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1.  Generation of anti-Notch antibodies and their application in blocking Notch signalling in neural stem cells 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2012;58(1):69-78.
► Potent antibodies that antagonise mouse and human Notch signalling are generated. ► Receptor specific inhibition of Notch1 and 2 signalling is demonstrated. ► Antibody mediated inhibition of Notch influences neural stem cell differentiation.
Notch signalling occurs via direct cell–cell interactions and plays an important role in linking the fates of neighbouring cells. There are four different mammalian Notch receptors that can be activated by five cell surface ligands. The ability to inhibit specific Notch receptors would help identify the roles of individual family members and potentially provide a means to study and control cell differentiation. Anti-Notch antibodies in the form of single chain Fvs were generated from an antibody phage display library by selection on either the ligand binding domain or the negative regulatory region (NRR) of Notch1 and Notch2. Six antibodies targeting the NRR of Notch1 and four antibodies recognising the NRR of Notch2 were found to prevent receptor activation in cell-based luciferase reporter assays. These antibodies were potent, highly specific inhibitors of individual Notch receptors and interfered with endogenous signalling in stem cell systems of both human and mouse origin. Antibody-mediated inhibition of Notch efficiently down-regulated transcription of the immediate Notch target gene hairy and enhancer of split 5 (Hes5) in both mouse and human neural stem cells and revealed a redundant regulation of Hes5 in these cells as complete down-regulation was seen only after simultaneous blocking of Notch1 and Notch2. In addition, these antibodies promoted differentiation of neural stem cells towards a neuronal fate. In contrast to the widely used small molecule γ-secretase inhibitors, which block all 4 Notch receptors (and a multitude of other signalling pathways), antibodies allow blockade of individual Notch family members in a highly specific way. Specific inhibition will allow examination of the effect of individual Notch receptors in complex differentiation schemes regulated by the co-ordinated action of multiple signalling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3502869  PMID: 22842086
Notch; Antagonistic antibody; Antibody phage-display; Neural stem cell
2.  Effects of S1 Cleavage on the Structure, Surface Export, and Signaling Activity of Human Notch1 and Notch2 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(8):e6613.
Notch receptors are normally cleaved during maturation by a furin-like protease at an extracellular site termed S1, creating a heterodimer of non-covalently associated subunits. The S1 site lies within a key negative regulatory region (NRR) of the receptor, which contains three highly conserved Lin12/Notch repeats and a heterodimerization domain (HD) that interact to prevent premature signaling in the absence of ligands. Because the role of S1 cleavage in Notch signaling remains unresolved, we investigated the effect of S1 cleavage on the structure, surface trafficking and ligand-mediated activation of human Notch1 and Notch2, as well as on ligand-independent activation of Notch1 by mutations found in human leukemia.
Principal Findings
The X-ray structure of the Notch1 NRR after furin cleavage shows little change when compared with that of an engineered Notch1 NRR lacking the S1-cleavage loop. Likewise, NMR studies of the Notch2 HD domain show that the loop containing the S1 site can be removed or cleaved without causing a substantial change in its structure. However, Notch1 and Notch2 receptors engineered to resist S1 cleavage exhibit unexpected differences in surface delivery and signaling competence: S1-resistant Notch1 receptors exhibit decreased, but detectable, surface expression and ligand-mediated receptor activation, whereas S1-resistant Notch2 receptors are fully competent for cell surface delivery and for activation by ligands. Variable dependence on S1 cleavage also extends to T-ALL-associated NRR mutations, as common class 1 mutations display variable decrements in ligand-independent activation when introduced into furin-resistant receptors, whereas a class 2 mutation exhibits increased signaling activity.
S1 cleavage has distinct effects on the surface expression of Notch1 and Notch2, but is not generally required for physiologic or pathophysiologic activation of Notch proteins. These findings are consistent with models for receptor activation in which ligand-binding or T-ALL-associated mutations lead to conformational changes of the NRR that permit metalloprotease cleavage.
PMCID: PMC2726630  PMID: 19701457
3.  Force-Induced Unfolding Simulations of the Human Notch1 Negative Regulatory Region: Possible Roles of the Heterodimerization Domain in Mechanosensing 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22837.
Notch receptors are core components of the Notch signaling pathway and play a central role in cell fate decisions during development as well as tissue homeostasis. Upon ligand binding, Notch is sequentially cleaved at the S2 site by an ADAM protease and at the S3 site by the γ-secretase complex. Recent X-ray structures of the negative regulatory region (NRR) of the Notch receptor reveal an auto-inhibited fold where three protective Lin12/Notch repeats (LNR) of the NRR shield the S2 cleavage site housed in the heterodimerization (HD) domain. One of the models explaining how ligand binding drives the NRR conformation from a protease-resistant state to a protease-sensitive one invokes a mechanical force exerted on the NRR upon ligand endocytosis. Here, we combined physics-based atomistic simulations and topology-based coarse-grained modeling to investigate the intrinsic and force-induced folding and unfolding mechanisms of the human Notch1 NRR. The simulations support that external force applied to the termini of the NRR disengages the LNR modules from the heterodimerization (HD) domain in a well-defined, largely sequential manner. Importantly, the mechanical force can further drive local unfolding of the HD domain in a functionally relevant fashion that would provide full proteolytic access to the S2 site prior to heterodimer disassociation. We further analyzed local structural features, intrinsic folding free energy surfaces, and correlated motions of the HD domain. The results are consistent with a model in which the HD domain possesses inherent mechanosensing characteristics that could be utilized during Notch activation. This potential role of the HD domain in ligand-dependent Notch activation may have implications for understanding normal and aberrant Notch signaling.
PMCID: PMC3145759  PMID: 21829530
4.  Insights into Notch3 Activation and Inhibition Mediated by Antibodies Directed Against its Negative Regulatory Region 
Journal of molecular biology  2013;425(17):3192-3204.
