Pathologists use histological features to classify tumors and assign site of origin for metastasis. How and why tumors organize the way they do and recreate their histological organization during metastasis is unknown. Here, I discuss the concept of “histostasis” conferring tumors a histological memory and hypothesize its implications for metastasis.
Resistance to oncogene-targeted therapies involves discrete drug-tolerant persister cells, originally discovered through in vitro assays. Whether a similar phenomenon limits efficacy of programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) blockade is poorly understood. Here, we performed dynamic single-cell RNA-Seq of murine organotypic tumor spheroids undergoing PD-1 blockade, identifying a discrete subpopulation of immunotherapy persister cells (IPCs) that resisted CD8+ T cell-mediated killing. These cells expressed Snai1 and stem cell antigen 1 (Sca-1) and exhibited hybrid epithelial-mesenchymal features characteristic of a stem cell-like state. IPCs were expanded by IL-6 but were vulnerable to TNF-α-induced cytotoxicity, relying on baculoviral IAP repeat-containing protein 2 (Birc2) and Birc3 as survival factors. Combining PD-1 blockade with Birc2/3 antagonism in mice reduced IPCs and enhanced tumor cell killing in vivo, resulting in durable responsiveness that matched TNF cytotoxicity thresholds in vitro. Together, these data demonstrate the power of high-resolution functional ex vivo profiling to uncover fundamental mechanisms of immune escape from durable anti-PD-1 responses, while identifying IPCs as a cancer cell subpopulation targetable by specific therapeutic combinations.
: Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) arises from interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) or their precursors, which are present throughout the gastrointestinal tract. While gastric GIST is commonly indolent and small intestine GIST more aggressive, a molecular understanding of disease behavior would inform therapy decisions in GIST. Although a core transcription factor (TF) network is conserved across GIST, accessory TFs HAND1 and BARX1 are expressed in a disease state-specific pattern. Here, we characterize two divergent transcriptional programs maintained by HAND1 and BARX1, and evaluate their association with clinical outcomes. : We evaluated RNA-seq and TF chromatin immunoprecipitation with sequencing (ChIP-seq) in GIST samples and cultured cells for transcriptional programs associated with HAND1 and BARX1. Multiplexed tissue-based cyclic immunofluorescence (CyCIF) and immunohistochemistry evaluated tissue and cell-level expression of TFs and their association with clinical factors. : We show that HAND1 is expressed in aggressive GIST, modulating and core TF expression and supporting proliferative cellular programs. In contrast, BARX1 is expressed in indolent and micro-GISTs. HAND1 and BARX1 expression were superior predictors of relapse-free survival, as compared to standard risk stratification, and they predict progression-free survival on imatinib. Reflecting the developmental origins of accessory TF programs, HAND1 was expressed solely in small intestine ICCs, while BARX1 expression was restricted to gastric ICCs. : Our results define anatomic and transcriptional determinants of GIST and molecular origins of clinical phenotypes. Assessment of HAND1 and BARX1 expression in GIST may provide prognostic information and improve clinical decisions on the administration of adjuvant therapy.
Cancer immunotherapy shows limited efficacy against many solid tumors that originate from epithelial tissues, including triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). We identify the SOX4 transcription factor as an important resistance mechanism to T cell-mediated cytotoxicity for TNBC cells. Mechanistic studies demonstrate that inactivation of SOX4 in tumor cells increases the expression of genes in a number of innate and adaptive immune pathways important for protective tumor immunity. Expression of SOX4 is regulated by the integrin αvβ6 receptor on the surface of tumor cells, which activates TGFβ from a latent precursor. An integrin αvβ6/8-blocking monoclonal antibody (mAb) inhibits SOX4 expression and sensitizes TNBC cells to cytotoxic T cells. This integrin mAb induces a substantial survival benefit in highly metastatic murine TNBC models poorly responsive to PD-1 blockade. Targeting of the integrin αvβ6-TGFβ-SOX4 pathway therefore provides therapeutic opportunities for TNBC and other highly aggressive human cancers of epithelial origin.
