Three-dimensional in vitro tumor models are highly useful tools for studying tumor growth and treatment response of malignancies such as ovarian cancer. Existing viability and treatment assessment assays, however, face shortcomings when applied to these large, complex, and heterogeneous culture systems. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a noninvasive, label-free, optical imaging technique that can visualize live cells and tissues over time with subcellular resolution and millimeters of optical penetration depth. Here, we show that OCT is capable of carrying out high-content, longitudinal assays of 3D culture treatment response. We demonstrate the usage and capability of OCT for the dynamic monitoring of individual and combination therapeutic regimens in vitro, including both chemotherapy drugs and photodynamic therapy (PDT) for ovarian cancer. OCT was validated against the standard LIVE/DEAD Viability/Cytotoxicity Assay in small tumor spheroid cultures, showing excellent correlation with existing standards. Importantly, OCT was shown to be capable of evaluating 3D spheroid treatment response even when traditional viability assays failed. OCT 3D viability imaging revealed synergy between PDT and the standard-of-care chemotherapeutic carboplatin that evolved over time. We believe the efficacy and accuracy of OCT in vitro drug screening will greatly contribute to the field of cancer treatment and therapy evaluation.
The oncogene MDMX is overexpressed in many cancers, leading to suppression of the tumor suppressor p53. Inhibitors of the oncogene product MDMX therefore might help reactivate p53 and enhance the efficacy of DNA-damaging drugs. However, we currently lack a quantitative understanding of how MDMX inhibition affects the p53 signaling pathway and cell sensitivity to DNA damage. Live cell imaging showed that MDMX depletion triggered two distinct phases of p53 accumulation in single cells: an initial postmitotic pulse, followed by low-amplitude oscillations. The response to DNA damage was sharply different in these two phases; in the first phase, MDMX depletion was synergistic with DNA damage in causing cell death, whereas in the second phase, depletion of MDMX inhibited cell death. Thus a quantitative understanding of signal dynamics and cellular states is important for designing an optimal schedule of dual-drug administration.
Autophagy and cellular senescence are stress responses essential for homeostasis. While recent studies indicate a genetic relationship between autophagy and senescence, whether autophagy acts positively or negatively on senescence is still subject to debate. Although autophagy was originally recognized as a nonspecific lysosomal degradation pathway (general autophagy), increasing evidence supports a selective form of autophagy that mediates the degradation of specific targets (selective autophagy). Our recent study revealed distinctive roles of selective autophagy and general autophagy in the regulation of senescence, at least in part resolving apparently contradictory reports regarding the relationship between these 2 important homeostatic stress responses.
Translocation events are frequent in cancer and may create chimeric fusions or 'regulatory rearrangements' that drive oncogene overexpression. Here we identify super-enhancer translocations that drive overexpression of the oncogenic transcription factor MYB as a recurrent theme in adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). Whole-genome sequencing data and chromatin maps highlight distinct chromosomal rearrangements that juxtapose super-enhancers to the MYB locus. Chromosome conformation capture confirms that the translocated enhancers interact with the MYB promoter. Remarkably, MYB protein binds to the translocated enhancers, creating a positive feedback loop that sustains its expression. MYB also binds enhancers that drive different regulatory programs in alternate cell lineages in ACC, cooperating with TP63 in myoepithelial cells and a Notch program in luminal epithelial cells. Bromodomain inhibitors slow tumor growth in ACC primagraft models in vivo. Thus, our study identifies super-enhancer translocations that drive MYB expression and provides insight into downstream MYB functions in alternate ACC lineages.