Notch receptors are single-pass transmembrane proteins that regulate development and tissue homeostasis in all metazoan organisms. Prior to ligand-induced signaling, Notch receptors adopt a proteolytic-resistant conformation maintained by a critical interdomain interface within a negative regulatory region (NRR), which sits immediately external to the plasma membrane. Signaling is initiated when ligand binding induces exposure of the proteolytic cleavage site, termed S2, within the NRR. Here, we use hydrogen exchange in conjunction with mass spectrometry (HX-MS) to study the dynamics of the human Notch3 NRR in four distinct biochemical states: in its unmodified quiescent form, in a proteolytically “on” state induced by EDTA, and in complex with either agonist or inhibitory antibodies. Induction of the “on” state by either EDTA or the agonist monoclonal antibody leads to accelerated deuteration in the region of the S2 cleavage site, reflecting an increase in S2 dynamics. In contrast, complexation of the Notch3 NRR with an inhibitory antibody retards deteuration not only across its discontinuous binding epitope, but also around the S2 site, stabilizing the NRR in its “off” state. Together with previous work investigating the dynamics of the Notch1 NRR, these studies show that key features of autoinhibition and activation are shared among different Notch receptors, and provide additional insights into mechanisms of Notch activation and inhibition by modulatory antibodies.
PMCID: PMC3751422  PMID: 23747483
5.  In vivo consequences of deleting EGF repeats 8–12 including the ligand binding domain of mouse Notch1 
Notch signaling is highly conserved in the metazoa and is critical for many cell fate decisions. Notch activation occurs following ligand binding to Notch extracellular domain. In vitro binding assays have identified epidermal growth factor (EGF) repeats 11 and 12 as the ligand binding domain of Drosophila Notch. Here we show that an internal deletion in mouse Notch1 of EGF repeats 8–12, including the putative ligand binding domain (lbd), is an inactivating mutation in vivo. We also show that maternal and zygotic Notch1lbd/lbd mutant embryos develop through gastrulation to mid-gestation.
Notch1lbd/lbd embryos died at mid-gestation with a phenotype indistinguishable from Notch1 null mutants. In embryonic stem (ES) cells, Notch1lbd was expressed on the cell surface at levels equivalent to wild type Notch1, but Delta1 binding was reduced to the same level as in Notch1 null cells. In an ES cell co-culture assay, Notch signaling induced by Jagged1 or Delta1 was reduced to a similar level in Notch1lbdand Notch1 null cells. However, the Notch1lbd/lbd allele was expressed similarly to wild type Notch1 in Notch1lbd/lbd ES cells and embryos at E8.75, indicating that Notch1 signaling is not essential for the Notch1 gene to be expressed. In addition, maternal and zygotic Notch1 mutant blastocysts developed through gastrulation.
Mouse Notch1 lacking the ligand binding domain is expressed at the cell surface but does not signal in response to the canonical Notch ligands Delta1 and Jagged1. Homozygous Notch1lbd/lbd mutant embryos die at ~E10 similar to Notch1 null embryos. While Notch1 is expressed in oocytes and blastocysts, Notch1 signaling via canonical ligands is dispensable during oogenesis, blastogenesis, implantation and gastrulation.
PMCID: PMC2390518  PMID: 18445292
6.  Effects of varying Notch1 signal strength on embryogenesis and vasculogenesis in compound mutant heterozygotes 
Identifying developmental processes regulated by Notch1 can be addressed in part by characterizing mice with graded levels of Notch1 signaling strength. Here we examine development in embryos expressing various combinations of Notch1 mutant alleles. Mice homozygous for the hypomorphic Notch112f allele, which removes the single O-fucose glycan in epidermal growth factor-like repeat 12 (EGF12) of the Notch1 ligand binding domain (lbd), exhibit reduced growth after weaning and defective T cell development. Mice homozygous for the inactive Notch1lbd allele express Notch1 missing an ~20 kDa internal segment including the canonical Notch1 ligand binding domain, and die at embryonic day ~E9.5. The embryonic and vascular phenotypes of compound heterozygous Notch112f/lbd embryos were compared with Notch1+/12f, Notch112f/12f, and Notch1lbd/lbd embryos. Embryonic stem (ES) cells derived from these embryos were also examined in Notch signaling assays. While Notch1 signaling was stronger in Notch112f/lbd compound heterozygotes compared to Notch1lbd/lbd embryos and ES cells, Notch1 signaling was even stronger in embryos carrying Notch112f and a null Notch1 allele.
Mouse embryos expressing the hypomorphic Notch112f allele, in combination with the inactive Notch1lbd allele which lacks the Notch1 ligand binding domain, died at ~E11.5-12.5. Notch112f/lbd ES cells signaled less well than Notch112f/12f ES cells but more strongly than Notch1lbd/lbd ES cells. However, vascular defects in Notch112f/lbd yolk sac were severe and similar to Notch1lbd/lbd yolk sac. By contrast, vascular disorganization was milder in Notch112f/lbd compared to Notch1lbd/lbd embryos. The expression of Notch1 target genes was low in Notch112f/lbd yolk sac and embryo head, whereas Vegf and Vegfr2 transcripts were increased. The severity of the compound heterozygous Notch112f/lbd yolk sac phenotype suggested that the allelic products may functionally interact. By contrast, compound heterozygotes with Notch112f in combination with a Notch1 null allele (Notch1tm1Con) were capable of surviving to birth.
Notch1 signaling in Notch112f/lbd compound heterozygous embryos is more defective than in compound heterozygotes expressing a hypomorphic Notch112f allele and a Notch1 null allele. The data suggest that the gene products Notch1lbd and Notch112f interact to reduce the activity of Notch112f.
PMCID: PMC2865454  PMID: 20346184
7.  Selective Use of ADAM10 and ADAM17 in Activation of Notch1 Signaling▿  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;29(21):5679-5695.
Notch signaling requires a series of proteolytic cleavage events to release the Notch intracellular domain (NICD) that functions directly in signal transduction. The Notch receptor is locked down in a protease-resistant state by a negative regulatory region (NRR) that protects an ADAM (a disintegrin and metalloprotease) cleavage site. Engagement with ligand-bearing cells induces global conformational movements in Notch that unfold the NRR structure to expose the ADAM cleavage site and initiate proteolytic activation. Although both ADAM10 and ADAM17 have been reported to cleave Notch to facilitate NICD release by γ-secretase, the relevant ADAM has remained controversial. Our study provides new insight into this conflict, as we find that although Notch1 (N1) is a substrate for both ADAM10 and ADAM17, the particular ADAM required for receptor activation is context dependent. Specifically, ADAM10 was absolutely required for N1 signaling induced by ligands, while signaling independent of ligands required ADAM17. In contrast to the strict and differential use of ADAM10 and ADAM17 in normal and dysregulated signaling, respectively, both proteases participated in signaling intrinsic to N1 mutations associated with leukemia. We propose that in addition to exposing the ADAM cleavage site, activating N1 conformational changes facilitate selective cleavage by specific proteases.
