Professor Steve Winder

Winder_Steve.jpgProfessor of Molecular Cell Biology
Director of Postgraduate Teaching
Director of External Relations

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

Room: B2 06 Florey building
Tel: +44 (0) 114 222 2332



Brief career history

  • 2005-Present: Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield
  • 2003-2005: Reader, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield
  • 1999-2003: Lecturer (99-01) Reader (02-03), University of Glasgow
  • 1995-1999: Wellcome Trust Fellow, ICMB, University of Edinburgh,
  • 1992-1995: Staff Scientist, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge - Advisor, Jake Kendrick-Jones
  • 1988-1992: Postdoctoral Fellow, Biochemistry, University of Calgary, Advisor - Mike Walsh.
  • 1994-1998: PhD, University of Reading, Supervisor - Isabel Forsyth

Research interests

My group is using molecular and cellular approaches to understand the biology of the adhesion receptor dystroglycan. We are focussed on modulating dystroglycan signalling as a therapeutic route to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. We are also investigating the functions of dystroglycan in organising and stabilising the nuclear lamina, in cancer and in muscular dystrophies.

Professional activities

  • Member of Editorial Boards of: International Journal of Cell Biology, BioMed Research International, PLoS Currents Muscular Dystrophy, Investigación en Discapacidad, Protein Modules Consortium.
  • External examiner for Molecular Medicine BSc, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Quinquennial review of MSc in Molecular Medicine, School of Biological Sciences, UEA, External Advisory Board for Biomedical Science, International Islamic University Malaysia, External Advisor to the Board of Studies for Biochemistry, Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai,
  • Recent Invited Conference presentations: 220th ENMC Workshop on ‘Dystroglycan and the dystroglycanopathies’, Naarden, Holland. EMBO Workshop on ‘The modularity of signalling proteins and networks’, Seefeld, Austria. IIUM Zebrafish Workshop, Kuantan, Malaysia. Action Duchenne International Conference, London. 5th International Workshop for Glycosylation Defects in Muscular Dystrophies, Charlotte, NC, USA.
  • Member of British Society for Cell Biology and Biochemical Society

Full publications


Regulation of dystroglycan function in muscular dystrophy and cancer

The laminin binding protein dystroglycan plays multiple roles in cell adhesion, signalling and membrane cytoskeleton stability. Perturbation of dystroglycan function underlies several muscular dystrophies and is also a secondary consequence of adenocarcinoma progression. Changes to the post-translational modification of dystroglycan are crucial in directing the associations, cellular localisation and ultimately degradation of dystroglycan. Our aim is to elucidate the mechanisms and consequences of these post-translational modifications in order to better understand dystroglycan function and to identify potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of muscular dystrophy or cancer.

We employ in vitro, in/ex vivo fish and mouse genetic models with clinically relevant archival tissue samples or immortalised cell lines. Dystroglycan function is dissected through the use of molecular cell biology approaches, and potential therapeutic targets are assessed in vitro and in vivo. Recently we have developed a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy using inhibitors of tyrosine phosphorylation and proteasomal degradation. Through the use of zebrafish screening and phenotypic analysis in mdx mice and human DMD myoblasts we are in the process of validating the potential for repurposed drugs as a precursor to initiating clinical trials. Physiological analysis is carried out I collaboration with Nic Wells at the RVC London.

In vitro models of prostate cancer have revealed a role for the post-translational proteolytic processing and nuclear targeting of dystroglycan. Current efforts are centred around characterising a role as part of the LINC complex in the inner nuclear membrane. These studies form part of an ongoing collaboration with Bulmaro Cisneros, CINVESTAV Mexico City.



  • Action Duchenne - Repurposed Cancer Therapeutics as Treatments for DMD
  • Duchenne UK - Are soy products effective in DMD?
  • White Rose - The Dystroglycan LINC
  • Action on Hearing Loss - Dystroglycan function in hearing and hearing loss

Group Members

Ms Tracy Emmerson
Research Associate

Dr Gemma Woodward
Postdoctoral Researcher

Mr Matt Cook
PhD Student

Ms Ruhan A
MSc Student

Lab Extension: 22306


Undergraduate and postgraduate taught modules

Level 1:

  • BMS109 Cell Biology
  • BMS110 Research Topics in Biomedicine

Level 4/Maters (MSc)

  • BMS402 Laboratory Research Project (MBiomedSci)
  • BMS6052 Laboratory Research Project (MSc)

Dystroglycan function in mammalian auditory hair cells and neurons - Action on Hearing Loss Studentship

3 year fully funded PhD studentship (Uk and EU only)

Supervisors: Professor Steve Winder and Professor Walter Marcotti, Department of Biomedical Science


This PhD offers an exciting opportunity for a talented student to work on a multidisciplinary project in the areas of auditory physiology and molecular cell biology investigating the role of dystroglycan in mammalian hearing.