Metabolic transformation is a hallmark of cancer and a critical target for cancer therapy. Cancer metabolism and behaviour are regulated by cell-intrinsic factors as well as metabolite availability in the tumour microenvironment (TME). This metabolic niche within the TME is shaped by four tiers of regulation: (1) intrinsic tumour cell metabolism, (2) interactions between cancer cells and non-cancerous cells, (3) tumour location and heterogeneity and (4) whole-body metabolic homeostasis. Here, we define these modes of metabolic regulation and review how distinct cell types contribute to the metabolite composition of the TME. Finally, we connect these insights to understand how each of these tiers offers unique therapeutic potential to modulate the metabolic profile and function of all cells inhabiting the TME.
BET inhibitors are promising therapeutic agents for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), but the rapid emergence of resistance necessitates investigation of combination therapies and their effects on tumor evolution. Here, we show that palbociclib, a CDK4/6 inhibitor, and paclitaxel, a microtubule inhibitor, synergize with the BET inhibitor JQ1 in TNBC lines. High-complexity DNA barcoding and mathematical modeling indicate a high rate of de novo acquired resistance to these drugs relative to pre-existing resistance. We demonstrate that the combination of JQ1 and palbociclib induces cell division errors, which can increase the chance of developing aneuploidy. Characterizing acquired resistance to combination treatment at a single cell level shows heterogeneous mechanisms including activation of G1-S and senescence pathways. Our results establish a rationale for further investigation of combined BET and CDK4/6 inhibition in TNBC and suggest novel mechanisms of action for these drugs and new vulnerabilities in cells after emergence of resistance.
Patient-derived organoid models are proving to be a powerful platform for both basic and translational studies. Here we conduct a methodical analysis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) tumor organoid drug response in paired patient-derived xenograft (PDX) and PDX-derived organoid (PXO) models grown under WNT-free culture conditions. We report a specific relationship between area under the curve value of organoid drug dose response and in vivo tumor growth, irrespective of the drug treatment. In addition, we analyzed the glycome of PDX and PXO models and demonstrate that PXOs recapitulate the in vivo glycan landscape. In addition, we identify a core set of 57 N-glycans detected in all 10 models that represent 50%-94% of the relative abundance of all N-glycans detected in each of the models. Last, we developed a secreted biomarker discovery pipeline using media supernatant of organoid cultures and identified potentially new extracellular vesicle (EV) protein markers. We validated our findings using plasma samples from patients with PDAC, benign gastrointestinal diseases, and chronic pancreatitis and discovered that 4 EV proteins are potential circulating biomarkers for PDAC. Thus, we demonstrate the utility of organoid cultures to not only model in vivo drug responses but also serve as a powerful platform for discovering clinically actionable serologic biomarkers.
Aging is closely associated with increased susceptibility to breast cancer, yet there have been limited systematic studies of aging-induced alterations in the mammary gland. Here, we leverage high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing to generate a detailed transcriptomic atlas of young and aged murine mammary tissues. By analyzing epithelial, stromal, and immune cells, we identify age-dependent alterations in cell proportions and gene expression, providing evidence that suggests alveolar maturation and physiological decline. The analysis also uncovers potential pro-tumorigenic mechanisms coupled to the age-associated loss of tumor suppressor function and change in microenvironment. In addition, we identify a rare, age-dependent luminal population co-expressing hormone-sensing and secretory-alveolar lineage markers, as well as two macrophage populations expressing distinct gene signatures, underscoring the complex heterogeneity of the mammary epithelia and stroma. Collectively, this rich single-cell atlas reveals the effects of aging on mammary physiology and can serve as a useful resource for understanding aging-associated cancer risk.
