- Primary position:
- Associate Professor in Stem Cells & Developmental Biology
- Other positions:
- Deputy Director of Postgraduate Studies
Dr Houghton was appointed to a Senior Lectureship in the Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells & Regeneration in 2008 having been a Lecturer since 2006. Previously she held a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship entitled “Nutrition of the Mammalian Preimplantation Embryo” which she transferred from the University of York to the University of Southampton in 2005. Dr Houghton completed her DPhil in 1997 at the University of York working on the energy metabolism of early mouse embryos. She obtained Post Doctoral experience at the University of Western Ontario, Canada where she investigated the assembly and role of gap junctions in development and cellular homeostasis using connexin43 null mutant mice. This was followed by a further Post Doctoral position at the University of York where she studied the nutrition of the mammalian preimplantation embryo.
Dr Houghton leads a research group with 2 main foci:
1) Understanding the molecular mechanisms which regulate different types of stem cell.
2) Investigating the Biochemistry of mammalian preimplantation embryo development.
Dr Houghton’s research laboratory is based within the Faculty of Medicine campus and comprises both clinical and non-clinical scientists and postgraduate students. Those interested in joining her group either as potential students, Post Doctoral, or Clinical scientists are encouraged to contact Dr Houghton.
BSc(Hons) Biomedical Sciences, University of Wolverhampton 1993
DPhil Biology, University of York, 1997
Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Physiology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada. 1997-1999
Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Biology, University of York. 1999-2002
Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow, Department of Biology, University of York. 2002-2005
Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow, School of Medicine, University of Southampton. 2005-2006
Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Southampton. 2006-2008
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton. 2008-present
The University of Southampton's electronic library (e-prints)
Dr Houghton’s research is focused on understanding fundamental mechanisms which regulate human embryonic stem cell maintenance and preimplantation embryo development.
Hypoxic regulation of human embryonic stem cell maintenance
Pluripotent human embryonic stem (hES) cells, derived from the inner cell mass (ICM) of the blastocyst, provide an excellent model to investigate developmental mechanisms since (a) they have the potential to differentiate into all cells of the body, and (b) proliferative culture provides unlimited supplies of hES cells for research and transplantation based therapies.
Dr Houghton’s research is focused on understanding mechanisms which regulate hES cell maintenance. Recent data has found that culture at 5% oxygen tension (hypoxia) is beneficial for the maintenance of a highly proliferative, pluripotent population of hES cells compared to atmospheric oxygen tensions. Dr Houghton’s group has found that these effects are regulated by hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-2α. More specifically, HIF-2αwas found to regulate hES cell proliferation as well as the expression of OCT4, SOX2 and NANOG (Forristal et al., 2010). Current research in Dr Houghton’s group is investigating further mechanisms which regulate this hypoxic response.
Metabolism of hES cells
The metabolic requirements of hES cells have received relatively little attention. Research in Dr Houghton’s laboratory is investigating the energy metabolism of hES cells and how this is affected upon differentiation. Our recent data has found that hES cells cultured in a low oxygen environment are highly pluripotent and consume high levels of glucose and produce large amounts of lactate. In contrast, hES cells cultured at atmospheric oxygen result in an increased reliance on oxidative metabolism (Forristal et al., 2013).
Role of nitric oxide in the maintenance and differentiation of hES cells
Nitric oxide (NO) is a pleiotropic signalling molecule central for the maintenance of cellular homeostasis. At low concentrations NO may bind soluble guanylate cyclase to produce cGMP and activate various downstream targets including protein kinases, or may compete with oxygen for binding to cytochrome c oxidase to reduce cellular respiration. At high concentrations NO may react with superoxide anions to yield reactive nitrogen species leading to irreversible damage of mitochondria. Thus, NO can function in a regulatory manner, or adopt a deleterious role within a cell. Current research in Dr Houghton’s group is investigating the regulation of NO signalling during pluripotency and differentiation in hES cells.
