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.
Crucial transitions in cancer-including tumor initiation, local expansion, metastasis, and therapeutic resistance-involve complex interactions between cells within the dynamic tumor ecosystem. Transformative single-cell genomics technologies and spatial multiplex in situ methods now provide an opportunity to interrogate this complexity at unprecedented resolution. The Human Tumor Atlas Network (HTAN), part of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Moonshot Initiative, will establish a clinical, experimental, computational, and organizational framework to generate informative and accessible three-dimensional atlases of cancer transitions for a diverse set of tumor types. This effort complements both ongoing efforts to map healthy organs and previous large-scale cancer genomics approaches focused on bulk sequencing at a single point in time. Generating single-cell, multiparametric, longitudinal atlases and integrating them with clinical outcomes should help identify novel predictive biomarkers and features as well as therapeutically relevant cell types, cell states, and cellular interactions across transitions. The resulting tumor atlases should have a profound impact on our understanding of cancer biology and have the potential to improve cancer detection, prevention, and therapeutic discovery for better precision-medicine treatments of cancer patients and those at risk for cancer.
Advances in our understanding of molecular mechanisms of tumorigenesis have translated into knowledge-based therapies directed against specific oncogenic signaling targets. These therapies often induce dramatic responses in susceptible tumors. Unfortunately, most advanced cancers, including those with robust initial responses, eventually acquire resistance to targeted therapies and relapse. Even though immune-based therapies are more likely to achieve complete cures, acquired resistance remains an obstacle to their success as well. Acquired resistance is the direct consequence of pre-existing intratumor heterogeneity and ongoing diversification during therapy, which enables some tumor cells to survive treatment and facilitates the development of new therapy-resistant phenotypes. In this review, we discuss the sources of intratumor heterogeneity and approaches to capture and account for it during clinical decision making. Finally, we outline potential strategies to improve therapeutic outcomes by directly targeting intratumor heterogeneity.
The avascular nature of cartilage makes it a unique tissue, but whether and how the absence of nutrient supply regulates chondrogenesis remain unknown. Here we show that obstruction of vascular invasion during bone healing favours chondrogenic over osteogenic differentiation of skeletal progenitor cells. Unexpectedly, this process is driven by a decreased availability of extracellular lipids. When lipids are scarce, skeletal progenitors activate forkhead box O (FOXO) transcription factors, which bind to the Sox9 promoter and increase its expression. Besides initiating chondrogenesis, SOX9 acts as a regulator of cellular metabolism by suppressing oxidation of fatty acids, and thus adapts the cells to an avascular life. Our results define lipid scarcity as an important determinant of chondrogenic commitment, reveal a role for FOXO transcription factors during lipid starvation, and identify SOX9 as a critical metabolic mediator. These data highlight the importance of the nutritional microenvironment in the specification of skeletal cell fate.
The chromosome breakage-fusion-bridge (BFB) cycle is a mutational process that produces gene amplification and genome instability. Signatures of BFB cycles can be observed in cancer genomes alongside chromothripsis, another catastrophic mutational phenomenon. We explain this association by elucidating a mutational cascade that is triggered by a single cell division error-chromosome bridge formation-that rapidly increases genomic complexity. We show that actomyosin forces are required for initial bridge breakage. Chromothripsis accumulates, beginning with aberrant interphase replication of bridge DNA. A subsequent burst of DNA replication in the next mitosis generates extensive DNA damage. During this second cell division, broken bridge chromosomes frequently missegregate and form micronuclei, promoting additional chromothripsis. We propose that iterations of this mutational cascade generate the continuing evolution and subclonal heterogeneity characteristic of many human cancers.