While much research has examined the use of glucose and glutamine by tumor cells, many cancers instead prefer to metabolize fats. Despite the pervasiveness of this phenotype, knowledge of pathways that drive fatty acid oxidation (FAO) in cancer is limited. Prolyl hydroxylase domain proteins hydroxylate substrate proline residues and have been linked to fuel switching. Here, we reveal that PHD3 rapidly triggers repression of FAO in response to nutrient abundance via hydroxylation of acetyl-coA carboxylase 2 (ACC2). We find that PHD3 expression is strongly decreased in subsets of cancer including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and is linked to a reliance on fat catabolism regardless of external nutrient cues. Overexpressing PHD3 limits FAO via regulation of ACC2 and consequently impedes leukemia cell proliferation. Thus, loss of PHD3 enables greater utilization of fatty acids but may also serve as a metabolic and therapeutic liability by indicating cancer cell susceptibility to FAO inhibition.
Alterations in DNA repair pathways are common in tumors and can result in characteristic mutational signatures; however, a specific mutational signature associated with somatic alterations in the nucleotide- excision repair (NER) pathway has not yet been identified. Here we examine the mutational processes operating in urothelial cancer, a tumor type in which the core NER gene ERCC2 is significantly mutated. Analysis of three independent urothelial tumor cohorts demonstrates a strong association between somatic ERCC2 mutations and the activity of a mutational signature characterized by a broad spectrum of base changes. In addition, we note an association between the activity of this signature and smoking that is independent of ERCC2 mutation status, providing genomic evidence of tobacco-related mutagenesis in urothelial cancer. Together, these analyses identify an NER-related mutational signature and highlight the related roles of DNA damage and subsequent DNA repair in shaping tumor mutational landscape.
Follicular regulatory T cells (TFR cells) inhibit follicular helper T cell (TFH cell)-mediated antibody production. The mechanisms by which TFR cells exert their key immunoregulatory functions are largely unknown. Here we found that TFR cells induced a distinct suppressive state in TFH cells and B cells, in which effector transcriptional signatures were maintained but key effector molecules and metabolic pathways were suppressed. The suppression of B cell antibody production and metabolism by TFR cells was durable and persisted even in the absence of TFR cells. This durable suppression was due in part to epigenetic changes. The cytokine IL-21 was able to overcome TFR cell-mediated suppression and inhibited TFR cells and stimulated B cells. By determining mechanisms of TFR cell-mediated suppression, we have identified methods for modulating the function of TFR cells and antibody production.
The ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) and autophagy are two major intracellular degradative mechanisms that mediate the turnover of complementary repertoires of intracellular proteomes. Simultaneously activating both UPS and autophagy might provide a powerful strategy for the clearance of misfolded proteins. However, it is not clear whether UPS and autophagy can be controlled by a common regulatory mechanism. K48 deubiquitination by USP14 is known to inhibit UPS. Here we show that USP14 regulates autophagy by negatively controlling K63 ubiquitination of Beclin 1. Furthermore, we show that activation of USP14 by Akt-mediated phosphorylation provides a mechanism for Akt to negatively regulate autophagy by promoting K63 deubiquitination. Our study suggests that Akt-regulated USP14 activity modulates both proteasomal degradation and autophagy through controlling K48 and K63 ubiquitination, respectively. Therefore, regulation of USP14 provides a mechanism for Akt to control both proteasomal and autophagic degradation. We propose that inhibition of USP14 may provide a strategy to promote both UPS and autophagy for developing novel therapeutics targeting neurodegenerative diseases.
While acute myeloid leukemia (AML) comprises many disparate genetic subtypes, one shared hallmark is the arrest of leukemic myeloblasts at an immature and self-renewing stage of development. Therapies that overcome differentiation arrest represent a powerful treatment strategy. We leveraged the observation that the majority of AML, despite their genetically heterogeneity, share in the expression of HoxA9, a gene normally downregulated during myeloid differentiation. Using a conditional HoxA9 model system, we performed a high-throughput phenotypic screen and defined compounds that overcame differentiation blockade. Target identification led to the unanticipated discovery that inhibition of the enzyme dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH) enables myeloid differentiation in human and mouse AML models. In vivo, DHODH inhibitors reduced leukemic cell burden, decreased levels of leukemia-initiating cells, and improved survival. These data demonstrate the role of DHODH as a metabolic regulator of differentiation and point to its inhibition as a strategy for overcoming differentiation blockade in AML.
