Alain Verreault, Ph.D.

Awards & Honours

  • Canada Research Chair in Nucleosome Assembly and Genome Integrity, 2006–
  • Fellow of the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research, 1994
  • Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, 1990
  • Ph.D. Studentship, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, 1989
  • Overseas Research Student Award, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the United Kingdom, 1989
  • Undergraduate Research Award, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, 1987

Training

  • Postdoctoral training, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, 1998
  • Ph.D. in Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1993
  • B.Sc. in Biochemistry, Université Laval, Canada, 1988

Research Support

  • Canadian Foundation for Innovation
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

A native of the Gaspé, Alain Verreault spent fifteen years in the United Kingdom and the United States before returning to Montreal in December 2005.

After completing a B.Sc. in Biochemistry at Université Laval and a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, Alain Verreault did his postdoctoral training at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Throughout his training, he maintained a strong interest in the molecular mechanisms that help package histones and DNA into chromosomes during DNA replication.

In 1999, he was recruited by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, now known as Cancer Research UK, where he directed a laboratory for seven years. During this period, Alain Verreault and his colleagues discovered a novel role for DNA damage-induced protein kinases in the regulation of chromosome assembly. They published an article in Cell showing that histones, which had been widely regarded as extremely stable proteins, are in fact rapidly degraded when DNA synthesis abruptly slows down. For instance, this occurs during the response to cancer chemotherapeutic agents that damage DNA and interfere with replication. The degradation of excess histones represents an hitherto unsuspected aspect of the DNA damage response that has important implications for cell survival and the maintenance of genomic integrity.

He joined IRIC in 2005. Since then, he has pursued his studies of nucleosome assembly. Notably, Alain Verreault and his colleagues have uncovered a novel and exciting feature of the chromosome cycle. During S-phase, all the newly synthesised histones deposited throughout the genome are acetylated at a specific site and this modification plays a crucial role in the response to genotoxic agents that damage DNA replication forks (Nature [2005] 436: 294; Curr. Biol. [2006] 16: 1280; Cell [2008] 134: 244; Mol Cell Biol [2012] 32: 154). Since many chemotherapeutic agents kill cancer cells by damaging DNA during replication, he hopes that valuable clinical applications will emerge from this work. For instance, the enzymes that acetylate newly synthesised histones represent potential targets for novel anti-neoplastic agents. In collaboration with Martine Raymond, Pierre Thibault (both from IRIC) and Alaka Mullick, Alain Verreault’s team published a seminal study (Nature Medicine [2010] 16: 774). They showed that inhibition of a specific histone deacetylase using a form of vitamin B3 is an appealing novel strategy to fight fungal infections. This discovery is important because cancer chemotherapeutic agents kill normal white blood cells and this immunosuppression often results in life-threatening fungal infections.

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