Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Dr Plouffe is open to PhD applications from candidates with a basic science background. Her fields of interest include: G protein-coupled receptor signalling, biased signalling and selectivity, compartmentalised G protein signalling, bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET)-based biosensors, type 2 diabetes, glioblastoma multiforme, inflammation, and atherosclerosis. Previous lab experience is highly desirable.

20042021

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Personal profile

Research Interests

DR PLOUFFE'S PATH TOWARD HER ACTUAL RESEARCH PROGRAMME

Dr Plouffe completed biochemistry undergraduate studies at Université de Sherbrooke (QC, Canada) (2000-2003). Then, she quickly developed a marked interest for G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signalling. As GPCRs represent the largest family of cell surface proteins, and control a vast repertoire of physiological functions, these receptors are the actual target of 30-50% of all prescribed drugs. She started her journey in this exciting research field by investigating the molecular mechanisms involved in the angiotensin type 2 receptor (AT2R)-mediated neurite outgrowth as a MSc student (2003-2005). This work contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying neuronal differentiation required for brain development. During her MSc studies, Dr Plouffe also contributed to the characterisation of new selective AT2R agonists in collaboration with research teams from Uppsala University (Sweden). Then, Dr Plouffe completed a PhD in Neuroscience at University of Ottawa (ON, Canada) (2006-2011), where she identified the molecular mechanisms involved in the opposite regulation of dopamine D1 and D5 receptors by protein kinase C. Her work shed light on the mechanisms underlying the positive action of prefrontal cortex on motor activity and of the thalamic parafascicular nucleus on awareness. 

Dr Plouffe decided to pursue her research in the field of GPCR signalling by completing a postdoctoral training at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, part of University of Montreal (QC, Canada) (2012-2018) as part of Prof Michel Bouvier's research team, a world-wide recognised expert in the field of GPCR signalling. During her postdoctoral training, Dr Plouffe used Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET)-based technology to tackle important questions related to GPCRs involved in metabolic disorders. In collaboration with Prof Ralf Jockers from Institut Cochin (France), she investigated the signalling parameters of the melatonin type 2 receptor preventing development of type 2 diabetes. She also worked on the ghrelin receptor, involved in energy homeostasis and food intake, in collaboration with Prof Birgitte Holst (University of Copenhagen). This study lead to the identification of the ghrelin receptor-induced biased signalling mediated by a new compound responsible for unique physiological outcomes observed in murine model. This was one of the rare studies translating biased signalling from a receptor to in vivo functions.

Dr Plouffe had also the joy to participate to a jointed collaboration with Prof Robert J. Lefkowitz, a Nobel Laureate from Duke University (USA), and Prof Georgios Skiniotis, an expert in electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM) from Stanford University (USA) on a project that was particularly inspiring and determinant for her actual research programme. Classically, G protein activation by GPCRs occurs at the plasma membrane and is rapidly terminated by the recruitment of a protein called β-arrestin to the activated GPCRs. This promotes G protein uncoupling from receptor, GPCR internalisation and signalling arrest. However, during the past decade, emerging evidence suggest that many GPCRs can continue to activate G proteins from internal compartments after they have been internalized. This fruitful collaboration allowed to appreciate the important role of β-arrestin in this novel type of G protein signalling and provided strong evidence for the formation of signalling complexes (called megaplexes) composed of the GPCR, G proteins and β-arrestin.

 

DR PLOUFFE'S RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The spatiotemporal properties of GPCRs signalling in intracellular compartments are different than those of GPCRs signalling at the plasma membrane. The absence of desensitising effect of β-arrestin on GPCRs signalling in intracellular compartments is generally translated to a sustained and prolonged signalling as opposed to the transient kinetic observed for GPCRs signalling at the plasma membrane. Furthermore, G protein signalling in intracellular compartments such as endosomes and Golgi allows a proximity with the nucleus, which favours the modulation of transcription factors, leading to changes in gene expression. As a newly appointed Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and principal investigator at Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Plouffe aims to tackle important mechanistic questions underlying this novel signalling mode. Importantly, she wants to take advantage of the different spatiotemporal properties of compartmentalised G protein signalling to design new pharmacological approaches to fight several diseases. Dr Plouffe's current targets are glioblastoma, type 2 diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, and atherosclerosis.

 

CURRENT PROJECTS IN THE LAB

1- To answer important mechanistic questions concerning compartmentalised G protein signalling and megaplex formation using the vasopressin type 2 receptor as prototypal model.

2- To investigate the role of endosomal G protein signalling by the viral chemokine GPCR US28 in glioblastoma (GBM) malignancy.

3- To investigate the role of endosomal G protein signalling by the viral chemokine GPCR US28 in atherosclerosis development and severity.

4- To understand allosteric and biased GPCR signalling by the neurotensin receptor 1 (NTSR1). 

5- To investigate the role of nuclear localisation and signalling by the formyl peptide recetor 2 (FPR2) in diabetic retinopathy. 

6- To investigate the role of endosomal Gαs activation in GLP1R-induced insulin secretion by rat insulinoma INS-1 832/3 cells.