This proposal focuses on the function of a transmembrane protein called b-dystroglycan, which forms the core of dystroglycan complexes that enable cells to establish mechanical connections and communication pathways between their internal structures and the extracellular environment.

The inner ear interprets mechanical vibrations induced by sound. This requires the precise transduction of incoming auditory stimuli into an electrical signal that can be perceived by the brain. This sophisticated biological process occurs at the sensory hair cells. The hair cell mechanotransducer apparatus projects into a unique extracellular fluid compartment that is rich in potassium ions and that provides the ‘battery’ for the inner ear. Furthermore, hair cells transfer electrical information rapidly to their sensory nerves via specialised ‘ribbon’ synapses. All of these processes are expected to involve dystroglycan complexes, although published evidence suggests that b-dystroglycan is not present in the sensory organ. This is puzzling because there is clear evidence for its partner, a-dystroglycan, which is encoded by the same gene. We also know that defects in a number of other proteins linked to dystroglycan complexes are associated with hearing loss. One of these proteins is dystrophin, mutations of which is normally linked to muscular dystrophy.

Recently, we found that tyrosine phosphorylation of b-dystroglycan occurs at unusually high levels in the ear and that this explains why the protein was not previously detected. It changes the binding properties to other proteins, which is of general biological interest because dystroglycans are ubiquitously expressed yet they serve a wide range of different functions. In muscle, dystrophin binds to dystroglycan complexes and dissipates contraction forces to the extracellular connective tissue, thus protecting muscle membrane integrity. Mutations in dystrophin weaken these connections so that muscle cells become more easily damaged and degenerate, leading to muscular dystrophy. The strength of the attachment can be altered through the modification to b-dystroglycan that we observe in the ear and the mechanism has been proposed as a potential therapy to stabilise the muscle. Similar modifications to b-dystroglycan act as switches to alter association with other proteins in non-muscle cells, including nerves, and they are important for the organisation of signalling molecules at synaptic junctions and of molecules that regulate the flow of water and inorganic ions across fluid compartments. Finally, longer term changes in the function of dystroglycan complexes have been associated with aging. Thus phosphorylation of b-dystroglycan in the ear is likely to be critical for auditory function and for greater understanding of noise-induced and age-related hearing loss.

Outline of the research methods

Animal models: We have made a knock-in mouse (Dag1Y890F) with a phenylalanine substitution that prevents tyrosine phosphorylation of β-dystroglycan [1]. This will allow us to focus on the specific function of this modification in the ear. We will characterise the model, using the structural, physiological and biochemical techniques listed below. To identify potential hearing loss linked to the inability to phosphorylate Y890 in b-dystroglycan  we will perform in vivo electrophysiological recording (auditory brainstem responses, ABRs) from normal and Dag1Y890F mice at 1, 4, 8 and 12 months old at frequencies of 4, 8, 16 and 32kHz.

Cell lines and antibodies: We have a conditionally immortal, mouse otic neuronal cell line, US/VOT-N33 [2] that expresses β-dystroglycan and eps8, which has been assayed both by oligonucleotide gene expression arrays and by immunolabeling. The cells also react strongly with antibodies to pY890 b-dystroglycan. Eps8 is known to be expressed in neurons and it is associated with synaptic plasticity and the morphology of dendritic spines [3]. We have the hybridoma cell line that produces antibodies to non-phosphorylated β-dystroglycan (Mandag2) and our own polyclonal antibody to pY890 b-dystroglycan (Ab1709) with which we will be able to estimate relative expression of the two forms in tissue sections, organotypic whole-mounts of the organ of Corti and in western blots and immunoprecipitations. We will use antibodies to ribeye (ribbon synapse), eps8 and eps8l2 (hair bundles and neurons), and Kir4.1 and aqp4 (fluid regulation) to study the distribution of these proteins in Dag1Y890F mice.

