Publications

2021
Dougan, M., Luoma, A.M., Dougan, S.K. & Wucherpfennig, K.W. Understanding and treating the inflammatory adverse events of cancer immunotherapy. Cell 184, 6, 1575-1588 (2021).Abstract
During the past decade, immunotherapies have made a major impact on the treatment of diverse types of cancer. Inflammatory toxicities are not only a major concern for Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved checkpoint blockade and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies, but also limit the development and use of combination therapies. Fundamentally, these adverse events highlight the intricate balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory pathways that regulate protective immune responses. Here, we discuss the cellular and molecular mechanisms of inflammatory adverse events, current approaches to treatment, as well as opportunities for the design of immunotherapies that limit such inflammatory toxicities while preserving anti-tumor efficacy.
Schneider, J.L., et al. The aging lung: Physiology, disease, and immunity. Cell (2021).Abstract
The population is aging at a rate never seen before in human history. As the number of elderly adults grows, it is imperative we expand our understanding of the underpinnings of aging biology. Human lungs are composed of a unique panoply of cell types that face ongoing chemical, mechanical, biological, immunological, and xenobiotic stress over a lifetime. Yet, we do not fully appreciate the mechanistic drivers of lung aging and why age increases the risk of parenchymal lung disease, fatal respiratory infection, and primary lung cancer. Here, we review the molecular and cellular aspects of lung aging, local stress response pathways, and how the aging process predisposes to the pathogenesis of pulmonary disease. We place these insights into context of the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss how innate and adaptive immunity within the lung is altered with age.
Mahadevan, N.R., et al. Intrinsic immunogenicity of small cell lung carcinoma revealed by its cellular plasticity. Cancer Discov (2021).Abstract
Small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) is highly mutated, yet durable response to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) is rare. SCLC also exhibits cellular plasticity, which could influence its immunobiology. Here we discover that a distinct subset of SCLC uniquely upregulates MHC I, enriching for durable ICB benefit. In vitro modeling confirms epigenetic recovery of MHC I in SCLC following loss of neuroendocrine differentiation, which tracks with de-repression of STING. Transient EZH2 inhibition expands these non-neuroendocrine cells, which display intrinsic innate immune signaling and basally restored antigen presentation. Consistent with these findings, murine non-neuroendocrine SCLC tumors are rejected in a syngeneic model, with clonal expansion of immunodominant effector CD8 T cells. Therapeutically, EZH2 inhibition followed by STING agonism enhances T cell recognition and rejection of SCLC in mice. Together, these data identify MHC I as a novel biomarker of SCLC immune responsiveness and suggest novel immunotherapeutic approaches to co-opt SCLC's intrinsic immunogenicity.
Mehta, A.K., et al. Targeting immunosuppressive macrophages overcomes PARP inhibitor resistance in BRCA1-associated triple-negative breast cancer. Nat Cancer 2, 1, 66-82 (2021).Abstract
Despite objective responses to PARP inhibition and improvements in progression-free survival compared to standard chemotherapy in patients with BRCA-associated triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), benefits are transitory. Using high dimensional single-cell profiling of human TNBC, here we demonstrate that macrophages are the predominant infiltrating immune cell type in BRCA-associated TNBC. Through multi-omics profiling we show that PARP inhibitors enhance both anti- and pro-tumor features of macrophages through glucose and lipid metabolic reprogramming driven by the sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1 (SREBP-1) pathway. Combined PARP inhibitor therapy with CSF-1R blocking antibodies significantly enhanced innate and adaptive anti-tumor immunity and extends survival in BRCA-deficient tumors in vivo and is mediated by CD8+ T-cells. Collectively, our results uncover macrophage-mediated immune suppression as a liability of PARP inhibitor treatment and demonstrate combined PARP inhibition and macrophage targeting therapy induces a durable reprogramming of the tumor microenvironment, thus constituting a promising therapeutic strategy for TNBC.