PMCID: PMC2772745  PMID: 19704010
8.  Role of Notch signaling in cell-fate determination of human mammary stem/progenitor cells 
Breast Cancer Research  2004;6(6):R605-R615.
Notch signaling has been implicated in the regulation of cell-fate decisions such as self-renewal of adult stem cells and differentiation of progenitor cells along a particular lineage. Moreover, depending on the cellular and developmental context, the Notch pathway acts as a regulator of cell survival and cell proliferation. Abnormal expression of Notch receptors has been found in different types of epithelial metaplastic lesions and neoplastic lesions, suggesting that Notch may act as a proto-oncogene. The vertebrate Notch1 and Notch4 homologs are involved in normal development of the mammary gland, and mutated forms of these genes are associated with development of mouse mammary tumors.
In order to determine the role of Notch signaling in mammary cell-fate determination, we have utilized a newly described in vitro system in which mammary stem/progenitor cells can be cultured in suspension as nonadherent 'mammospheres'. Notch signaling was activated using exogenous ligands, or was inhibited using previously characterized Notch signaling antagonists.
Utilizing this system, we demonstrate that Notch signaling can act on mammary stem cells to promote self-renewal and on early progenitor cells to promote their proliferation, as demonstrated by a 10-fold increase in secondary mammosphere formation upon addition of a Notch-activating DSL peptide. In addition to acting on stem cells, Notch signaling is also able to act on multipotent progenitor cells, facilitating myoepithelial lineage-specific commitment and proliferation. Stimulation of this pathway also promotes branching morphogenesis in three-dimensional Matrigel cultures. These effects are completely inhibited by a Notch4 blocking antibody or a gamma secretase inhibitor that blocks Notch processing. In contrast to the effects of Notch signaling on mammary stem/progenitor cells, modulation of this pathway has no discernable effect on fully committed, differentiated, mammary epithelial cells.
These studies suggest that Notch signaling plays a critical role in normal human mammary development by acting on both stem cells and progenitor cells, affecting self-renewal and lineage-specific differentiation. Based on these findings we propose that abnormal Notch signaling may contribute to mammary carcinogenesis by deregulating the self-renewal of normal mammary stem cells.
PMCID: PMC1064073  PMID: 15535842
mammary gland development; mammary progenitor cells; mammary stem cells; Notch
9.  Cis-interactions between Notch and its ligands block ligand-independent Notch activity 
eLife  null;3:e04415.
The Notch pathway is integrated into numerous developmental processes and therefore is fine-tuned on many levels, including receptor production, endocytosis, and degradation. Notch is further characterized by a twofold relationship with its Delta-Serrate (DSL) ligands, as ligands from opposing cells (trans-ligands) activate Notch, whereas ligands expressed in the same cell (cis-ligands) inhibit signaling. We show that cells without both cis- and trans-ligands can mediate Notch-dependent developmental events during Drosophila oogenesis, indicating ligand-independent Notch activity occurs when the receptor is free of cis- and trans-ligands. Furthermore, cis-ligands can reduce Notch activity in endogenous and genetically induced situations of elevated trans-ligand-independent Notch signaling. We conclude that cis-expressed ligands exert their repressive effect on Notch signaling in cases of trans-ligand-independent activation, and propose a new function of cis-inhibition which buffers cells against accidental Notch activity.
eLife digest
Many biological processes require cells to send messages to one another. Typically, this is achieved when molecules are released from one cell and make contact with companion molecules on another cell. This triggers a chemical or biological reaction in the receiving cell.
One of the most common examples of this is the Notch pathway, which is used throughout the animal kingdom and plays an important role in helping cells and embryos to develop. The Notch protein itself is a ‘receptor’ protein that is embedded in the surface of a cell, and relays signals from outside the cell to activate certain genes inside the cell. In fruit flies, two proteins called Serrate and Delta act as ‘ligands’ for Notch—by binding to Notch, they can change how this receptor works.
If Serrate or Delta are present on the outside of one cell, they can activate Notch (and hence the Notch signaling pathway) in an adjacent cell. However, if the Serrate or Delta ligands are present on the surface of the same cell as Notch they turn the receptor off, rather than activate it. Notch can also work without being activated by Serrate or Delta, but whether the ligands can inhibit this ‘ligand-independent’ Notch activation if they are on the surface of the same cell as the Notch receptor was unknown.
Palmer et al. study Notch signaling in the fruit fly equivalent of the ovary, in cells that are naturally deficient in Serrate and from which Delta was artificially removed. The Notch protein was activated when these ligands were not present. Furthermore, the developmental processes that are activated by Notch were able to proceed as normal when triggered by ligand-independent Notch signaling. In total, Palmer et al. investigated three different types of fruit fly cell, and found that ligand-independent Notch signaling can occur in all of them.
Reintroducing Delta to the same cell as Notch turns the receptor off, suggesting that ligands on the surface of the same cell as the receptor can inhibit ligand-independent Notch activity. Many genetic diseases and cancers have been linked to Notch being activated when it should not be; therefore, understanding how Notch is controlled could help guide the development of new treatments for these conditions.
PMCID: PMC4286723  PMID: 25486593
Notch pathway; signal transduction; oogenesis; D. melanogaster
10.  Fbw7 Repression by Hes5 Creates a Feedback Loop That Modulates Notch-Mediated Intestinal and Neural Stem Cell Fate Decisions 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(6):e1001586.
A novel intracellular positive feedback loop connects Fbw7 and Notch: while Fbw7 down-regulates the stability of NICD protein, it is also itself transcriptionally down-regulated by NICD target Hes5.
FBW7 is a crucial component of an SCF-type E3 ubiquitin ligase, which mediates degradation of an array of different target proteins. The Fbw7 locus comprises three different isoforms, each with its own promoter and each suspected to have a distinct set of substrates. Most FBW7 targets have important functions in developmental processes and oncogenesis, including Notch proteins, which are functionally important substrates of SCF(Fbw7). Notch signalling controls a plethora of cell differentiation decisions in a wide range of species. A prominent role of this signalling pathway is that of mediating lateral inhibition, a process where exchange of signals that repress Notch ligand production amplifies initial differences in Notch activation levels between neighbouring cells, resulting in unequal cell differentiation decisions. Here we show that the downstream Notch signalling effector HES5 directly represses transcription of the E3 ligase Fbw7β, thereby directly bearing on the process of lateral inhibition. Fbw7Δ/+ heterozygous mice showed haploinsufficiency for Notch degradation causing impaired intestinal progenitor cell and neural stem cell differentiation. Notably, concomitant inactivation of Hes5 rescued both phenotypes and restored normal stem cell differentiation potential. In silico modelling suggests that the NICD/HES5/FBW7β positive feedback loop underlies Fbw7 haploinsufficiency. Thus repression of Fbw7β transcription by Notch signalling is an essential mechanism that is coupled to and required for the correct specification of cell fates induced by lateral inhibition.
