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Featured Publications

Alkan, O., et al. Modeling chemotherapy-induced stress to identify rational combination therapies in the DNA damage response pathway. Sci Signal 11, 540, (2018).Abstract
Cells respond to DNA damage by activating complex signaling networks that decide cell fate, promoting not only DNA damage repair and survival but also cell death. We have developed a multiscale computational model that quantitatively links chemotherapy-induced DNA damage response signaling to cell fate. The computational model was trained and calibrated on extensive data from U2OS osteosarcoma cells, including the cell cycle distribution of the initial cell population, signaling data measured by Western blotting, and cell fate data in response to chemotherapy treatment measured by time-lapse microscopy. The resulting mechanistic model predicted the cellular responses to chemotherapy alone and in combination with targeted inhibitors of the DNA damage response pathway, which we confirmed experimentally. Computational models such as the one presented here can be used to understand the molecular basis that defines the complex interplay between cell survival and cell death and to rationally identify chemotherapy-potentiating drug combinations.
Anastasiadou, E., et al. Epstein-Barr virus-encoded EBNA2 alters immune checkpoint PD-L1 expression by downregulating miR-34a in B-cell lymphomas. Leukemia (2018).Abstract
Cancer cells subvert host immune surveillance by altering immune checkpoint (IC) proteins. Some Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated tumors have higher Programmed Cell Death Ligand, PD-L1 expression. However, it is not known how EBV alters ICs in the context of its preferred host, the B lymphocyte and in derived lymphomas. Here, we found that latency III-expressing Burkitt lymphoma (BL), diffuse large B-cell lymphomas (DLBCL) or their EBNA2-transfected derivatives express high PD-L1. In a DLBCL model, EBNA2 but not LMP1 is sufficient to induce PD-L1. Latency III-expressing DLBCL biopsies showed high levels of PD-L1. The PD-L1 targeting oncosuppressor microRNA miR-34a was downregulated in EBNA2-transfected lymphoma cells. We identified early B-cell factor 1 (EBF1) as a repressor of miR-34a transcription. Short hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated knockdown of EBF1 was sufficient to induce miR-34a transcription, which in turn reduced PD-L1. MiR-34a reconstitution in EBNA2-transfected DLBCL reduced PD-L1 expression and increased its immunogenicity in mixed lymphocyte reactions (MLR) and in three-dimensional biomimetic microfluidic chips. Given the importance of PD-L1 inhibition in immunotherapy and miR-34a dysregulation in cancers, our findings may have important implications for combinatorial immunotherapy, which include IC inhibiting antibodies and miR-34a, for EBV-associated cancers.
Takahashi, N., et al. Cancer Cells Co-opt the Neuronal Redox-Sensing Channel TRPA1 to Promote Oxidative-Stress Tolerance. Cancer Cell (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Cancer cell survival is dependent on oxidative-stress defenses against reactive oxygen species (ROS) that accumulate during tumorigenesis. Here, we show a non-canonical oxidative-stress defense mechanism through TRPA1, a neuronal redox-sensing Ca2+-influx channel. In TRPA1-enriched breast and lung cancer spheroids, TRPA1 is critical for survival of inner cells that exhibit ROS accumulation. Moreover, TRPA1 promotes resistance to ROS-producing chemotherapies, and TRPA1 inhibition suppresses xenograft tumor growth and enhances chemosensitivity. TRPA1 does not affect redox status but upregulates Ca2+-dependent anti-apoptotic pathways. NRF2, an oxidant-defense transcription factor, directly controls TRPA1 expression, thus providing an orthogonal mechanism for protection against oxidative stress together with canonical ROS-neutralizing mechanisms. These findings reveal an oxidative-stress defense program involving TRPA1 that could be exploited for targeted cancer therapies.
Bester, A.C., et al. An Integrated Genome-wide CRISPRa Approach to Functionalize lncRNAs in Drug Resistance. Cell 173, 3, 649-664 (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Resistance to chemotherapy plays a significant role in cancer mortality. To identify genetic units affecting sensitivity to cytarabine, the mainstay of treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), we developed a comprehensive and integrated genome-wide platform based on a dual protein-coding and non-coding integrated CRISPRa screening (DICaS). Putative resistance genes were initially identified using pharmacogenetic data from 760 human pan-cancer cell lines. Subsequently, genome scale functional characterization of both coding and long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) genes by CRISPR activation was performed. For lncRNA functional assessment, we developed a CRISPR activation of lncRNA (CaLR) strategy, targeting 14,701 lncRNA genes. Computational and functional analysis identified novel cell-cycle, survival/apoptosis, and cancer signaling genes. Furthermore, transcriptional activation of the GAS6-AS2 lncRNA, identified in our analysis, leads to hyperactivation of the GAS6/TAM pathway, a resistance mechanism in multiple cancers including AML. Thus, DICaS represents a novel and powerful approach to identify integrated coding and non-coding pathways of therapeutic relevance.
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