PURPOSE: We report results from a phase II study assessing the efficacy of the WEE1 inhibitor adavosertib with cisplatin in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (mTNBC). PATIENTS AND METHODS: Patients with mTNBC treated with 0-1 prior lines of chemotherapy received cisplatin 75 mg/m i.v. followed 21 days later by cisplatin plus adavosertib 200 mg oral twice daily for five doses every 21 days. The study had 90% power to detect the difference between null (20%) and alternative (40%) objective response rates (ORR) with a one-sided type I error of 0.1: an ORR >30% was predefined as making the regimen worthy of further study. RNA sequencing and multiplex cyclic immunofluorescence on pre- and post-adavosertib tumor biopsies, as well as targeted next-generation sequencing on archival tissue, were correlated with clinical benefit, defined as stable disease ≥6 months or complete or partial response. RESULTS: A total of 34 patients initiated protocol therapy; median age was 56 years, 2 patients (6%) had mutations, and 14 (41%) had one prior chemotherapy. ORR was 26% [95% confidence interval (CI), 13-44], and median progression-free survival was 4.9 months (95% CI, 2.3-5.7). Treatment-related grade 3-5 adverse events occurred in 53% of patients, most commonly diarrhea in 21%. One death occurred because of sepsis, possibly related to study therapy. Tumors from patients with clinical benefit demonstrated enriched immune gene expression and T-cell infiltration. CONCLUSIONS: Among patients with mTNBC treated with 0-1 prior lines, adavosertib combined with cisplatin missed the prespecified ORR cutoff of >30%. The finding of immune-infiltrated tumors in patients with clinical benefit warrants validation.
The need to test anticancer drugs in multiple indications has been addressed by basket trials, which are Phase I or II clinical trials involving multiple tumor subtypes and a single master protocol. Basket trials typically involve few patients per type, making it challenging to rigorously compare responses across types. We describe the use of permutation testing to test for differences among subgroups using empirical null distributions and the Benjamini-Hochberg procedure to control for false discovery. We apply the approach retrospectively to tumor-volume changes and progression-free survival in published basket trials for neratinib, larotrectinib, pembrolizumab, and imatinib and uncover examples of therapeutic benefit missed by conventional binomial testing. For example, we identify an overlooked opportunity for use of neratinib in lung cancers carrying ERBB2 Exon 20 mutations. Permutation testing can be used to design basket trials but is more conservatively introduced alongside established approaches to enrollment such as Simon's two-stage design.
Average age and obesity prevalence are increasing globally. Both aging and obesity are characterized by profound systemic metabolic and immunologic changes and are cancer risk factors. The mechanisms linking age and body weight to cancer are incompletely understood, but recent studies have provided evidence that the anti-tumor immune response is reduced in both conditions, while responsiveness to immune checkpoint blockade, a form of cancer immunotherapy, is paradoxically intact. Dietary restriction, which promotes health and lifespan, may enhance cancer immunity. These findings illustrate that the systemic context can impact anti-tumor immunity and immunotherapy responsiveness. Here, we review the current knowledge of how age and systemic metabolic state affect the anti-tumor immune response, with an emphasis on CD8 T cells, which are key players in anti-tumor immunity. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms may lead to novel therapies enhancing anti-tumor immunity in the context of aging or metabolic dysfunction.
The drivers of ductal carcinoma (DCIS) to invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) transition are poorly understood. Here, we conducted an integrated genomic, transcriptomic, and whole-slide image analysis to evaluate changes in copy-number profiles, mutational profiles, expression, neoantigen load, and topology in 6 cases of matched pure DCIS and recurrent IDC. We demonstrate through combined copy-number and mutational analysis that recurrent IDC can be genetically related to its pure DCIS despite long latency periods and therapeutic interventions. Immune "hot" and "cold" tumors can arise as early as DCIS and are subtype-specific. Topologic analysis showed a similar degree of pan-leukocyte-tumor mixing in both DCIS and IDC but differ when assessing specific immune subpopulations such as CD4 T cells and CD68 macrophages. Tumor-specific copy-number aberrations in MHC-I presentation machinery and losses in 3p, 4q, and 5p are associated with differences in immune signaling in estrogen receptor (ER)-negative IDC. Common oncogenic hotspot mutations in genes including and are predicted to be neoantigens yet are paradoxically conserved during the DCIS-to-IDC transition, and are associated with differences in immune signaling. We highlight both tumor and immune-specific changes in the transition of pure DCIS to IDC, including genetic changes in tumor cells that may have a role in modulating immune function and assist in immune escape, driving the transition to IDC. IMPLICATIONS: We demonstrate that the to IDC evolutionary bottleneck is shaped by both tumor and immune cells.