Author Summary
The Notch signalling pathway is a highly conserved system that controls cell differentiation decisions in a wide range of animal species and cell types, and at different steps during cell lineage progression. An important function of the Notch pathway is in lateral inhibition—an interaction between equal adjacent cells that drives them towards different final states. The basic principle of lateral inhibition is that activation of the Notch cell surface receptor represses production of the Notch ligand (also borne on the cell surface). Consequently, cells expressing less Notch produce more Notch ligand that can activate the Notch pathway in neighboring cells and thereby amplify the differences between these cells. However, the additional regulatory circuits required to fine-tune this delicate process have so far remained elusive. Here we describe the identification of a novel intracellular positive feedback loop that connects Fbw7 (the ubiquitin ligase responsible for targeting Notch for degradation) and Notch itself. We show that Fbw7 reduces the stability of Notch intracellular domain (NICD) protein, as previously established, but also that the fbw7 gene is itself transcriptionally downregulated by the Notch effector Hes5. Thus we conclude that increased Notch activity causes NICD stabilisation. Further, we demonstrate that perturbation of this regulatory loop is responsible for the Fbw7 haploinsufficiency observed for Notch-dependent functions in intestine and brain stem cells.
PMCID: PMC3679002  PMID: 23776410
11.  Prox1 Regulates the Notch1-Mediated Inhibition of Neurogenesis 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(12):e1000565.
During development of the spinal cord, Prox1 controls the balance between proliferation and differentiation of neural progenitor cells via suppression of Notch1 gene expression.
Activation of Notch1 signaling in neural progenitor cells (NPCs) induces self-renewal and inhibits neurogenesis. Upon neuronal differentiation, NPCs overcome this inhibition, express proneural genes to induce Notch ligands, and activate Notch1 in neighboring NPCs. The molecular mechanism that coordinates Notch1 inactivation with initiation of neurogenesis remains elusive. Here, we provide evidence that Prox1, a transcription repressor and downstream target of proneural genes, counteracts Notch1 signaling via direct suppression of Notch1 gene expression. By expression studies in the developing spinal cord of chick and mouse embryo, we showed that Prox1 is limited to neuronal precursors residing between the Notch1+ NPCs and post-mitotic neurons. Physiological levels of Prox1 in this tissue are sufficient to allow binding at Notch1 promoter and they are critical for proper Notch1 transcriptional regulation in vivo. Gain-of-function studies in the chick neural tube and mouse NPCs suggest that Prox1-mediated suppression of Notch1 relieves its inhibition on neurogenesis and allows NPCs to exit the cell cycle and differentiate. Moreover, loss-of-function in the chick neural tube shows that Prox1 is necessary for suppression of Notch1 outside the ventricular zone, inhibition of active Notch signaling, down-regulation of NPC markers, and completion of neuronal differentiation program. Together these data suggest that Prox1 inhibits Notch1 gene expression to control the balance between NPC self-renewal and neuronal differentiation.
Author Summary
Early during development, neural progenitor cells (NPCs) can either proliferate or differentiate into neurons. Thus, generation of the correct number of neurons is governed by a tightly regulated balance between proliferation and differentiation, and disruption of this balance can result in severe developmental deficits, malformations, or cancers. Notch1 is a member of the Notch family of receptors, which make up a highly conserved cell signaling system. Notch1 signaling has been shown to inhibit NPC differentiation and to promote self-renewal, thereby allowing NPCs to divide and progressively generate the enormous number of neurons present in the central nervous system. The molecular mechanism by which NPCs overcome Notch1-mediated inhibition in order to differentiate into neurons, however, is not completely understood. In this study, we show that Prox1, a homeobox transcriptional repressor, plays a fundamental role in the switch to differentiation by suppressing the expression of Notch1 receptor, thereby preventing newly produced neuronal precursors from receiving inhibitory signals from Notch ligands present in neighboring cells. This transcriptional repression may regulate cell cycle exit and differentiation of NPCs as they migrate towards different regions and adopt their final cell fates. We suggest that Prox1 may exert its known influence on embryonic development, organ morphogenesis, and cancer through its ability to counteract Notch1 signaling.
PMCID: PMC3006385  PMID: 21203589
12.  No Evidence for a Functional Role of Bi-Directional Notch Signaling during Angiogenesis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e53074.
The Delta-Notch pathway is a signal exchanger between adjacent cells to regulate numerous differentiation steps during embryonic development. Blood vessel formation by sprouting angiogenesis requires high expression of the Notch ligand DLL4 in the leading tip cell, while Notch receptors in the trailing stalk cells are activated by DLL4 to achieve strong Notch signaling activity. Upon ligand binding, Notch receptors are cleaved by ADAM proteases and gamma-secretase. This releases the intracellular Notch domain that acts as a transcription factor. There is evidence that also Notch ligands (DLL1, DLL4, JAG1, JAG2) are processed upon receptor binding to influence transcription in the ligand-expressing cell. Thus, the existence of bi-directional Delta-Notch signaling has been proposed. We report here that the Notch ligands DLL1 and JAG1 are processed in endothelial cells in a gamma-secretase-dependent manner and that the intracellular ligand domains accumulate in the cell nucleus. Overexpression of JAG1 intracellular domain (ICD) as well as DLL1-ICD, DLL4-ICD and NOTCH1-ICD inhibited endothelial proliferation. Whereas NOTCH1-ICD strongly repressed endothelial migration and sprouting angiogenesis, JAG1-ICD, DLL1-ICD and DLL4-ICD had no significant effects. Consistently, global gene expression patterns were only marginally affected by the processed Notch ligands. In addition to its effects as a transcription factor, NOTCH1-ICD promotes cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix in a transcription-independent manner. However, JAG1-ICD, DLL1-ICD and DLL4-ICD did not influence endothelial cell adhesion. In summary, reverse signaling of Notch ligands appears to be dispensable for angiogenesis in cellular systems.