Yuan, B., et al. CellBox: Interpretable Machine Learning for Perturbation Biology with Application to the Design of Cancer Combination Therapy. Cell Syst 12, 2, 128-140.e4 (2021).Abstract
Systematic perturbation of cells followed by comprehensive measurements of molecular and phenotypic responses provides informative data resources for constructing computational models of cell biology. Models that generalize well beyond training data can be used to identify combinatorial perturbations of potential therapeutic interest. Major challenges for machine learning on large biological datasets are to find global optima in a complex multidimensional space and mechanistically interpret the solutions. To address these challenges, we introduce a hybrid approach that combines explicit mathematical models of cell dynamics with a machine-learning framework, implemented in TensorFlow. We tested the modeling framework on a perturbation-response dataset of a melanoma cell line after drug treatments. The models can be efficiently trained to describe cellular behavior accurately. Even though completely data driven and independent of prior knowledge, the resulting de novo network models recapitulate some known interactions. The approach is readily applicable to various kinetic models of cell biology. A record of this paper's Transparent Peer Review process is included in the Supplemental Information.
Muthuswamy, S.K. Self-organization in cancer: implications for histopathology, cancer cell biology, and metastasis. Cancer Cell (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
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.
Keenan, T.E., et al. Clinical Efficacy and Molecular Response Correlates of the WEE1 Inhibitor Adavosertib Combined with Cisplatin in Patients with Metastatic Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Clin Cancer Res 27, 4, 983-991 (2021).Abstract
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/m2 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 BRCA2 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.
Sehgal, K., et al. Dynamic single-cell RNA sequencing identifies immunotherapy persister cells following PD-1 blockade. J Clin Invest 131, 2, (2021).Abstract
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.
Hemming, M.L., et al. HAND1 and BARX1 Act as Transcriptional and Anatomic Determinants of Malignancy in Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor. Clin Cancer Res 27, 6, 1706-1719 (2021).Abstract
PURPOSE: Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) arises from interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC) or their precursors, which are present throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Although 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. EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We evaluated RNA sequencing and TF chromatin immunoprecipitation with sequencing in GIST samples and cultured cells for transcriptional programs associated with HAND1 and BARX1. Multiplexed tissue-based cyclic immunofluorescence and IHC evaluated tissue- and cell-level expression of TFs and their association with clinical factors. RESULTS: We show that HAND1 is expressed in aggressive GIST, modulating KIT 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 with 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, whereas BARX1 expression was restricted to gastric ICCs. CONCLUSIONS: 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.
Bagati, A., et al. Integrin αvβ6-TGFβ-SOX4 Pathway Drives Immune Evasion in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Cancer Cell 39, 1, 54-67.e9 (2021).Abstract
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.
Elia, I. & Haigis, M.C. Metabolites and the tumour microenvironment: from cellular mechanisms to systemic metabolism. Nat Metab 3, 1, 21-32 (2021).Abstract
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.
Drijvers, J.M., et al. Pharmacologic Screening Identifies Metabolic Vulnerabilities of CD8 T Cells. Cancer Immunol Res 9, 2, 184-199 (2021).Abstract
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 in vitro 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 in vitro 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.
2020
Takahashi, N., et al. 3D Culture Models with CRISPR Screens Reveal Hyperactive NRF2 as a Prerequisite for Spheroid Formation via Regulation of Proliferation and Ferroptosis. Mol Cell 80, 5, 828-844.e6 (2020).Abstract
Cancer-associated mutations that stabilize NRF2, an oxidant defense transcription factor, are predicted to promote tumor development. Here, utilizing 3D cancer spheroid models coupled with CRISPR-Cas9 screens, we investigate the molecular pathogenesis mediated by NRF2 hyperactivation. NRF2 hyperactivation was necessary for proliferation and survival in lung tumor spheroids. Antioxidant treatment rescued survival but not proliferation, suggesting the presence of distinct mechanisms. CRISPR screens revealed that spheroids are differentially dependent on the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) for proliferation and the lipid peroxidase GPX4 for protection from ferroptosis of inner, matrix-deprived cells. Ferroptosis inhibitors blocked death from NRF2 downregulation, demonstrating a critical role of NRF2 in protecting matrix-deprived cells from ferroptosis. Interestingly, proteomics analyses show global enrichment of selenoproteins, including GPX4, by NRF2 downregulation, and targeting NRF2 and GPX4 killed spheroids overall. These results illustrate the value of spheroid culture in revealing environmental or spatial differential dependencies on NRF2 and reveal exploitable vulnerabilities of NRF2-hyperactivated tumors.
