
  • 2008-2012: Professor and MRC Senior Research Fellow. Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield
  • 2003–2008: MRC Senior Research Fellow. Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of Sheffield
  • 1999–2003: MRC Senior Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Glasgow
  • 1996–1999: Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Dundee
  • 1993-1999: Wellcome International Travelling Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, USA. Supervisor David Drubin
  • 1989–1993: PhD Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now CRUK) and University College London. Supervisor Graham Warren
  • 1985-1989: BA MA(Oxon) Biochemistry, University of Oxford. 1st Class.
Research interests

The main research focus of my lab is to understand the mechanisms governing cell organization and architecture. We are currently addressing how one of the key elements of the cytoskeleton (actin) can initiate filaments formation and how these filaments can then be organized to allow inward bending of the plasma membrane. This invagination process is called endocytosis and allows cells to regulate their cell surface composition in response to environmental signals. We are also aiming to understand how the process of endocytosis is coupled to the invasion and survival properties of the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans.

The role of the actin cytoskeleton in membrane trafficking and cell organization

Cells are the basic unit of life and all organisms are composed of one or more cells. Central to the functioning of many cells, including human cells, is the internal skeleton, or cytoskeleton. This cytoskeleton is required for cells to have certain shapes that are often a necessary part of their functioning. However, unlike our own body skeleton that is static, the cytoskeleton is able to remodel itself to change cell shape, or allow a cell to move.

One of the most important proteins in the cytoskeleton is called actin. It is an amazing protein because it is almost the same now as hundreds of millions of years ago, long before humans, or even vertebrates existed. Staying so similar over time is called evolutionary conservation. Proteins that are very important to cell functioning are the most highly conserved. Actin is a protein that can join together with other actin proteins to form long lines or filaments. These filaments can be organised by other proteins to form large structures that are part of the cytoskeleton.

We are interested in how this protein is controlled in cells and in particular, we are trying to determine how the filaments can be started from single actin proteins in a process called nucleation. We are also aiming to understand how force can be generated by these filaments to help inward bending of the outer membrane of the cell to let parts of the membrane to be pinched off (internalised) This process, called endocytosis allows the surface composition of the cell to be effectively regulated.

Scientific questions we are addressing:

  • How are new actin filaments initiated at cell membranes?
  • How is actin nucleation regulated in cells?
  • What mechanisms ensure that endocytosis is a unidirectional process?
  • How does actin function in membrane scission?
  • What is the importance of endocytosis for virulence of the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans?

Techniques we use:

  • Molecular biology: PCR, cloning, in vitro mutagenesis
  • Biochemistry: protein expression and purification, binding assays including microscale thermophoresis; immunoprecipitation and GST pull down; lipid and liposome binding, actin polymerization assays, negative staining and electron microscopy analysis of actin filaments
  • Genetics: S. cerevisiae and Candida albicans gene deletion and epitope tagging, growth, phenotypic analysis, strain crossing, tetrad dissection
  • Cell Biology and microscopy: dual colour live cell imaging including quantitative analysis and patch tracking using Deltavision microscope; yeast endocytosis assays and vital staining for mitochondria and vacuoles.
  • Electron microscopy, in collaboration with Per Bullough (University of Sheffield); Martin Goldberg, (Durham University)

Show: Featured publications All publications

Journal articles

All publications

Journal articles

Conference proceedings papers

  • Zoladek T, Rzepnikowska W, Flis K, Kaminska J, Grynberg M, Urbanek A & Ayscough K (2017) Amino acid substitution equivalent to human chorea-acanthocytosis I2771R in yeast Vps13 protein affects its binding to phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate. FEBS JOURNAL, Vol. 284 (pp 181-181) RIS download Bibtex download
  • Rzepnikowska W, Kaminska J, Urbanek A, de-Rooij IS, Ayscough K & Zoladek T (2015) The Vps13 protein is involved in endocytic internalization and endosomal trafficking events in yeast. YEAST, Vol. 32 (pp S201-S201) RIS download Bibtex download
  • Reaves B & Ayscough K (2003) Meeting Report from the 55th Harden Conference: Dynamics of Membrane Traffic, 26-29th August 2002. Traffic, Vol. 4(1) (pp 49-54) RIS download Bibtex download
  • HAJIBAGHERI M, BLIGHT KJ, GSCHMEISSNER SE, AYSCOUGH KR & WARREN GR (1994) Applications of freeze substitution, ultrathin frozen sectioning and low temperature embedding for immunogold labelling of fission yeast protein. ELECTRON MICROSCOPY 1994, VOLS 3A AND 3B (pp 285-286) RIS download Bibtex download


Research group

Research theme: Cell Biology.

Post doc: Ellen Allwood

PhD students: Sarah Gratton and Stella Christou

  • BBRSC Project Grant, (2016 –2019) £638,000. Elucidating the molecular mechanism of Arp2/3-independent actin nucleation by WASP family proteins. Principal investigator.
  • BBSRC Infrastructure Award (2013) A Quantitative Biomolecular Interaction Suite. Co-applicant.
  • MRC Imaging Initiative (Sheffield IMAging) (2013) Co-applicant
  • BBSRC Project Grant (2013 – 2016) Elucidating the mechanism of endocytic invagination and scission. Principal investigator
  • BBSRC Project Grant (2012 – 2015) £602,000. Defining factors that ensure unidirectionality of endocytosis. Principal investigator
  • Yorkshire Cancer Research (2010-2011)  –Regulation of podosome/invadopodia dynamics in prostate cancer cells.  Co-applicant.
  • BBSRC Project Grant. (2009 - 2012).  Endocytic Invagination and Vesicle Scission - interplay between Dynamin homologues and Amphiphysins in Budding Yeast. Principal investigator.
  • MRC Senior non-clinical Fellowship Renewal (2007-2012) - £1,142,297. The Role of Actin in Cell Homeostasis.
Teaching activities

Lecture on BMS 242/243; L3, L4 projects; MSc projects

Professional activities and memberships

Grant awarding panels:

  • BBSRC Responsive Mode Grant Panel D (2014-2019)
  • The Wellcome Trust (Molecules, Genes and Cells Committee) 2006-2009
  • Wolfson-Royal Society Infrastructure Awards (2012)

Grant panels:

  • MRC Senior non-clinical Fellow (2001 – 2012)
  • Editorial Board for the international journals Molecular Biology of the Cell, Cytoskeleton and F1000 Research
  • Faculty of 1000 member (Cytoskeleton panel from 2010)
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Biological Sciences, Durham University

Learned Societies:

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology
  • British Society for Cell Biology - Executive Committee (1998 - 2004)
  • Biochemical Society Theme Panel IV Cells (2011-2014)