Single cell electrophysiology - Patch clamp recording will carried out on hair cells as described previously [4]. We will use acutely dissected tissue to record mechanoelectrical transducer current from hair cells in response to displacements of hair bundles with a fluid jet and to assess basolateral membrane properties such as ion currents and vesicle release at the ribbon synapses.

Microscopy – Confocal fluorescence microscopy will be used to localise proteins in cells, cryostat sections and organotypic cultures. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy will be used to study the hair bundles and the localisation and structure of ribbon synapses.

Biochemistry – We will validate the Eps8 SH3 domain interaction with β-dystroglycan using peptide SPOT arrays to define the precise binding site on dystroglycan and using reciprocal fusion protein pull down assays from otic epithelial cell lysates. The interaction will be further validated by immunoprecipitation, immunofluorescence localisation and proximity ligation in otic epithelial cells in vitro. We have used similar approaches to validate SH3 domain interactions between β-dystroglycan and other cytoskeletal proteins [5, 6].


  • Miller G, Moore CJ, Terry R, et al. Preventing phosphorylation of dystroglycan ameliorates the dystrophic phenotype in mdx mouse. Hum Mol Genet  2012;21:4508-20.
  • Nicholl AJ, Kneebone A, Davies D, et al. Differentiation of an auditory neuronal cell line suitable for cell transplantation. Eur J Neurosci  2005;22:343-53.
  • Winder SJ, Lipscomb L, Angela Parkin C, Juusola M. The proteasomal inhibitor MG132 prevents muscular dystrophy in zebrafish. PLoS Curr;3:RRN1286.
  • Zampini V, Ruttiger L, Johnson SL, et al. Eps8 regulates hair bundle length and functional maturation of mammalian auditory hair cells. PLoS Biol  2011;9:e1001048.
  • Thompson O, Kleino I, Crimaldi L, Gimona M, Saksela K, Winder SJ. Dystroglycan, Tks5 and Src mediated assembly of podosomes in myoblasts. PLoS One  2008;3:e3638.
  • Thompson O, Moore CJ, Hussain SA, et al. Modulation of cell spreading and cell-substrate adhesion dynamics by dystroglycan. J Cell Sci  2010;123:118-27.

Informal enquiries about this project welcome.

Targeting dystroglycan to the nucleus in muscular dystrophy and cancer

This project is eligible for a department scholarship. These scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis – find out more on our funding webpage.

Open to self funded students as well as possible BMS funded.


Dystroglycan is an essential cell adhesion receptor required for early embryonic development. Genetic loss of function gives rise to severe muscular dystrophies with neuronal involvement. Post-translational loss of function also occurs in Duchenne muscular dystrophy and in some cancers. This includes phosphorylation, proteolysis and ubiquitination. Moreover some proteolytic fragments of dystroglycan are targeted to the nucleus where they have effects on transcription. As part of our analysis of dystroglycan post-translational modifications, we identified a lipid modification - palmitoylation of a conserved cysteine residue that could act to anchor bioactive dystroglycan fragments to the membrane, both at the cell surface and in the nucleus.


To examine the function of dystroglycan palmitoylation in cellular targeting and in cellular phenotypes associated with muscular dystrophy and cancer.


PCR-based site-directed mutagenesis, and cloning of dystroglycan mutants. Overexpression of dystroglycan mutants in tissue culture cells. Analysis of subcellular distribution of dystroglycan by quantitative immunofluorescence microscopy and cell fractionation. In vitro assays of cell invasion and metastatic growth.


  • Leocadio D, Mitchell A, Winder SJ.
    γ-Secretase Dependent Nuclear Targeting of Dystroglycan.
    J Cell Biochem. 2016 Mar 18. doi: 10.1002/jcb.25537
  • Martínez-Vieyra IA, Vásquez-Limeta A, González-Ramírez R, Morales-Lázaro SL, Mondragón M, Mondragón R, Ortega A, Winder SJ, Cisneros B.
    A role for β-dystroglycan in the organization and structure of the nucleus in myoblasts.
    Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 1833:698-711
  • G. Mathew, A.Mitchell, J.M.Down, F.C.Hamdy, C.Eaton, D.J.Rosario, S.S.Cross & S.J.Winder (2013)
    Nuclear targeting of dystroglycan promotes the expression of androgen regulated transcription factors in prostate cancer.
    Sci. Rep. 3, 2792.

For further information about these projects and how to apply, please see our PhD Opportunities page.

PhD Opportunities

Selected publications

Journal articles