Zervantonakis, I.K., et al. Fibroblast-tumor cell signaling limits HER2 kinase therapy response via activation of MTOR and antiapoptotic pathways. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 117, 28, 16500-16508 (2020).Abstract
Despite the implementation of multiple HER2-targeted therapies, patients with advanced HER2+ breast cancer ultimately develop drug resistance. Stromal fibroblasts represent an abundant cell type in the tumor microenvironment and have been linked to poor outcomes and drug resistance. Here, we show that fibroblasts counteract the cytotoxic effects of HER2 kinase-targeted therapy in a subset of HER2+ breast cancer cell lines and allow cancer cells to proliferate in the presence of the HER2 kinase inhibitor lapatinib. Fibroblasts from primary breast tumors, normal breast tissue, and lung tissue have similar protective effects on tumor cells via paracrine factors. This fibroblast-mediated reduction in drug sensitivity involves increased expression of antiapoptotic proteins and sustained activation of the PI3K/AKT/MTOR pathway, despite inhibition of the HER2 and the RAS-ERK pathways in tumor cells. HER2 therapy sensitivity is restored in the fibroblast cocultures by combination treatment with inhibitors of MTOR or the antiapoptotic proteins BCL-XL and MCL-1. Expression of activated AKT in tumor cells recapitulates the effects of fibroblasts resulting in sustained MTOR signaling and poor lapatinib response. Lapatinib sensitivity was not altered by fibroblasts in tumor cells that exhibited sustained MTOR signaling due to a strong gain-of-function PI3KCA mutation. These findings indicate that in addition to tumor cell-intrinsic mechanisms that cause constitutive PI3K/AKT/MTOR pathway activation, secreted factors from fibroblasts can maintain this pathway in the context of HER2 inhibition. Our integrated proteomic-phenotypic approach presents a strategy for the discovery of protective mechanisms in fibroblast-rich tumors and the design of rational combination therapies to restore drug sensitivity.
Zhao, W., et al. Large-Scale Characterization of Drug Responses of Clinically Relevant Proteins in Cancer Cell Lines. Cancer Cell 38, 6, 829-843.e4 (2020).Abstract
Perturbation biology is a powerful approach to modeling quantitative cellular behaviors and understanding detailed disease mechanisms. However, large-scale protein response resources of cancer cell lines to perturbations are not available, resulting in a critical knowledge gap. Here we generated and compiled perturbed expression profiles of ∼210 clinically relevant proteins in >12,000 cancer cell line samples in response to ∼170 drug compounds using reverse-phase protein arrays. We show that integrating perturbed protein response signals provides mechanistic insights into drug resistance, increases the predictive power for drug sensitivity, and helps identify effective drug combinations. We build a systematic map of "protein-drug" connectivity and develop a user-friendly data portal for community use. Our study provides a rich resource to investigate the behaviors of cancer cells and the dependencies of treatment responses, thereby enabling a broad range of biomedical applications.
Rosenbluth, J.M., et al. Organoid cultures from normal and cancer-prone human breast tissues preserve complex epithelial lineages. Nat Commun 11, 1, 1711 (2020).Abstract
Recently, organoid technology has been used to generate a large repository of breast cancer organoids. Here we present an extensive evaluation of the ability of organoid culture technology to preserve complex stem/progenitor and differentiated cell types via long-term propagation of normal human mammary tissues. Basal/stem and luminal progenitor cells can differentiate in culture to generate mature basal and luminal cell types, including ER+ cells that have been challenging to maintain in culture. Cells associated with increased cancer risk can also be propagated. Single-cell analyses of matched organoid cultures and native tissues by mass cytometry for 38 markers provide a higher resolution representation of the multiple mammary epithelial cell types in the organoids, and demonstrate that protein expression patterns of the tissue of origin can be preserved in culture. These studies indicate that organoid cultures provide a valuable platform for studies of mammary differentiation, transformation, and breast cancer risk.