Solid tumors consist of cancer cells and stromal cells, including resident and transiting immune cells-all ensconced in an extracellular matrix (ECM)-nourished by blood vessels and drained by lymphatic vessels. The microenvironment constituents are abnormal and heterogeneous in morphology, phenotype, and physiology. Such irregularities include an inefficient tumor vascular network comprised of leaky and compressed vessels, which impair blood flow and oxygen delivery. Low oxygenation in certain tumor regions-or focal hypoxia-is a mediator of cancer progression, metastasis, immunosuppression, and treatment resistance. Thus, repairing an abnormal and heterogeneous microenvironment-and hypoxia in particular-can significantly improve treatments of solid tumors. Here, we summarize two strategies to reengineer the tumor microenvironment (TME)-vessel normalization and decompression-that can alleviate hypoxia. In addition, we discuss how these two strategies alone and in combination with each other-or other therapeutic strategies-may overcome the challenges posed by cancer heterogeneity.
Using a 3D co-culture model, we identified significant sub-type-specific changes in gene expression, metabolic, and therapeutic sensitivity profiles of breast cancer cells in contact with cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). CAF-induced gene expression signatures predicted clinical outcome and immune-related differences in the microenvironment. We found that fibroblasts strongly protect carcinoma cells from lapatinib, attributable to its reduced accumulation in carcinoma cells and an elevated apoptotic threshold. Fibroblasts from normal breast tissues and stromal cultures of brain metastases of breast cancer had similar effects as CAFs. Using synthetic lethality approaches, we identified molecular pathways whose inhibition sensitizes HER2+ breast cancer cells to lapatinib both in vitro and in vivo including JAK2/STAT3 and hyaluronic acid. Neoadjuvant lapatinib therapy in HER2+ breast tumors lead to a significant increase of phospho-STAT3+ cancer cells and a decrease in the spatial proximity of proliferating (Ki67+) cells to CAFs impacting therapeutic responses. Our studies identify CAF-induced physiologically and clinically relevant changes in cancer cells and offer novel approaches for overcoming microenvironment-mediated therapeutic resistance.
Mitochondria are bioenergetic, biosynthetic, and signaling organelles that are integral in stress sensing to allow for cellular adaptation to the environment. Therefore, it is not surprising that mitochondria are important mediators of tumorigenesis, as this process requires flexibility to adapt to cellular and environmental alterations in addition to cancer treatments. Multiple aspects of mitochondrial biology beyond bioenergetics support transformation, including mitochondrial biogenesis and turnover, fission and fusion dynamics, cell death susceptibility, oxidative stress regulation, metabolism, and signaling. Thus, understanding mechanisms of mitochondrial function during tumorigenesis will be critical for the next generation of cancer therapeutics.
Cancer cells often select for mutations that enhance signalling through pathways that promote anabolic metabolism. Although the PI(3)K/Akt signalling pathway, which is frequently dysregulated in breast cancer, is a well-established regulator of central glucose metabolism and aerobic glycolysis, its regulation of other metabolic processes required for tumour growth is not well defined. Here we report that in mammary epithelial cells, oncogenic PI(3)K/Akt stimulates glutathione (GSH) biosynthesis by stabilizing and activating NRF2 to upregulate the GSH biosynthetic genes. Increased NRF2 stability is dependent on the Akt-mediated accumulation of p21(Cip1/WAF1) and GSK-3β inhibition. Consistently, in human breast tumours, upregulation of NRF2 targets is associated with PI(3)K pathway mutation status and oncogenic Akt activation. Elevated GSH biosynthesis is required for PI(3)K/Akt-driven resistance to oxidative stress, initiation of tumour spheroids, and anchorage-independent growth. Furthermore, inhibition of GSH biosynthesis with buthionine sulfoximine synergizes with cisplatin to selectively induce tumour regression in PI(3)K pathway mutant breast cancer cells, both in vitro and in vivo. Our findings provide insight into GSH biosynthesis as a metabolic vulnerability associated with PI(3)K pathway mutant breast cancers.
