Although targeted therapies are often effective systemically, they fail to adequately control brain metastases. In preclinical models of breast cancer that faithfully recapitulate the disparate clinical responses in these microenvironments, we observed that brain metastases evade phosphatidylinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibition despite drug accumulation in the brain lesions. In comparison to extracranial disease, we observed increased HER3 expression and phosphorylation in brain lesions. HER3 blockade overcame the resistance of HER2-amplified and/or PIK3CA-mutant breast cancer brain metastases to PI3K inhibitors, resulting in marked tumor growth delay and improvement in mouse survival. These data provide a mechanistic basis for therapeutic resistance in the brain microenvironment and identify translatable treatment strategies for HER2-amplified and/or PIK3CA-mutant breast cancer brain metastases.
Tumor subclasses differ according to the genotypes and phenotypes of malignant cells as well as the composition of the tumor microenvironment (TME). We dissected these influences in isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH)-mutant gliomas by combining 14,226 single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) profiles from 16 patient samples with bulk RNA-seq profiles from 165 patient samples. Differences in bulk profiles between IDH-mutant astrocytoma and oligodendroglioma can be primarily explained by distinct TME and signature genetic events, whereas both tumor types share similar developmental hierarchies and lineages of glial differentiation. As tumor grade increases, we find enhanced proliferation of malignant cells, larger pools of undifferentiated glioma cells, and an increase in macrophage over microglia expression programs in TME. Our work provides a unifying model for IDH-mutant gliomas and a general framework for dissecting the differences among human tumor subclasses.
The spread of cancer cells from primary tumors to regional lymph nodes is often associated with reduced survival. One prevailing model to explain this association posits that fatal, distant metastases are seeded by lymph node metastases. This view provides a mechanistic basis for the TNM staging system and is the rationale for surgical resection of tumor-draining lymph nodes. Here we examine the evolutionary relationship between primary tumor, lymph node, and distant metastases in human colorectal cancer. Studying 213 archival biopsy samples from 17 patients, we used somatic variants in hypermutable DNA regions to reconstruct high-confidence phylogenetic trees. We found that in 65% of cases, lymphatic and distant metastases arose from independent subclones in the primary tumor, whereas in 35% of cases they shared common subclonal origin. Therefore, two different lineage relationships between lymphatic and distant metastases exist in colorectal cancer.
Although the main focus of immuno-oncology has been manipulating the adaptive immune system, harnessing both the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system might produce superior tumour reduction and elimination. Tumour-associated macrophages often have net pro-tumour effects, but their embedded location and their untapped potential provide impetus to discover strategies to turn them against tumours. Strategies that deplete (anti-CSF-1 antibodies and CSF-1R inhibition) or stimulate (agonistic anti-CD40 or inhibitory anti-CD47 antibodies) tumour-associated macrophages have had some success. We hypothesized that pharmacologic modulation of macrophage phenotype could produce an anti-tumour effect. We previously reported that a first-in-class selective class IIa histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, TMP195, influenced human monocyte responses to the colony-stimulating factors CSF-1 and CSF-2 in vitro. Here, we utilize a macrophage-dependent autochthonous mouse model of breast cancer to demonstrate that in vivo TMP195 treatment alters the tumour microenvironment and reduces tumour burden and pulmonary metastases by modulating macrophage phenotypes. TMP195 induces the recruitment and differentiation of highly phagocytic and stimulatory macrophages within tumours. Furthermore, combining TMP195 with chemotherapy regimens or T-cell checkpoint blockade in this model significantly enhances the durability of tumour reduction. These data introduce class IIa HDAC inhibition as a means to harness the anti-tumour potential of macrophages to enhance cancer therapy.
The phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway is one of the most frequently altered pathways in human cancer and has a critical role in driving tumor initiation and progression. Although PI3K and its lipid product phosphatidylinositol-3,4,5-trisphosphate (PIP3) have been shown to activate multiple downstream signaling proteins, the vast majority of studies have focused on the protein kinase AKT as the dominant effector of PI3K signaling. However, recent studies have demonstrated many contexts under which other PIP3-dependent signaling proteins critically contribute to cancer progression, illustrating the importance of understanding AKT-independent signaling downstream of PI3K. Here, we highlight three PI3K-dependent, but AKT-independent, signaling branches that have recently been shown to have important roles in promoting phenotypes associated with malignancy. First, the PDK1-mTORC2-SGK axis can substitute for AKT in survival, migration, and growth signaling and has emerged as a major mechanism of resistance to PI3K and AKT inhibitors. Second, Rac signaling mediates the reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton to regulate cancer cell migration, invasion, and metabolism. Finally, the TEC family kinase BTK has a critical role in B cell function and malignancy and represents a recent example of an effective therapeutic target in cancer. These mechanisms highlight how understanding PI3K-dependent, but AKT-independent, signaling mechanisms that drive cancer progression will be crucial for the development of novel and more effective approaches for targeting the PI3K pathway for therapeutic benefit in cancer.