Amara, S.N.-A., et al. Transient commensal clonal interactions can drive tumor metastasis. Nat Commun 11, 1, 5799 (2020).Abstract
The extent and importance of functional heterogeneity and crosstalk between tumor cells is poorly understood. Here, we describe the generation of clonal populations from a patient-derived ovarian clear cell carcinoma model which forms malignant ascites and solid peritoneal tumors upon intraperitoneal transplantation in mice. The clonal populations are engineered with secreted Gaussia luciferase to monitor tumor growth dynamics and tagged with a unique DNA barcode to track their fate in multiclonal mixtures during tumor progression. Only one clone, CL31, grows robustly, generating exclusively malignant ascites. However, multiclonal mixtures form large solid peritoneal metastases, populated almost entirely by CL31, suggesting that transient cooperative interclonal interactions are sufficient to promote metastasis of CL31. CL31 uniquely harbors ERBB2 amplification, and its acquired metastatic activity in clonal mixtures is dependent on transient exposure to amphiregulin, which is exclusively secreted by non-tumorigenic clones. Amphiregulin enhances CL31 mesothelial clearance, a prerequisite for metastasis. These findings demonstrate that transient, ostensibly innocuous tumor subpopulations can promote metastases via "hit-and-run" commensal interactions.
Li, F., et al. CHK1 Inhibitor Blocks Phosphorylation of FAM122A and Promotes Replication Stress. Mol Cell 80, 3, 410-422.e6 (2020).Abstract
While effective anti-cancer drugs targeting the CHK1 kinase are advancing in the clinic, drug resistance is rapidly emerging. Here, we demonstrate that CRISPR-mediated knockout of the little-known gene FAM122A/PABIR1 confers cellular resistance to CHK1 inhibitors (CHK1is) and cross-resistance to ATR inhibitors. Knockout of FAM122A results in activation of PP2A-B55α, a phosphatase that dephosphorylates the WEE1 protein and rescues WEE1 from ubiquitin-mediated degradation. The resulting increase in WEE1 protein expression reduces replication stress, activates the G2/M checkpoint, and confers cellular resistance to CHK1is. Interestingly, in tumor cells with oncogene-driven replication stress, CHK1 can directly phosphorylate FAM122A, leading to activation of the PP2A-B55α phosphatase and increased WEE1 expression. A combination of a CHK1i plus a WEE1 inhibitor can overcome CHK1i resistance of these tumor cells, thereby enhancing anti-cancer activity. The FAM122A expression level in a tumor cell can serve as a useful biomarker for predicting CHK1i sensitivity or resistance.
van Gastel, N., et al. Induction of a Timed Metabolic Collapse to Overcome Cancer Chemoresistance. Cell Metab 32, 3, 391-403.e6 (2020).Abstract
Cancer relapse begins when malignant cells pass through the extreme metabolic bottleneck of stress from chemotherapy and the byproducts of the massive cell death in the surrounding region. In acute myeloid leukemia, complete remissions are common, but few are cured. We tracked leukemia cells in vivo, defined the moment of maximal response following chemotherapy, captured persisting cells, and conducted unbiased metabolomics, revealing a metabolite profile distinct from the pre-chemo growth or post-chemo relapse phase. Persisting cells used glutamine in a distinctive manner, preferentially fueling pyrimidine and glutathione generation, but not the mitochondrial tricarboxylic acid cycle. Notably, malignant cell pyrimidine synthesis also required aspartate provided by specific bone marrow stromal cells. Blunting glutamine metabolism or pyrimidine synthesis selected against residual leukemia-initiating cells and improved survival in leukemia mouse models and patient-derived xenografts. We propose that timed cell-intrinsic or niche-focused metabolic disruption can exploit a transient vulnerability and induce metabolic collapse in cancer cells to overcome chemoresistance.
Ge, J.Y., et al. Acquired resistance to combined BET and CDK4/6 inhibition in triple-negative breast cancer. Nat Commun 11, 1, 2350 (2020).Abstract
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.

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