PMCID: PMC3532505  PMID: 23300864
13.  NOTCH-1 and NOTCH-4 are novel gene targets of PEA3 in breast cancer: novel therapeutic implications 
Women with triple-negative breast cancer have the worst prognosis, frequently present with metastatic tumors and have few targeted therapy options. Notch-1 and Notch-4 are potent breast oncogenes that are overexpressed in triple-negative and other subtypes of breast cancer. PEA3, an ETS transcription factor, is also overexpressed in triple-negative and other breast cancer subtypes. We investigated whether PEA3 could be the critical transcriptional activator of Notch receptors in MDA-MB-231 and other breast cancer cells.
Real-time PCR and Western blot analysis were performed to detect Notch-1, Notch-2, Notch-3 and Notch-4 receptor expression in breast cancer cells when PEA3 was knocked down by siRNA. Chromatin immunoprecipitation was performed to identify promoter regions for Notch genes that recruited PEA3. TAM-67 and c-Jun siRNA were used to identify that c-Jun was necessary for PEA3 enrichment on the Notch-4 promoter. A Notch-4 luciferase reporter was used to confirm that endogenous PEA3 or AP-1 activated the Notch-4 promoter region. Cell cycle analysis, trypan blue exclusion, annexin V flow cytometry, colony formation assay and an in vivo xenograft study were performed to determine the biological significance of targeting PEA3 via siRNA, Notch signaling via a γ-secretase inhibitor, or both.
Herein we provide new evidence for transcriptional regulation of Notch by PEA3 in breast cancer. PEA3 activates Notch-1 transcription in MCF-7, MDA-MB-231 and SKBr3 breast cancer cells. PEA3 activates Notch-4 transcription in MDA-MB-231 cells where PEA3 levels are endogenously high. In SKBr3 and BT474 breast cancer cells where PEA3 levels are low, overexpression of PEA3 increases Notch-4 transcripts. Chromatin immunoprecipitation confirmed the enrichment of PEA3 on Notch-1 and Notch-4 promoters in MDA-MB-231 cells. PEA3 recruitment to Notch-1 was AP-1-independent, whereas PEA3 recruitment to Notch-4 was c-JUN-dependent. Importantly, the combined inhibition of Notch signaling via a γ-secretase inhibitor (MRK-003 GSI) and knockdown of PEA3 arrested growth in the G1 phase, decreased both anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent growth and significantly increased apoptotic cells in vitro. Moreover, either PEA3 knockdown or MRK-003 GSI treatment significantly reduced tumor growth of MDA-MB-231 xenografts in vivo.
Taken together, the results from this study demonstrate for the first time that Notch-1 and Notch-4 are novel transcriptional targets of PEA3 in breast cancer cells. Targeting of PEA3 and/or Notch pathways might provide a new therapeutic strategy for triple-negative and possibly other breast cancer subtypes.
PMCID: PMC3218952  PMID: 21679465
14.  Specific Notch receptor–ligand interactions control human TCR-αβ/γδ development by inducing differential Notch signal strength 
Jagged2 preferentially signals through Notch3 to promote γδ T cell development.
In humans, high Notch activation promotes γδ T cell development, whereas lower levels promote αβ-lineage differentiation. How these different Notch signals are generated has remained unclear. We show that differential Notch receptor–ligand interactions mediate this process. Whereas Delta-like 4 supports both TCR-αβ and -γδ development, Jagged1 induces mainly αβ-lineage differentiation. In contrast, Jagged2-mediated Notch activation primarily results in γδ T cell development and represses αβ-lineage differentiation by inhibiting TCR-β formation. Consistently, TCR-αβ T cell development is rescued through transduction of a TCR-β transgene. Jagged2 induces the strongest Notch signal through interactions with both Notch1 and Notch3, whereas Delta-like 4 primarily binds Notch1. In agreement, Notch3 is a stronger Notch activator and only supports γδ T cell development, whereas Notch1 is a weaker activator supporting both TCR-αβ and -γδ development. Fetal thymus organ cultures in JAG2-deficient thymic lobes or with Notch3-blocking antibodies confirm the importance of Jagged2/Notch3 signaling in human TCR-γδ differentiation. Our findings reveal that differential Notch receptor–ligand interactions mediate human TCR-αβ and -γδ T cell differentiation and provide a mechanistic insight into the high Notch dependency of human γδ T cell development.
PMCID: PMC3620353  PMID: 23530123
15.  Fringe proteins modulate Notch-ligand cis and trans interactions to specify signaling states 
eLife  2014;3:e02950.
The Notch signaling pathway consists of multiple types of receptors and ligands, whose interactions can be tuned by Fringe glycosyltransferases. A major challenge is to determine how these components control the specificity and directionality of Notch signaling in developmental contexts. Here, we analyzed same-cell (cis) Notch-ligand interactions for Notch1, Dll1, and Jag1, and their dependence on Fringe protein expression in mammalian cells. We found that Dll1 and Jag1 can cis-inhibit Notch1, and Fringe proteins modulate these interactions in a way that parallels their effects on trans interactions. Fringe similarly modulated Notch-ligand cis interactions during Drosophila development. Based on these and previously identified interactions, we show how the design of the Notch signaling pathway leads to a restricted repertoire of signaling states that promote heterotypic signaling between distinct cell types, providing insight into the design principles of the Notch signaling system, and the specific developmental process of Drosophila dorsal-ventral boundary formation.
eLife digest
In animals, cells use a process called Notch signaling to communicate with neighboring cells. During this process, a protein known as a DSL ligand from one cell binds to a protein called a Notch receptor on a neighboring cell. This triggers a series of events in the neighboring cell that change how the genes in this cell are expressed. Notch signaling is involved in many processes including the early growth of embryos, the formation of organs and limbs, and the maintenance of stem cells throughout adult life.
Enzymes called Fringe enzymes can control Notch signaling by blocking or promoting the formation of the DSL ligand-Notch receptor pairs. It is also possible for a DSL ligand and a Notch receptor from the same cell to interact. This is thought to be important because it prevents an individual cell from sending and receiving Notch signals at the same time.
There are several different DSL ligands, Notch receptors and Fringe enzymes, so it is difficult to determine which configurations of receptors, ligands and Fringe enzymes can enable Notch signals to be sent or received. To address this problem, LeBon et al. investigated how Fringe enzymes acted on several different DSL-Notch receptor pairs in mammalian cells, and also in fruit flies. They focused in particular on the interactions that occurred within the same cell, as the role of Fringe enzymes in this type of interaction has not been examined previously.