Chemotherapy resistance is a major barrier to the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), and strategies to circumvent resistance are required. Using in vitro and in vivo metabolic profiling of TNBC cells, we show that an increase in the abundance of pyrimidine nucleotides occurs in response to chemotherapy exposure. Mechanistically, elevation of pyrimidine nucleotides induced by chemotherapy is dependent on increased activity of the de novo pyrimidine synthesis pathway. Pharmacologic inhibition of de novo pyrimidine synthesis sensitizes TNBC cells to genotoxic chemotherapy agents by exacerbating DNA damage. Moreover, combined treatment with doxorubicin and leflunomide, a clinically approved inhibitor of the de novo pyrimidine synthesis pathway, induces regression of TNBC xenografts. Thus, the increase in pyrimidine nucleotide levels observed following chemotherapy exposure represents a metabolic vulnerability that can be exploited to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy for the treatment of TNBC.
SIGNIFICANCE: The prognosis for patients with TNBC with residual disease after chemotherapy is poor. We find that chemotherapy agents induce adaptive reprogramming of de novo pyrimidine synthesis and show that this response can be exploited pharmacologically, using clinically approved inhibitors of de novo pyrimidine synthesis, to sensitize TNBC cells to chemotherapy.
Immunotherapies based on immune checkpoint blockade are highly effective in a subset of patients. An ongoing challenge is the identification of biomarkers that predict which patients will benefit from these therapies. Aneuploidy, also known as somatic copy number alterations (SCNAs), is widespread in cancer and is posited to drive tumorigenesis. Analyzing 12 human cancer types, we find that, for most, highly aneuploid tumors show reduced expression of markers of cytotoxic infiltrating immune cells, especially CD8(+) T cells, and increased expression of cell proliferation markers. Different types of SCNAs predict the proliferation and immune signatures, implying distinct underlying mechanisms. Using published data from two clinical trials of immune checkpoint blockade therapy for metastatic melanoma, we found that tumor aneuploidy inversely correlates with patient survival. Together with other tumor characteristics such as tumor mutational load, aneuploidy may thus help identify patients most likely to respond to immunotherapy.
Treatment of BRAF-mutant melanomas with MAP kinase pathway inhibitors is paradigmatic of the promise of precision cancer therapy but also highlights problems with drug resistance that limit patient benefit. We use live-cell imaging, single-cell analysis, and molecular profiling to show that exposure of tumor cells to RAF/MEK inhibitors elicits a heterogeneous response in which some cells die, some arrest, and the remainder adapt to drug. Drug-adapted cells up-regulate markers of the neural crest (e.g., NGFR), a melanocyte precursor, and grow slowly. This phenotype is transiently stable, reverting to the drug-naïve state within 9 days of drug withdrawal. Transcriptional profiling of cell lines and human tumors implicates a c-Jun/ECM/FAK/Src cascade in de-differentiation in about one-third of cell lines studied; drug-induced changes in c-Jun and NGFR levels are also observed in xenograft and human tumors. Drugs targeting the c-Jun/ECM/FAK/Src cascade as well as BET bromodomain inhibitors increase the maximum effect (Emax) of RAF/MEK kinase inhibitors by promoting cell killing. Thus, analysis of reversible drug resistance at a single-cell level identifies signaling pathways and inhibitory drugs missed by assays that focus on cell populations.
Observing the endogenous abundance, localization, and dynamics of proteins in mammalian cells is crucial to understanding their function and behavior. Currently, there is no systematic approach for the fluorescent tagging of endogenous loci. Here, we used Cas9-catalyzed DNA breaks, short homology arms, and a family of donor plasmids to establish endogenous Fluorescent tagging (eFlut): a low-cost and efficient approach to generating endogenous proteins with fluorescent labels. We validated this protocol on multiple proteins in several cell lines and species and applied our tools to study the cell-cycle inhibitor CDKN1A in single cells. We uncover heterogeneity in the timing and rate of CDKN1A induction post-DNA damage and show that this variability is post-transcriptionally regulated, depends on cell-cycle position, and has long-term consequences for cellular proliferation. The tools developed in this study should support widespread study of the dynamics and localization of diverse proteins in mammalian cells.