Malignant abdominal fluid (ascites) frequently develops in women with advanced high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) and is associated with drug resistance and a poor prognosis. To comprehensively characterize the HGSOC ascites ecosystem, we used single-cell RNA sequencing to profile ~11,000 cells from 22 ascites specimens from 11 patients with HGSOC. We found significant inter-patient variability in the composition and functional programs of ascites cells, including immunomodulatory fibroblast sub-populations and dichotomous macrophage populations. We found that the previously described immunoreactive and mesenchymal subtypes of HGSOC, which have prognostic implications, reflect the abundance of immune infiltrates and fibroblasts rather than distinct subsets of malignant cells. Malignant cell variability was partly explained by heterogeneous copy number alteration patterns or expression of a stemness program. Malignant cells shared expression of inflammatory programs that were largely recapitulated in single-cell RNA sequencing of ~35,000 cells from additionally collected samples, including three ascites, two primary HGSOC tumors and three patient ascites-derived xenograft models. Inhibition of the JAK/STAT pathway, which was expressed in both malignant cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts, had potent anti-tumor activity in primary short-term cultures and patient-derived xenograft models. Our work contributes to resolving the HSGOC landscape and provides a resource for the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
BET bromodomain inhibitors (BBDIs) are candidate therapeutic agents for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and other cancer types, but inherent and acquired resistance to BBDIs limits their potential clinical use. Using CRISPR and small-molecule inhibitor screens combined with comprehensive molecular profiling of BBDI response and resistance, we identified synthetic lethal interactions with BBDIs and genes that, when deleted, confer resistance. We observed synergy with regulators of cell cycle progression, YAP, AXL, and SRC signaling, and chemotherapeutic agents. We also uncovered functional similarities and differences among BRD2, BRD4, and BRD7. Although deletion of BRD2 enhances sensitivity to BBDIs, BRD7 loss leads to gain of TEAD-YAP chromatin binding and luminal features associated with BBDI resistance. Single-cell RNA-seq, ATAC-seq, and cellular barcoding analysis of BBDI responses in sensitive and resistant cell lines highlight significant heterogeneity among samples and demonstrate that BBDI resistance can be pre-existing or acquired.
While KRAS mutations are common in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), effective treatments are lacking. Here, we report that half of KRAS-mutant NSCLCs aberrantly express the homeobox protein HOXC10, largely due to unappreciated defects in PRC2, which confers sensitivity to combined BET/MEK inhibitors in xenograft and PDX models. Efficacy of the combination is dependent on suppression of HOXC10 by BET inhibitors. We further show that HOXC10 regulates the expression of pre-replication complex (pre-RC) proteins in sensitive tumors. Accordingly, BET/MEK inhibitors suppress pre-RC proteins in cycling cells, triggering stalled replication, DNA damage, and death. These studies reveal a promising therapeutic strategy for KRAS-mutant NSCLCs, identify a predictive biomarker of response, and define a subset of NSCLCs with a targetable epigenetic vulnerability.
Combined PARP and immune checkpoint inhibition has yielded encouraging results in ovarian cancer, but predictive biomarkers are lacking. We performed immunogenomic profiling and highly multiplexed single-cell imaging on tumor samples from patients enrolled in a Phase I/II trial of niraparib and pembrolizumab in ovarian cancer (NCT02657889). We identify two determinants of response; mutational signature 3 reflecting defective homologous recombination DNA repair, and positive immune score as a surrogate of interferon-primed exhausted CD8 + T-cells in the tumor microenvironment. Presence of one or both features associates with an improved outcome while concurrent absence yields no responses. Single-cell spatial analysis reveals prominent interactions of exhausted CD8 + T-cells and PD-L1 + macrophages and PD-L1 + tumor cells as mechanistic determinants of response. Furthermore, spatial analysis of two extreme responders shows differential clustering of exhausted CD8 + T-cells with PD-L1 + macrophages in the first, and exhausted CD8 + T-cells with cancer cells harboring genomic PD-L1 and PD-L2 amplification in the second.
Under proteotoxic stress, some cells survive whereas others die. The mechanisms governing this heterogeneity in cell fate remain unknown. Here we report that condensation and phase transition of heat-shock factor 1 (HSF1), a transcriptional regulator of chaperones, is integral to cell-fate decisions underlying survival or death. During stress, HSF1 drives chaperone expression but also accumulates separately in nuclear stress bodies called foci. Foci formation has been regarded as a marker of cells actively upregulating chaperones. Using multiplexed tissue imaging, we observed HSF1 foci in human tumours. Paradoxically, their presence inversely correlated with chaperone expression. By live-cell microscopy and single-cell analysis, we found that foci dissolution rather than formation promoted HSF1 activity and cell survival. During prolonged stress, the biophysical properties of HSF1 foci changed; small, fluid condensates enlarged into indissoluble gel-like arrangements with immobilized HSF1. Chaperone gene induction was reduced in such cells, which were prone to apoptosis. Quantitative analysis suggests that survival under stress results from competition between concurrent but opposing mechanisms. Foci may serve as sensors that tune cytoprotective responses, balancing rapid transient responses and irreversible outcomes.