The experiments revealed that Fringe proteins modify specific same-cell interactions in a way that enables a cell to receive one type of Notch signal from a neighboring cell and send a different type of Notch signal to another cell at the same time. More generally, these results show how an unconventional, ‘bottom-up’ approach can reveal the design principles of cell signaling systems, and suggest that it should now be possible to use these principles to try to understand which cell types send signals to which other cell types in many different contexts.
PMCID: PMC4174579  PMID: 25255098
cell signaling; developmental patterning; notch pathway; systems biology; D. melanogaster; other
16.  Structural Analysis Uncovers Lipid-Binding Properties of Notch Ligands 
Cell Reports  2013;5(4):861-867.
The Notch pathway is a core cell-cell signaling system in metazoan organisms with key roles in cell-fate determination, stem cell maintenance, immune system activation, and angiogenesis. Signals are initiated by extracellular interactions of the Notch receptor with Delta/Serrate/Lag-2 (DSL) ligands, whose structure is highly conserved throughout evolution. To date, no structure or activity has been associated with the extreme N termini of the ligands, even though numerous mutations in this region of Jagged-1 ligand lead to human disease. Here, we demonstrate that the N terminus of human Jagged-1 is a C2 phospholipid recognition domain that binds phospholipid bilayers in a calcium-dependent fashion. Furthermore, we show that this activity is shared by a member of the other class of Notch ligands, human Delta-like-1, and the evolutionary distant Drosophila Serrate. Targeted mutagenesis of Jagged-1 C2 domain residues implicated in calcium-dependent phospholipid binding leaves Notch interactions intact but can reduce Notch activation. These results reveal an important and previously unsuspected role for phospholipid recognition in control of this key signaling system.
Graphical Abstract
•Notch ligands contain an N-terminal C2 phospholipid recognition domain•Ca2+-dependent lipid binding by Jagged 1 is required for optimal Notch activation•Lipid binding by Notch ligands is calcium dependent•Notch ligands require bound calcium at the N terminus for full activity
Handford, Lea, and colleagues now discover that the N-terminal portion of Notch ligands consists of a functional, calcium-dependent phospholipid recognition domain, the C2 domain. They also show that Notch-driven activation requires C2 domain activity in addition to canonical Notch-ligand binding.
PMCID: PMC3888931  PMID: 24239355
17.  Ligand-dependent Notch signaling is involved in tumor initiation and tumor maintenance in pancreatic cancer 
Aberrant activation of the Notch signaling pathway is commonly observed in human pancreatic cancer, although the mechanisms for this activation have not been elucidated.
Experimental Design
A panel of 20 human pancreatic cancer cell lines was profiled for the expression of Notch pathway related ligands, receptors and target genes. Disruption of intracellular Notch signaling – either genetically by RNA interference targeting NOTCH1 or pharmacologically by means of the gamma secretase inhibitor GSI-18, was used for assessing requirement of Notch signaling in pancreatic cancer initiation and maintenance.
Striking overexpression of Notch ligand transcripts was detectable in the vast majority of pancreatic cancer cell lines, most prominently, JAGGED2 (18/20 cases; 90%) and DLL4 (10/20 cases; 50%). In two cell lines, genomic amplification of the DLL3 locus was observed, mirrored by overexpression of DLL3 transcripts. In contrast, coding region mutations of NOTCH1 or NOTCH2 were not observed. Genetic and pharmacological inhibition of Notch signaling mitigated anchorage independent growth in pancreatic cancer cells, confirming that sustained Notch activation is a requirement for pancreatic cancer maintenance. Further, transient pre-treatment of pancreatic cancer cells with GSI-18 resulted in depletion in the proportion of tumor-initiating aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH)-expressing subpopulation, and was associated with inhibition of colony formation in vitro and xenograft engraftment in vivo, underscoring a requirement for the Notch-dependent ALDH-expressing cells in pancreatic cancer initiation.
Our studies confirm that Notch activation is almost always ligand-dependent in pancreatic cancer, and inhibition of Notch signaling is a promising therapeutic strategy in this malignancy.
PMCID: PMC2711441  PMID: 19258443
Pancreatic cancer; Notch; NOTCH-1; gamma secretase inhibitor; aldehyde dehydrogenase; tumor initiating cells
18.  Negative Regulation of Notch Signaling by Xylose 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003547.
The Notch signaling pathway controls a large number of processes during animal development and adult homeostasis. One of the conserved post-translational modifications of the Notch receptors is the addition of an O-linked glucose to epidermal growth factor-like (EGF) repeats with a C-X-S-X-(P/A)-C motif by Protein O-glucosyltransferase 1 (POGLUT1; Rumi in Drosophila). Genetic experiments in flies and mice, and in vivo structure-function analysis in flies indicate that O-glucose residues promote Notch signaling. The O-glucose residues on mammalian Notch1 and Notch2 proteins are efficiently extended by the addition of one or two xylose residues through the function of specific mammalian xylosyltransferases. However, the contribution of xylosylation to Notch signaling is not known. Here, we identify the Drosophila enzyme Shams responsible for the addition of xylose to O-glucose on EGF repeats. Surprisingly, loss- and gain-of-function experiments strongly suggest that xylose negatively regulates Notch signaling, opposite to the role played by glucose residues. Mass spectrometric analysis of Drosophila Notch indicates that addition of xylose to O-glucosylated Notch EGF repeats is limited to EGF14–20. A Notch transgene with mutations in the O-glucosylation sites of Notch EGF16–20 recapitulates the shams loss-of-function phenotypes, and suppresses the phenotypes caused by the overexpression of human xylosyltransferases. Antibody staining in animals with decreased Notch xylosylation indicates that xylose residues on EGF16–20 negatively regulate the surface expression of the Notch receptor. Our studies uncover a specific role for xylose in the regulation of the Drosophila Notch signaling, and suggest a previously unrecognized regulatory role for EGF16–20 of Notch.