Activating mutations in the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathway are frequently identified in cancer. To identify pathways that support PI3K oncogenesis, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in isogenic cell lines harboring wild-type or mutant PIK3CA to search for PI3K synthetic-lethal (SL) genes. A combined analysis of these results with a meta-analysis of two other large-scale RNAi screening data sets in PI3K mutant cancer cell lines converged on ribosomal protein translation and proteasomal protein degradation as critical nononcogene dependencies for PI3K-driven tumors. Genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of either pathway alone, but not together, selectively killed PI3K mutant tumor cells in an mTOR-dependent manner. The expression of ribosomal and proteasomal components was significantly up-regulated in primary human colorectal tumors harboring PI3K pathway activation. Importantly, a PI3K SL gene signature containing the top hits of the SL genes identified in our meta-analysis robustly predicted overall patient survival in colorectal cancer, especially among patients with tumors with an activated PI3K pathway. These results suggest that disruption of protein turnover homeostasis via ribosome or proteasome inhibition may be a novel treatment strategy for PI3K mutant human tumors.
Small molecule inhibitors of AKT (v-akt murine thymoma viral oncogene homolog) signaling are being evaluated in patients with various cancer types, but have so far proven therapeutically disappointing for reasons that remain unclear. Here, we treat cancer cells with subtherapeutic doses of Akti-1/2, an allosteric small molecule AKT inhibitor, in order to experimentally model pharmacologic inhibition of AKT signaling in vitro. We then apply a combined RNA, protein, and metabolite profiling approach to develop an integrated, multiscale, molecular snapshot of this "AKT(low)" cancer cell state. We find that AKT-inhibited cancer cells suppress thousands of mRNA transcripts, and proteins related to the cell cycle, ribosome, and protein translation. Surprisingly, however, these AKT-inhibited cells simultaneously upregulate a host of other proteins and metabolites posttranscriptionally, reflecting activation of their endo-vesiculo-membrane system, secretion of inflammatory proteins, and elaboration of extracellular microvesicles. Importantly, these microvesicles enable rapidly proliferating cancer cells of various types to better withstand different stress conditions, including serum deprivation, hypoxia, or cytotoxic chemotherapy in vitro and xenografting in vivo. These findings suggest a model whereby cancer cells experiencing a partial inhibition of AKT signaling may actually promote the survival of neighbors through non-cell autonomous communication.
Mammary epithelial cells transition between periods of proliferation and quiescence during development, menstrual cycles, and pregnancy, and as a result of oncogenic transformation. Utilizing an organotypic 3D tissue culture model coupled with quantitative metabolomics and proteomics, we identified significant differences in glutamate utilization between proliferating and quiescent cells. Relative to quiescent cells, proliferating cells catabolized more glutamate via transaminases to couple non-essential amino acid (NEAA) synthesis to α-ketoglutarate generation and tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle anaplerosis. As cells transitioned to quiescence, glutamine consumption and transaminase expression were reduced, while glutamate dehydrogenase (GLUD) was induced, leading to decreased NEAA synthesis. Highly proliferative human tumors display high transaminase and low GLUD expression, suggesting that proliferating cancer cells couple glutamine consumption to NEAA synthesis to promote biosynthesis. These findings describe a competitive and partially redundant relationship between transaminases and GLUD, and they reveal how coupling of glutamate-derived carbon and nitrogen metabolism can be regulated to support cell proliferation.
PURPOSE: Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancy in the United States, with high rates of recurrence and eventual resistance to cytotoxic chemotherapy. Model systems that allow for accurate and reproducible target discovery and validation are needed to support further drug development in this disease.
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Clinically-annotated patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models were generated from tumor cells isolated from the ascites or pleural fluid of patients undergoing clinical procedures. Models were characterized by immunohistochemistry and by molecular analyses. Each PDX was luciferized to allow for reproducible in vivo assessment of intraperitoneal tumor burden by bioluminescent imaging (BLI). Plasma assays for CA125 and human LINE-1 were developed as secondary tests of in vivo disease burden.
RESULTS: 14 clinically annotated and molecularly characterized luciferized ovarian PDX models were generated. Luciferized PDX models retain fidelity to both the non-luciferized PDX and the original patient tumor, as demonstrated by immunohistochemistry, array CGH, and targeted and whole-exome sequencing analyses. Models demonstrated diversity in specific genetic alterations and activation of PI3K signaling pathway members. Response of luciferized PDX models to standard of care therapy could be reproducibly monitored by BLI or plasma markers.