Although the majority of -mutant melanomas respond to BRAF/MEK inhibitors, these agents are not typically curative. Moreover, they are largely ineffective in - and -mutant tumors. Here we report that genetic and chemical suppression of HDAC3 potently cooperates with MAPK pathway inhibitors in all three RAS pathway-driven tumors. Specifically, we show that entinostat dramatically enhances tumor regression when combined with BRAF/MEK inhibitors, in both models that are sensitive or relatively resistant to these agents. Interestingly, expression predicts responsiveness and marks tumors with latent defects in DNA repair. BRAF/MEK inhibitors enhance these defects by suppressing homologous recombination genes, inducing a BRCA-like state; however, addition of entinostat triggers the concomitant suppression of nonhomologous end-joining genes, resulting in a chemical synthetic lethality caused by excessive DNA damage. Together, these studies identify melanomas with latent DNA repair defects, describe a promising drug combination that capitalizes on these defects, and reveal a tractable therapeutic biomarker. SIGNIFICANCE: BRAF/MEK inhibitors are not typically curative in -mutant melanomas and are ineffective in - and -mutant tumors. We show that HDAC inhibitors dramatically enhance the efficacy of BRAF/MEK inhibitors in sensitive and insensitive RAS pathway-driven melanomas by coordinately suppressing two DNA repair pathways, and identify a clinical biomarker that predicts responsiveness...
Combinatorial clinical trials of PARP inhibitors with immunotherapies are ongoing, yet the immunomodulatory effects of PARP inhibition have been incompletely studied. Here, we sought to dissect the mechanisms underlying PARP inhibitor-induced changes in the tumor microenvironment of BRCA1-deficient triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). We demonstrate that the PARP inhibitor olaparib induces CD8 T-cell infiltration and activation , and that CD8 T-cell depletion severely compromises antitumor efficacy. Olaparib-induced T-cell recruitment is mediated through activation of the cGAS/STING pathway in tumor cells with paracrine activation of dendritic cells and is more pronounced in HR-deficient compared with HR-proficient TNBC cells and models. CRISPR-mediated knockout of STING in cancer cells prevents proinflammatory signaling and is sufficient to abolish olaparib-induced T-cell infiltration . These findings elucidate an additional mechanism of action of PARP inhibitors and provide a rationale for combining PARP inhibition with immunotherapies for the treatment of TNBC. SIGNIFICANCE: This work demonstrates cross-talk between PARP inhibition and the tumor microenvironment related to STING/TBK1/IRF3 pathway activation in cancer cells that governs CD8 T-cell recruitment and antitumor efficacy. The data provide insight into the mechanism of action of PARP inhibitors in -associated breast cancer..
Curative cancer therapies are uncommon and nearly always involve multi-drug combinations developed by experimentation in humans; unfortunately, the mechanistic basis for the success of such combinations has rarely been investigated in detail, obscuring lessons learned. Here, we use isobologram analysis to score pharmacological interaction, and clone tracing and CRISPR screening to measure cross-resistance among the five drugs comprising R-CHOP, a combination therapy that frequently cures Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphomas. We find that drugs in R-CHOP exhibit very low cross-resistance but not synergistic interaction: together they achieve a greater fractional kill according to the null hypothesis for both the Loewe dose-additivity model and the Bliss effect-independence model. These data provide direct evidence for the 50 year old hypothesis that a curative cancer therapy can be constructed on the basis of independently effective drugs having non-overlapping mechanisms of resistance, without synergistic interaction, which has immediate significance for the design of new drug combinations.