 

PAST AND PRESENT GROUP MEMBERS

Technicians:

  • Mr Shane Houston 2019-2020

PhD Students:

  • Mr Akim Guseynov 2021-Present (co-supervision, CITI-GENS Marie Sklodowska-Curie scholarship)

Project: Understanding allosteric and biased GPCR signaling from computer simulations and mutagenesis. Case Study: NTSR1

  • Miss Carole Daly 2019-Present (DfE Scholarship)

Project: Non-canonical G protein signalling of US28 as a new target for glioblastoma.

MSc Students:

  • Mr Stephen Copeland 2019-2020

Project: Non-canonical G protein signalling of US28 as a new target for glioblastoma.

Undergraduate Students:

  • Mr Adam McShane 2019-2020

Summer Students:

  • Miss Éloise Heulet 2019 (Advanced Biology, Université de Nantes, France)
  • Miss Lenka Toderova 2019 (Nuffield Research Placement)
  • Mr Cole Roberts 2019 (Medical School, University of Dundee, UK)

 

COLLABORATORS

 National:

  • Prof David Grieve (WWIEM, Queen's University Belfast)
  • Dr Emma Evergren Mills (CCRCB, Queen's University Belfast)
  • Dr Irina Tikhonova (School of Pharmacy, Queen's University Belfast)
  • Prof Qingbo Xu (King's College London)
  • Dr Alejandra Tomas (Imperial College London)
  • Prof I. Sadaf Farooqi (Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge) 

 International:

  • Prof Martine J. Smit (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands)
  • Prof Kam W. Leong (Columbia University in the City of New York, USA)
  • Prof Nigel W. Bunnett (New York University, USA)
  • Dr Alex Thomsen (New York University, USA)
  • Dr Arun K. Shukla (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India) 

Achievements

SELECTED AWARDS

  • 2020 Diabetes UK Early-Career Small Grant for Basic Scientists
  • 2018 Wellcome Trust Seed Award in Science
  • 2017 Travel Award from the Institute for Research in Immunologie and Cancer
  • 2016 Étudiant-Chercheurs Étoiles Award from Fonds de la Recherche du Québec en Santé
  • 2016 Diabetes Canada Postdoctoral Award
  • 2012 Canadian Institutes for Health Research Postdoctoral Award
  • 2010 Best poster Award at the 2nd Brain Health and Research Day (Ottawa, Canada)
  • 2010 University of Ottawa Tuition Fee Schorlarship
  • 2009 Best poster Award at the 1st Brain Health and Research Day (Ottawa, Canada)
  • 2008 Travel Award from the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
  • 2007 Fonds de la Recherche du Québec en Santé Doctoral Award
  • 2007 University of Ottawa Excellence Scholarship
  • 2005 Best Poster Award from the Société de Neuroendocrinologie (France)
  • 2004 Best Oral Presentation Award from Équipe de Physiopathologie Endocrinienne (Qc, Canada)

 

INVITED SPEAKER

  • 2021 Invited Speaker - Seminar Series, Department of Molecular Pathobiology, NYU College of Dentistry (May 26th, New York, USA).
  • 2020 Invited Speaker - Seminar Series, Department of Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biology, Baha'I Institute for Higher Education (November 19th, Teheran - Iran).
  • 2019 Invited Short Talk - Trafficking in Cancer Biology: Interplay, Targeting and Therapy (October 21-24, Turin - Italy).
  • 2018 Invited speaker - Seminar Series, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Philipps-Universität Marburg (June 12th, Marburg - Germany).
  • 2018 Invited speaker - Seminar Series, Medical School, University of Nottingham (June 4th, Nottingham - UK).
  • 2018 Invited speaker - Seminar Series, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Virginia Commonwealth University (May 24th, Richmond - USA).
  • 2017 Speaker - Seminar Series, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal (September 22nd, Montreal - Canada).
  • 2017 Speaker - 7th Scientific Day, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal (May 26th, Montreal - Canada).
  • 2017 Selected Short Talk - Molecular Pharmacology Gordon Research Seminars (March 12th, Barga - Italy).
  • 2015 Speaker - Seminar Series, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal (April 24th, Montreal - Canada).
  • 2015 Speaker - MELA-BETES Joint Translational Call Meeting (March 20th, Paris - France).
  • 2014 Speaker - MELA-BETES Joint Translational Call Meeting (June 23rd, Munich - Germany).
  • 2013 Speaker - MELA-BETES Joint Translational Call Meeting (October 3rd, Montreal - Canada).
  • 2012 Speaker - MELA-BETES Joint Translational Call Meeting (December 21st, Dresden - Germany).
  • 2005 Selected Short Talk - 7eJournée Scientifique de l’Équipe de Physiopathologie Endocrinienne (May, Lac Brome - Canada).
  • 2004 Selected Short Talk - 6eJournée Scientifique de l’Équipe de Physiopathologie Endocrinienne (September, Lac Brome - Canada).

 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Devlopment Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

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