BACKGROUND: Targeted therapies for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) are limited; however, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) represents a potential target, as the majority of TNBC express EGFR. The purpose of these studies was to evaluate the effectiveness of two EGFR-targeted antibody-drug conjugates (ADC: ABT-414; ABBV-321) in combination with navitoclax, an antagonist of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 and BCL-X proteins, in order to assess the translational relevance of these combinations for TNBC. METHODS: The pre-clinical efficacy of combined treatments was evaluated in multiple patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of TNBC. Microscopy-based dynamic BH3 profiling (DBP) was used to assess mitochondrial apoptotic signaling induced by navitoclax and/or ADC treatments, and the expression of EGFR and BCL-2/X was analyzed in 46 triple-negative patient tumors. RESULTS: Treatment with navitoclax plus ABT-414 caused a significant reduction in tumor growth in five of seven PDXs and significant tumor regression in the highest EGFR-expressing PDX. Navitoclax plus ABBV-321, an EGFR-targeted ADC that displays more effective wild-type EGFR-targeting, elicited more significant tumor growth inhibition and regressions in the two highest EGFR-expressing models evaluated. The level of mitochondrial apoptotic signaling induced by single or combined drug treatments, as measured by DBP, correlated with the treatment responses observed in vivo. Lastly, the majority of triple-negative patient tumors were found to express EGFR and co-express BCL-X and/or BCL-2. CONCLUSIONS: The dramatic tumor regressions achieved using combined agents in pre-clinical TNBC models underscore the abilities of BCL-2/X antagonists to enhance the effectiveness of EGFR-targeted ADCs and highlight the clinical potential for usage of such targeted ADCs to alleviate toxicities associated with combinations of BCL-2/X inhibitors and systemic chemotherapies.
Obesity is a major cancer risk factor, but how differences in systemic metabolism change the tumor microenvironment (TME) and impact anti-tumor immunity is not understood. Here, we demonstrate that high-fat diet (HFD)-induced obesity impairs CD8 T cell function in the murine TME, accelerating tumor growth. We generate a single-cell resolution atlas of cellular metabolism in the TME, detailing how it changes with diet-induced obesity. We find that tumor and CD8 T cells display distinct metabolic adaptations to obesity. Tumor cells increase fat uptake with HFD, whereas tumor-infiltrating CD8 T cells do not. These differential adaptations lead to altered fatty acid partitioning in HFD tumors, impairing CD8 T cell infiltration and function. Blocking metabolic reprogramming by tumor cells in obese mice improves anti-tumor immunity. Analysis of human cancers reveals similar transcriptional changes in CD8 T cell markers, suggesting interventions that exploit metabolism to improve cancer immunotherapy.
Metabolic constraints in the tumor microenvironment constitute a barrier to effective antitumor immunity and similarities in the metabolic properties of T cells and cancer cells impede the specific therapeutic targeting of metabolism in either population. To identify distinct metabolic vulnerabilities of CD8 T cells and cancer cells, we developed a high-throughput pharmacologic screening platform and used it to measure the cell type-specific sensitivities of activated CD8 T cells and B16 melanoma cells to a wide array of metabolic perturbations during antigen-specific killing of cancer cells by CD8 T cells. We illustrated the applicability of this screening platform by showing that CD8 T cells were more sensitive to ferroptosis induction by inhibitors of glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4) than B16 and MC38 cancer cells. Overexpression of ferroptosis suppressor protein 1 (FSP1) or cytosolic GPX4 yielded ferroptosis-resistant CD8 T cells without compromising their function, while genetic deletion of the ferroptosis sensitivity-promoting enzyme acyl-CoA synthetase long-chain family member 4 (ACSL4) protected CD8 T cells from ferroptosis but impaired antitumor CD8 T-cell responses. Our screen also revealed high T cell-specific vulnerabilities for compounds targeting NAD metabolism or autophagy and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress pathways. We focused the current screening effort on metabolic agents. However, this screening platform may also be valuable for rapid testing of other types of compounds to identify regulators of antitumor CD8 T-cell function and potential therapeutic targets.