Kidney stem cells
The potential of kidney progenitor cells to differentiate into specific renal cell types holds great promise as an alternative strategy to heal damaged kidneys without the need for transplantation. In collaboration with Dr Jane Collins (Clinical and Experimental Sciences), the Houghton laboratory is isolating and characterising renal progenitor cell populations in human kidneys and investigating their ability to form specific renal cell types.
Cancer stem cells
In collaboration with Dr Jeremy Blaydes (Cancer Sciences), the Houghton laboratory is investigating the molecular mechanisms which regulate cancer stem cells.
Energy metabolism and cell signalling in the mammalian preimplantation embryo
Dr Houghton’s research on preimplantation embryos is focused on energy metabolism; the origin and fate of ATP, amino acid turnover, and cell signalling via NO. Her lab has expertise in both the genetic and phenotypic analysis of single preimplantation embryos. The wider aim of Dr Houghton’s work is to improve the success of assisted conception techniques by identifying non-invasive markers of embryo health.
Specific areas of interest are:
1) The biochemistry and physiology of the ICM and the trophectoderm.
2) The role of nitric oxide in the regulation of embryo metabolism and development.
3) The effect of maternal lifestyle on the nutrient composition of the reproductive tract.
Dr Houghton is grateful for funding from the MRC, Wellcome Trust, Gerald Kerkut Charitable Trust, Society for Reproduction and Fertility, Kids Kidney Research and Faculty Medicine University of Southampton.
A phase contrast image of a hES cell colony cultured on mouse embryonic fibroblasts (A). Pluripotency verified using immunocytochemistry for OCT4 (B) and TRA-1-60 (C). Embryoid bodies (D) generated fr
Laser scanning confocal mid plane section through a 2-cell embryo incubated with (A) a NO-sensitive probe (DAF-FM DA) displaying NO production and (B) mitotracker deep red to label mitochondria. A bla
Primary research group: Human Development and Health Academic Units
Affiliate research group: Human development and physiology Research group
Postgraduate student supervision
2005 Rosemary Manser PhD
2010 Catherine Forristal PhD
2010 Ayshe Ismail PhD
2014 Raffaella Petruzzelli PhD
2015 David Christensen PhD
Academic Clinical Fellow
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Dr Irina Fesenko
Faculty of Medicine
Deputy Director of Postgraduate Studies
Person Responsible for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) research licence for the Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells & Regeneration
Postgraduate student staff representative
Member of Postgraduate Research Management Committee
Member of Postgraduate Student Progress Committee
Member of Postgraduate Selection and Approvals Sub-Committee
Member of Integrated PhD Programme Curriculum Development and Assessment Sub-Committee
Member of 4 year Integrated PhD Programme Working Group
Postgraduate student pastoral advisor
National and International responsibilities
Member of the HFEA Licensed Centres Panel
Member of the HFEA fees group
Chair of Programme Committee for the Society for Reproduction and Fertility
Chair of joint programme committee for the World Congress in Reproductive Biology 2014
Member of the Local organising committee for the World Congress in Reproductive Biology 2014
Officer and member of Council for the Society for Reproduction and Fertility
Member of the organising committee for the Fertility 2015, the biennial conference of the UK Fertility Societies
Integrated PhD Stem Cell Pathway. Coordinator and continuity marker of the Stem Cell Biology module. Facilitator for Research Skills for Biomedical Science. Research project supervisor.
PhD. Lecture on stem cell research in the Faculty of Medicine’s PhD student training programme. Organise Unit induction programme for postgraduate students.
MMedSc. Offer laboratory project placements which investigate the regulation of human embryonic stem cell maintenance and how to direct differentiation towards specific lineage pathways.
BMedSc. Offer laboratory project placements which investigate the regulation of human embryonic stem cell pluripotency.
BSc Biomedical Sciences. Lectures on preimplantation embryo development, IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis of disease
Offer laboratory project placements