Author Summary
In multi-cellular organisms, neighboring cells need to communicate with each other to ensure proper cell fate decisions and differentiation. Signaling through the Notch receptors is the primary means by which local cell-cell communication is accomplished in animals. Given the broad usage of Notch signaling in animals and the host of human disease caused by Notch pathway misregulation, sophisticated mechanisms are required to adjust the strength of Notch signaling in each context. We have previously shown that addition of glucose residues to the Notch receptor promotes Notch signaling. Since these glucose residues on Notch can be extended by addition of xylose residues, we sought to determine whether xylose also plays a role in the regulation of Notch signaling. In contrast to glucose, we determine that xylose residues decrease Notch signaling in certain contexts by controlling Notch surface levels. Moreover, the xylose residues reside in a specific domain of Notch, unlike the glucose residues which are distributed throughout the Notch extracellular domain. Our data provide an example of signaling pathway regulation by altering the distribution of the short or elongated forms of a saccharide on a receptor protein, and offer a potential avenue for modulating Notch signaling as both a therapeutic modality and a tool in regenerative medicine.
PMCID: PMC3675014  PMID: 23754965
19.  The Notch signaling pathway as a mediator of tumor survival 
Carcinogenesis  2013;34(7):1420-1430.
The Notch signaling pathway is evolutionarily conserved and responsible for cell fate determination in the developing embryo and mature tissue. At the molecular level, ligand binding activates Notch signaling by liberating the Notch intracellular domain, which then translocates into the nucleus and activates gene transcription. Despite the elegant simplicity of this pathway, which lacks secondary messengers or a signaling cascade, Notch regulates gene expression in a highly context- and cell-type-dependent manner. Notch signaling is frequently dysregulated, most commonly by overactivation, across many cancers and confers a survival advantage on tumors, leading to poorer outcomes for patients. Recent studies demonstrate how Notch signaling increases tumor cell proliferation and provide evidence that active Notch signaling maintains the cancer stem-cell pool, induces epithelial–mesenchymal transition and promotes chemoresistance. These studies imply that pharmacological inhibition of Notch signaling may refine control of cancer therapy and improve patient survival. Gamma secretase inhibitors (GSIs) are drugs that inhibit Notch signaling and may be successful in controlling cancer cell growth in conjunction with standard chemotherapy, but substantial side effects have hampered their widespread use. Recent efforts have been aimed at the development of antibodies against specific Notch receptors and ligands with the hope of limiting side effects while providing the same therapeutic benefit as GSIs. Together, studies characterizing Notch signaling and modulation have offered hope that refined methods targeting Notch may become powerful tools in anticancer therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3697894  PMID: 23585460
20.  Redundancy and specificity of the metalloprotease system mediating oncogenic NOTCH1 activation in T-ALL 
Oncogenic mutations in NOTCH1 are present in over 50% of T-cell lymphoblastic leukemias (T-ALLs). Activation of NOTCH1 requires a double proteolytic processing in the extracellular region of the receptor (S2) and in the transmembrane domain (S3). Currently, anti-NOTCH1 therapies based on inhibition of S3 processing via small molecule γ-secretase inhibitors are in development. Here we report on the characterization of the protease system responsible for S2 processing of NOTCH1 in T-ALL. Analysis of NOTCH1 HD class I, NOTCH1 HD class II and NOTCH1 JME alleles characterized by increased and aberrant S2 processing shows that both ADAM10, a metalloprotease previously implicated in activation of wild type NOTCH1 in mammalian cells, and ADAM17, a closely related protease capable of processing NOTCH1 in vitro, contribute to the activation of oncogenic forms of NOTCH1. However, and despite this apparent functional redundancy, inhibition of either ADAM10 is sufficient to blunt NOTCH1 signaling in T-ALL lymphoblasts. These results provide further insight on the mechanisms that control the activation of oncogenic NOTCH1 mutants and identify ADAM10 as potential therapeutic target for the inhibition of oncogenic NOTCH1 in T-ALL.
PMCID: PMC3165074  PMID: 21625236
ADAM10; ADAM17; NOTCH1; T-ALL; leukemia
21.  Notch2 Controls Prolactin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein-1 Expression in Decidualizing Human Stromal Cells of Early Pregnancy 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e112723.
Decidualization, the transformation of the human uterine mucosa into the endometrium of pregnancy, is critical for successful implantation and embryonic development. However, key regulatory factors controlling differentiation of uterine stromal cells into hormone-secreting decidual cells have not been fully elucidated. Hence, we herein investigated the role of the Notch signaling pathway in human decidual stromal cells (HDSC) isolated from early pregnancy samples. Immunofluorescence of first trimester decidual tissues revealed expression of Notch2 receptor and its putative, membrane-anchored interaction partners Jagged1, Delta-like (DLL) 1 and DLL4 in stromal cells whereas other Notch receptors and ligands were absent from these cells. During in vitro differentiation with estrogen/progesterone (E2P4) and/or cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) HDSC constitutively expressed Notch2 and weakly downregulated Jagged1 mRNA and protein, measured by quantitative PCR (qPCR) and Western blotting, respectively. However, increased levels of DLL1 and DLL4 were observed in the decidualizing cultures. Transfection of a Notch luciferase reporter and qPCR of the Notch target gene hairy and enhancer of split 1 (HES1) revealed an induction of canonical Notch activity during in vitro differentiation. In contrast, treatment of HDSC with a chemical Notch/γ-secretase inhibitor decreased cAMP/E2P4-stimulated Notch luciferase activity, HES1 transcript levels and mRNA expression of the decidual marker genes prolactin (PRL) and insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 (IGFBP1). Similarly, siRNA-mediated gene silencing or antibody-mediated blocking of Notch2 diminished HES1, PRL and IGFBP1 mRNA levels as well as secreted PRL protein. In summary, the data suggest that canonical, Notch2-dependent signaling plays a role in human decidualization.
PMCID: PMC4232464  PMID: 25397403
22.  A Notch1 Ectodomain Construct Inhibits Endothelial Notch Signaling, Tumor Growth, and Angiogenesis 
Cancer research  2008;68(12):4727-4735.