The role of the physical microenvironment in tumor development, progression, metastasis, and treatment is gaining appreciation. The emerging multidisciplinary field of the physical sciences of cancer is now embraced by engineers, physicists, cell biologists, developmental biologists, tumor biologists, and oncologists attempting to understand how physical parameters and processes affect cancer progression and treatment. Discoveries in this field are starting to be translated into new therapeutic strategies for cancer. In this Review, we propose four physical traits of tumors that contribute to tumor progression and treatment resistance: (i) elevated solid stresses (compression and tension), (ii) elevated interstitial fluid pressure, (iii) altered material properties (for example, increased tissue stiffness, which historically has been used to detect cancer by palpation), and (iv) altered physical microarchitecture. After defining these physical traits, we discuss their causes, consequences, and how they complement the biological hallmarks of cancer.
Targeted inhibition of oncogenic pathways can be highly effective in halting the rapid growth of tumors but often leads to the emergence of slowly dividing persister cells, which constitute a reservoir for the selection of drug-resistant clones. In BRAF melanomas, RAF and MEK inhibitors efficiently block oncogenic signaling, but persister cells emerge. Here, we show that persister cells escape drug-induced cell-cycle arrest via brief, sporadic ERK pulses generated by transmembrane receptors and growth factors operating in an autocrine/paracrine manner. Quantitative proteomics and computational modeling show that ERK pulsing is enabled by rewiring of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling: from an oncogenic BRAF monomer-driven configuration that is drug sensitive to a receptor-driven configuration that involves Ras-GTP and RAF dimers and is highly resistant to RAF and MEK inhibitors. Altogether, this work shows that pulsatile MAPK activation by factors in the microenvironment generates a persistent population of melanoma cells that rewires MAPK signaling to sustain non-genetic drug resistance.
Coordinated regulation of genes is key to determining cell fate. Although this is best understood for master regulator transcription factors, posttranscriptional regulation of mRNA stability and nuclear export can be equally effective at altering gene expression. Indeed, the heterogeneity of RNA-binding proteins and miRNAs suggests a deep complexity to posttranscriptional regulatory processes. In this issue, Wu and colleagues report a new mechanism for TGFβ-mediated immune suppression via regulation of mRNA-binding proteins in CD8 T cells..
Despite decades of effort, the sensitivity of patient tumors to individual drugs is often not predictable on the basis of molecular markers alone. Therefore, unbiased, high-throughput approaches to match patient tumors to effective drugs, without requiring a priori molecular hypotheses, are critically needed. Here, we improved upon a method that we previously reported and developed called high-throughput dynamic BH3 profiling (HT-DBP). HT-DBP is a microscopy-based, single-cell resolution assay that enables chemical screens of hundreds to thousands of candidate drugs on freshly isolated tumor cells. The method identifies chemical inducers of mitochondrial apoptotic signaling, a mechanism of cell death. HT-DBP requires only 24 hours of ex vivo culture, which enables a more immediate study of fresh primary tumor cells and minimizes adaptive changes that occur with prolonged ex vivo culture. Effective compounds identified by HT-DBP induced tumor regression in genetically engineered and patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of breast cancer. We additionally found that chemical vulnerabilities changed as cancer cells expanded ex vivo. Furthermore, using PDX models of colon cancer and resected tumors from colon cancer patients, our data demonstrated that HT-DBP could be used to generate personalized pharmacotypes. Thus, HT-DBP appears to be an ex vivo functional method with sufficient scale to simultaneously function as a companion diagnostic, therapeutic personalization, and discovery tool.