Professor Elizabeth Smythe


Professor of Molecular Cell Biology
Director, Centre for Membrane Interactions and Dynamics

Department of Biomedical Science
The University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield S10 2TN
United Kingdom

Room: C09 Florey building
Telephone: +44 (0) 114 222 4635

Cell Biology and Cancer


Brief career history

  • 2002-present: Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, University of Sheffield
  • 1992-2002: MRC Senior Fellow and Principal Investigator, Wellcome Trust BioCentre, University of Dundee
  • 1989-1992: NATO/SERC postdoctoral fellow, The Scripps Research Institute, California
  • 1986-1989: Postdoctoral research assistant, University of Dundee.
  • 1986: PhD, Trinity College, Dublin
  • 1982: B.A. (Mod), Trinity College, Dublin

Research interests

Our lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms of cargo sorting along the endocytic pathway with particular emphasis on the regulation of the clathrin coated vesicle cycle by rab5 and reversible phosphorylation. We are also interested in the interplay between endocytic trafficking and signaling pathways.

Professional activities

Member of:

  • the Faculty of 1000 (2001-)
  • the Editorial Board of the Biochemical Journal (2004-2007) Renewed (2007-2011)
  • the MRC College of Experts (2006-2010)
  • Executive Secretary of the British Society for Cell Biology (2006-2011)

Full publications


Functions of membrane microdomains on the endocytic pathway: integration of endocytosis and signalling

We are interested in the assembly and dynamics of membrane microdomains that are specialised for signalling on the endocytic pathway. Clathrin coated pits are microdomains responsible for the uptake of a wide variety of cargo. Using live-cell microscopy we are exploring how signalling cargo modulates clathrin coated pit dynamics via posttranslational modifications of the clathrin coat and how this impacts on downstream signalling.

The small GTPase, rab5, regulates many events on the early endocytic  pathway including cargo selection, vesicle uncoating, endosomal fusion, and signalling. Guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) convert rab5 to its active GTP-bound ‘on’ state and they are also proposed to drive the spatial and temporal assembly of rab5 functional domains. We are using a variety of biochemical and morphological approaches to explore the function of Rme-6, a GEF that acts early in the endocytic pathway to integrate trafficking and signalling.

During embryonic development a surprisingly small number of signals are used repeatedly to form a whole organism. These same signals are also used in homeostasis. This means that cells need to respond to signals in a context specific manner. We are exploring how endocytosis contributes to context specific signalling using JAK/STAT signalling in Drosophila cells as a paradigm.

In addition to the molecular cell biology approaches discussed above we wish to understand how biophysical properties of membranes, in particular membrane tension, contributes to the regulation of microdomain formation. In the longer term our aim is to translate our findings into 3-D systems and ultimately whole organisms to understand the relationship between endocytosis and signalling.

Figure 1


  • MRC
  • BHF
  • EU

Undergraduate and postgraduate taught modules


  • BMS109 Cell & Molecular
  • BMS6082 Practical Cell Biology (Coordinator)
  • Level 3 Practical and Dissertation Modules

Masters (MSc):

  • BMS6082 Practical Cell Biology (Coordinator)

Selected publications

Journal articles