Notch signaling is required for vascular development and tumor angiogenesis. Although inhibition of the Notch ligand Delta-like 4 can restrict tumor growth and disrupt neo-vasculature, the effect of inhibiting Notch receptor function on angiogenesis has yet to be defined. In this study, we generated a soluble form of the Notch1 receptor (Notch1 decoy) and assessed its effect on angiogenesis in vitro and in vivo. Notch1 decoy expression reduced signaling stimulated by the binding of three distinct Notch ligands to Notch1 and inhibited morphogenesis of endothelial cells overexpressing Notch4. Thus, Notch1 decoy functioned as an antagonist of ligand-dependent Notch signaling. In mice, Notch1 decoy also inhibited vascular endothelial growth factor–induced angiogenesis in skin, establishing a role for Notch receptor function in this process. We tested the effects of Notch1 decoy on tumor angiogenesis using two models: mouse mammary Mm5MT cells overexpressing fibroblast growth factor 4 (Mm5MT-FGF4) and NGP human neuroblastoma cells. Exogenously expressed FGF4 induced Notch ligand expression in Mm5MT cells and xenografts. Notch1 decoy expression did not affect tumorigenicity of Mm5MT-FGF4 cells in vitro but restricted Mm5MT-FGF4 xenograft growth in mice while markedly impairing neoangiogenesis. Similarly, Notch1 decoy expression did not affect NGP cells in vitro but disrupted vessels and decreased tumor viability in vivo. These results strongly suggest that Notch receptor signaling is required for tumor neoangiogenesis and provides a new target for tumor therapy.
PMCID: PMC3690602  PMID: 18559519
23.  17β-Estradiol Enhances Signalling Mediated by VEGF-A-Delta-Like Ligand 4-Notch1 Axis in Human Endothelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71440.
Estrogens play a protective role in coronary artery disease. The mechanisms of action are still poorly understood, although a role for estrogens in stimulation of angiogenesis has been suggested. In several cell types, estrogens modulate the Notch pathway, which is involved in controlling angiogenesis downstream of vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A). The goal of our study was to establish whether estrogens modulate Notch activity in endothelial cells and the possible consequences on angiogenesis. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were treated with 17β-estradiol (E2) and the effects on Notch signalling were evaluated. E2 increased Notch1 processing as indicated by i) decreased levels of Notch1 transmembrane subunit ii) increased amount of Notch1 in nuclei iii) unaffected level of mRNA. Similarly, E2 increased the levels of the active form of Notch4 without altering Notch4 mRNA. Conversely, protein and mRNA levels of Notch2 were both reduced suggesting transcriptional repression of Notch2 by E2. Under conditions where Notch was activated by upregulation of Delta-like ligand 4 (Dll4) following VEGF-A treatment, E2 caused a further increase of the active form of Notch1, of the number of cells with nuclear Notch1 and of Hey2 mRNA. Estrogen receptor antagonist ICI 182.780 antagonized these effects suggesting that E2 modulation of Notch1 is mediated by estrogen receptors. E2 treatment abolished the increase in endothelial cells sprouting caused by Notch inhibition in a tube formation assay on 3D Matrigel and in mouse aortic ring explants. In conclusion, E2 affects several Notch pathway components in HUVECs, leading to an activation of the VEGF-A-Dll4-Notch1 axis and to a modulation of vascular branching when Notch signalling is inhibited. These results contribute to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cardiovascular protection exerted by estrogens by uncovering a novel role of E2 in the Notch signalling-mediated modulation of angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3742772  PMID: 23967210
24.  SEL-10 Is an Inhibitor of Notch Signaling That Targets Notch for Ubiquitin-Mediated Protein Degradation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(21):7403-7415.
Notch receptors and their ligands play important roles in both normal animal development and pathogenesis. We show here that the F-box/WD40 repeat protein SEL-10 negatively regulates Notch receptor activity by targeting the intracellular domain of Notch receptors for ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation. Blocking of endogenous SEL-10 activity was done by expression of a dominant-negative form containing only the WD40 repeats. In the case of Notch1, this block leads to an increase in Notch signaling stimulated by either an activated form of the Notch1 receptor or Jagged1-induced signaling through Notch1. Expression of dominant-negative SEL-10 leads to stabilization of the intracellular domain of Notch1. The Notch4 intracellular domain bound to SEL-10, but its activity was not increased as a result of dominant-negative SEL-10 expression. SEL-10 bound Notch4 via the WD40 repeats and bound preferentially to a phosphorylated form of Notch4 in cells. We mapped the region of Notch4 essential for SEL-10 binding to the C-terminal region downstream of the ankyrin repeats. When this C-terminal fragment of Notch4 was expressed in cells, it was highly labile but could be stabilized by the expression of dominant-negative SEL-10. Ubiquitination of Notch1 and Notch4 intracellular domains in vitro was dependent on SEL-10. Although SEL-10 interacts with the intracellular domains of both Notch1 and Notch4, these proteins respond differently to interference with SEL-10 function. Thus, SEL-10 functions to promote the ubiquitination of Notch proteins; however, the fates of these proteins may differ.
PMCID: PMC99913  PMID: 11585921
25.  Cooperation of Notch and Ras/MAPK signaling pathways in human breast carcinogenesis 
Molecular Cancer  2009;8:128.
Recent studies have implicated aberrant Notch signaling in breast cancers. Yet, relatively little is known about the pattern of expression of various components of the Notch pathway, or its mechanism of action. To better understand the role of the Notch pathway in breast cancer, we have undertaken a detailed expression analysis of various Notch receptors, their ligands, and downstream targets at different stages of breast cancer progression.
We report here that there is a general increase in the expression levels of Notch 1, 2, 4, Jagged1, Jagged2, and Delta-like 4 proteins in breast cancers, with simultaneous upregulation of multiple Notch receptors and ligands in a given cancer tissue. While Notch3 and Delta-like1 were undetectable in normal tissues, moderate to high expression was detected in several cancers. We detected the presence of active, cleaved Notch1, along with downstream targets of the Notch pathway, Hes1/Hes5, in ~75% of breast cancers, clearly indicating that in a large proportion of breast cancers Notch signaling is aberrantly activated. Furthermore, we detected cleaved Notch1 and Hes1/5 in early precursors of breast cancers - hyperplasia and ductal carcinoma in situ - suggesting that aberrant Notch activation may be an early event in breast cancer progression. Mechanistically, while constitutively active Notch1 alone failed to transform immortalized breast cells, it synergized with the Ras/MAPK pathway to mediate transformation. This cooperation is reflected in vivo, as a subset of cleaved Notch positive tumors additionally expressed phopsho-Erk1/2 in the nuclei. Such cases exhibited high node positivity, suggesting that Notch-Ras cooperation may lead to poor prognosis.
High level expression of Notch receptors and ligands, and its increased activation in several breast cancers and early precursors, places Notch signaling as a key player in breast cancer pathogenesis. Its cooperation with the Ras/MAPK pathway in transformation offers combined inhibition of the two pathways as a new modality for breast cancer treatment.
PMCID: PMC2809056  PMID: 20030805

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