Although mechanisms of acquired resistance of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-mutant non-small-cell lung cancers to EGFR inhibitors have been identified, little is known about how resistant clones evolve during drug therapy. Here we observe that acquired resistance caused by the EGFR(T790M) gatekeeper mutation can occur either by selection of pre-existing EGFR(T790M)-positive clones or via genetic evolution of initially EGFR(T790M)-negative drug-tolerant cells. The path to resistance impacts the biology of the resistant clone, as those that evolved from drug-tolerant cells had a diminished apoptotic response to third-generation EGFR inhibitors that target EGFR(T790M); treatment with navitoclax, an inhibitor of the anti-apoptotic factors BCL-xL and BCL-2 restored sensitivity. We corroborated these findings using cultures derived directly from EGFR inhibitor-resistant patient tumors. These findings provide evidence that clinically relevant drug-resistant cancer cells can both pre-exist and evolve from drug-tolerant cells, and they point to therapeutic opportunities to prevent or overcome resistance in the clinic.
Gain-of-function IDH mutations are initiating events that define major clinical and prognostic classes of gliomas. Mutant IDH protein produces a new onco-metabolite, 2-hydroxyglutarate, which interferes with iron-dependent hydroxylases, including the TET family of 5'-methylcytosine hydroxylases. TET enzymes catalyse a key step in the removal of DNA methylation. IDH mutant gliomas thus manifest a CpG island methylator phenotype (G-CIMP), although the functional importance of this altered epigenetic state remains unclear. Here we show that human IDH mutant gliomas exhibit hypermethylation at cohesin and CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF)-binding sites, compromising binding of this methylation-sensitive insulator protein. Reduced CTCF binding is associated with loss of insulation between topological domains and aberrant gene activation. We specifically demonstrate that loss of CTCF at a domain boundary permits a constitutive enhancer to interact aberrantly with the receptor tyrosine kinase gene PDGFRA, a prominent glioma oncogene. Treatment of IDH mutant gliomaspheres with a demethylating agent partially restores insulator function and downregulates PDGFRA. Conversely, CRISPR-mediated disruption of the CTCF motif in IDH wild-type gliomaspheres upregulates PDGFRA and increases proliferation. Our study suggests that IDH mutations promote gliomagenesis by disrupting chromosomal topology and allowing aberrant regulatory interactions that induce oncogene expression.
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a heterogeneous and clinically aggressive disease for which there is no targeted therapy. BET bromodomain inhibitors, which have shown efficacy in several models of cancer, have not been evaluated in TNBC. These inhibitors displace BET bromodomain proteins such as BRD4 from chromatin by competing with their acetyl-lysine recognition modules, leading to inhibition of oncogenic transcriptional programs. Here we report the preferential sensitivity of TNBCs to BET bromodomain inhibition in vitro and in vivo, establishing a rationale for clinical investigation and further motivation to understand mechanisms of resistance. In paired cell lines selected for acquired resistance to BET inhibition from previously sensitive TNBCs, we failed to identify gatekeeper mutations, new driver events or drug pump activation. BET-resistant TNBC cells remain dependent on wild-type BRD4, which supports transcription and cell proliferation in a bromodomain-independent manner. Proteomic studies of resistant TNBC identify strong association with MED1 and hyper-phosphorylation of BRD4 attributable to decreased activity of PP2A, identified here as a principal BRD4 serine phosphatase. Together, these studies provide a rationale for BET inhibition in TNBC and present mechanism-based combination strategies to anticipate clinical drug resistance.