Frequent mutation of PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway genes in human cancers has stimulated large investments in targeted drugs but clinical successes are rare. As a result, many cancers with high PI3K pathway activity, such as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), are treated primarily with chemotherapy. By systematically analyzing responses of TNBC cells to a diverse collection of PI3K pathway inhibitors, we find that one drug, Torin2, is unusually effective because it inhibits both mTOR and other PI3K-like kinases (PIKKs). In contrast to mTOR-selective inhibitors, Torin2 exploits dependencies on several kinases for S-phase progression and cell-cycle checkpoints, thereby causing accumulation of single-stranded DNA and death by replication catastrophe or mitotic failure. Thus, Torin2 and its chemical analogs represent a mechanistically distinct class of PI3K pathway inhibitors that are uniquely cytotoxic to TNBC cells. This insight could be translated therapeutically by further developing Torin2 analogs or combinations of existing mTOR and PIKK inhibitors.
Recent approvals of TRK inhibitors have demonstrated the success of a tumor agnostic approach to oncogene-targeted therapy across cancers. Collective data from acquired resistance studies suggest that resistance mechanisms, which include both kinase domain mutations and bypass signaling via RTK-RAS-RAF-MAPK pathways, frequently recur regardless of tumor type, oncogene, and drug.
The interleukin-3 receptor α subunit, CD123, is expressed in many hematologic malignancies including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN). Tagraxofusp (SL-401) is a CD123-targeted therapy consisting of interleukin-3 fused to a truncated diphtheria toxin payload. Factors influencing response to tagraxofusp other than CD123 expression are largely unknown. We interrogated tagraxofusp resistance in patients and experimental models and found that it was not associated with CD123 loss. Rather, resistant AML and BPDCN cells frequently acquired deficiencies in the diphthamide synthesis pathway, impairing tagraxofusp's ability to ADP-ribosylate cellular targets. Expression of DPH1, encoding a diphthamide pathway enzyme, was reduced by DNA CpG methylation in resistant cells. Treatment with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor azacitidine restored DPH1 expression and tagraxofusp sensitivity. We also developed a drug-dependent ADP-ribosylation assay in primary cells that correlated with tagraxofusp activity and may represent an additional novel biomarker. As predicted by these results and our observation that resistance also increased mitochondrial apoptotic priming, we found that the combination of tagraxofusp and azacitidine was effective in patient-derived xenografts treated in vivo. These data have important implications for clinical use of tagraxofusp and led to a phase 1 study combining tagraxofusp and azacitidine in myeloid malignancies.
Homologous recombination deficiency conferred by alterations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 are common in breast tumors and can drive sensitivity to platinum chemotherapy and PARP inhibitors. Alterations in nucleotide excision repair (NER) activity can also impact sensitivity to DNA damaging agents, but NER activity in breast cancer has been poorly characterized. Here, we apply a novel immunofluorescence-based cellular NER assay to screen a large panel of breast epithelial and cancer cell lines. Although the majority of breast cancer models are NER proficient, we identify an example of a breast cancer cell line with profound NER deficiency. We show that NER deficiency in this model is driven by epigenetic silencing of the ERCC4 gene, leading to lack of expression of the NER nuclease XPF, and that ERCC4 methylation is also strongly correlated with ERCC4 mRNA and XPF protein expression in primary breast tumors. Re-expression of XPF in the ERCC4-deficient breast cancer rescues NER deficiency and cisplatin sensitivity, but does not impact PARP inhibitor sensitivity. These findings demonstrate the potential to use functional assays to identify novel mechanisms of DNA repair deficiency and nominate NER deficiency as a platinum sensitivity biomarker in breast cancer.
Systemic metabolic alterations associated with increased consumption of saturated fat and obesity are linked with increased risk of prostate cancer progression and mortality, but the molecular underpinnings of this association are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate in a murine prostate cancer model, that high-fat diet (HFD) enhances the MYC transcriptional program through metabolic alterations that favour histone H4K20 hypomethylation at the promoter regions of MYC regulated genes, leading to increased cellular proliferation and tumour burden. Saturated fat intake (SFI) is also associated with an enhanced MYC transcriptional signature in prostate cancer patients. The SFI-induced MYC signature independently predicts prostate cancer progression and death. Finally, switching from a high-fat to a low-fat diet, attenuates the MYC transcriptional program in mice. Our findings suggest that in primary prostate cancer, dietary SFI contributes to tumour progression by mimicking MYC over expression, setting the stage for therapeutic approaches involving changes to the diet.