CONCLUSIONS: We describe the establishment of a collection of 14 clinically annotated and molecularly characterized luciferized ovarian PDX models in which orthotopic tumor burden in the intraperitoneal space can be followed by standard and reproducible methods. This collection is well-suited as a platform for proof-of-concept efficacy and biomarker studies and for validation of novel therapeutic strategies in ovarian cancer.
PURPOSE: To provide further insight into the role of proliferation and other cellular processes in chemosensitivity and resistance, we evaluated the association of a diverse set of gene expression signatures with response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) in breast cancer.
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Expression data from primary breast cancer biopsies for 1419 patients in 17 studies prior to NAC were identified and aggregated using common normalization procedures. Clinicopathologic characteristics including response to NAC were collected. Scores for 125 previously published breast cancer-related gene expression signatures were calculated for each tumor.
RESULTS: Within each receptor-based subgroup or PAM50 subtype, breast tumors with high proliferation signature scores were significantly more likely to achieve pCR to NAC. To distinguish 'proliferation-associated' from 'proliferation-independent' signatures, we used correlation and linear modeling approaches. Most signatures associated with response to NAC were proliferation-associated: 90.5% (38/42) in ER+/HER2- and 63.3% (38/60) in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Proliferation-independent signatures predictive of response to NAC in ER+/HER2- breast cancer were related to immune activity, while those in TNBC comprised a diverse set of signatures, including immune, DNA damage, signaling pathways (PI3K, AKT, Ras, EGFR), and 'stemness' phenotypes.
CONCLUSIONS: Proliferation differences account for the vast majority of predictive capacity of gene expression signatures in neoadjuvant chemosensitivity for ER+/HER2- breast cancers and, to a lesser extent, TNBCs. Immune activation signatures are proliferation-independent predictors of pCR in ER+/HER2- breast cancers. In TNBCs, significant proliferation-independent signatures include gene sets that represent a diverse set of cellular processes.
Many chemotherapeutic drugs kill only a fraction of cancer cells, limiting their efficacy. We used live-cell imaging to investigate the role of p53 dynamics in fractional killing of colon cancer cells in response to chemotherapy. We found that both surviving and dying cells reach similar levels of p53, indicating that cell death is not determined by a fixed p53 threshold. Instead, a cell's probability of death depends on the time and levels of p53. Cells must reach a threshold level of p53 to execute apoptosis, and this threshold increases with time. The increase in p53 apoptotic threshold is due to drug-dependent induction of anti-apoptotic genes, predominantly in the inhibitors of apoptosis (IAP) family. Our study underlines the importance of measuring the dynamics of key players in response to chemotherapy to determine mechanisms of resistance and optimize the timing of combination therapy.
To explore the distinct genotypic and phenotypic states of melanoma tumors, we applied single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to 4645 single cells isolated from 19 patients, profiling malignant, immune, stromal, and endothelial cells. Malignant cells within the same tumor displayed transcriptional heterogeneity associated with the cell cycle, spatial context, and a drug-resistance program. In particular, all tumors harbored malignant cells from two distinct transcriptional cell states, such that tumors characterized by high levels of the MITF transcription factor also contained cells with low MITF and elevated levels of the AXL kinase. Single-cell analyses suggested distinct tumor microenvironmental patterns, including cell-to-cell interactions. Analysis of tumor-infiltrating T cells revealed exhaustion programs, their connection to T cell activation and clonal expansion, and their variability across patients. Overall, we begin to unravel the cellular ecosystem of tumors and how single-cell genomics offers insights with implications for both targeted and immune therapies.
Drug sensitivity and resistance are conventionally quantified by IC50 or Emax values, but these metrics are highly sensitive to the number of divisions taking place over the course of a response assay. The dependency of IC50 and Emax on division rate creates artefactual correlations between genotype and drug sensitivity, while obscuring valuable biological insights and interfering with biomarker discovery. We derive alternative small molecule drug-response metrics that are insensitive to division number. These are based on estimation of the magnitude of drug-induced growth rate inhibition (GR) using endpoint or time-course assays. We show that GR50 and GRmax are superior to conventional metrics for assessing the effects of small molecule drugs in dividing cells. Moreover, adopting GR metrics requires only modest changes in experimental protocols. We expect GR metrics to improve the study of cell signaling and growth using small molecules and biologics and to facilitate the discovery of drug-response biomarkers and the identification of drugs effective against specific patient-derived tumor cells.