UNLABELLED: All cancers contain an admixture of rapidly and slowly proliferating cancer cells. This proliferative heterogeneity complicates the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer because slow proliferators are hard to eradicate, can be difficult to detect, and may cause disease relapse sometimes years after apparently curative treatment. While clonal selection theory explains the presence and evolution of rapid proliferators within cancer cell populations, the circumstances and molecular details of how slow proliferators are produced is not well understood. Here, a β1-integrin/FAK/mTORC2/AKT1-associated signaling pathway is discovered that can be triggered for rapidly proliferating cancer cells to undergo asymmetric cell division and produce slowly proliferating AKT1(low) daughter cells. In addition, evidence indicates that the proliferative output of this signaling cascade involves a proteasome-dependent degradation process mediated by the E3 ubiquitin ligase TTC3. These findings reveal that proliferative heterogeneity within cancer cell populations, in part, is produced through a targetable signaling mechanism, with potential implications for understanding cancer progression, dormancy, and therapeutic resistance.
IMPLICATIONS: These findings provide a deeper understanding of the proliferative heterogeneity that exists in the tumor environment and highlight the importance of designing future therapies against multiple proliferative contexts. VISUAL OVERVIEW: A proposed mechanism for producing slowly proliferating cancer cells. http://mcr.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2015/01/09/1541-7786.MCR-14-04....
Disease relapse in cancer patients many years after clinical remission, often referred to as cancer dormancy, is well documented but remains an incompletely understood phenomenon on the biologic level. Recent reviews have summarized potential models that can explain this phenomenon, including angiogenic, immunologic, and cellular dormancy. We focus on mechanisms of cellular dormancy as newer biologic insights have enabled better understanding of this process. We provide a historical context, synthesize current advances in the field, and propose a mechanistic framework that treats cancer cell dormancy as a dynamic cell state conferring a fitness advantage to an evolving malignancy under stress. Cellular dormancy appears to be an active process that can be toggled through a variety of signaling mechanisms that ultimately downregulate the RAS/MAPK and PI(3)K/AKT pathways, an ability that is preserved even in cancers that constitutively depend on these pathways for their growth and survival. Just as unbridled proliferation is a key hallmark of cancer, the ability of cancer cells to become quiescent may be critical to evolving malignancies, with implications for understanding cancer initiation, progression, and treatment resistance.
Drugs that inhibit RAF/MEK signaling, such as vemurafenib, elicit profound but often temporary anti-tumor responses in patients with BRAF(V) (600E) melanoma. Adaptive responses to RAF/MEK inhibition occur on a timescale of hours to days, involve homeostatic responses that reactivate MAP kinase signaling and compensatory mitogenic pathways, and attenuate the anti-tumor effects of RAF/MEK inhibitors. We profile adaptive responses across a panel of melanoma cell lines using multiplex biochemical measurement, single-cell assays, and statistical modeling and show that adaptation involves at least six signaling cascades that act to reduce drug potency (IC50) and maximal effect (i.e., Emax ≪ 1). Among these cascades, we identify a role for JNK/c-Jun signaling in vemurafenib adaptation and show that RAF and JNK inhibitors synergize in cell killing. This arises because JNK inhibition prevents a subset of cells in a cycling population from becoming quiescent upon vemurafenib treatment, thereby reducing drug Emax. Our findings demonstrate the breadth and diversity of adaptive responses to RAF/MEK inhibition and a means to identify which steps in a signaling cascade are most predictive of phenotypic response.
Cellular senescence is a terminal stress-activated program controlled by the p53 and p16(INK4a) tumor suppressor proteins. A striking feature of senescence is the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), a pro-inflammatory response linked to tumor promotion and aging. We have identified the transcription factor GATA4 as a senescence and SASP regulator. GATA4 is stabilized in cells undergoing senescence and is required for the SASP. Normally, GATA4 is degraded by p62-mediated selective autophagy, but this regulation is suppressed during senescence, thereby stabilizing GATA4. GATA4 in turn activates the transcription factor NF-κB to initiate the SASP and facilitate senescence. GATA4 activation depends on the DNA damage response regulators ATM and ATR, but not on p53 or p16(INK4a). GATA4 accumulates in multiple tissues, including the aging brain, and could contribute to aging and its associated inflammation.