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1.  Promotion of tumorigenesis by heterozygous disruption of the beclin 1 autophagy gene 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2003;112(12):1809-1820.
Malignant cells often display defects in autophagy, an evolutionarily conserved pathway for degrading long-lived proteins and cytoplasmic organelles. However, as yet, there is no genetic evidence for a role of autophagy genes in tumor suppression. The beclin 1 autophagy gene is monoallelically deleted in 40–75% of cases of human sporadic breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. Therefore, we used a targeted mutant mouse model to test the hypothesis that monoallelic deletion of beclin 1 promotes tumorigenesis. Here we show that heterozygous disruption of beclin 1 increases the frequency of spontaneous malignancies and accelerates the development of hepatitis B virus–induced premalignant lesions. Molecular analyses of tumors in beclin 1 heterozygous mice show that the remaining wild-type allele is neither mutated nor silenced. Furthermore, beclin 1 heterozygous disruption results in increased cellular proliferation and reduced autophagy in vivo. These findings demonstrate that beclin 1 is a haplo-insufficient tumor-suppressor gene and provide genetic evidence that autophagy is a novel mechanism of cell-growth control and tumor suppression. Thus, mutation of beclin 1 or other autophagy genes may contribute to the pathogenesis of human cancers.
PMCID: PMC297002  PMID: 14638851
2.  A Tumor-Associated Mutation of FYVE-CENT Prevents Its Interaction with Beclin 1 and Interferes with Cytokinesis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17086.
The tumor suppressor activity of Beclin 1 (BECN1), a subunit of class III phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase complex, has been attributed to its regulation of apoptosis and autophagy. Here, we identify FYVE-CENT (ZFYVE26), a phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate binding protein important for cytokinesis, as a novel interacting protein of Beclin 1. A mutation in FYVE-CENT (R1945Q) associated with breast cancer abolished the interaction between FYVE-CENT and Beclin 1, and reduced the localization of these proteins at the intercellular bridge during cytokinesis. Breast cancer cells containing the FYVE-CENT R1945Q mutation displayed a significant increase in cytokinetic profiles and bi - multinuclear phenotype. Both Beclin 1 and FYVE-CENT were found to be downregulated in advanced breast cancers. These findings suggest a positive feedback loop for recruitment of FYVE-CENT and Beclin 1 to the intercellular bridge during cytokinesis, and reveal a novel potential tumor suppressor mechanism for Beclin 1.
PMCID: PMC3063775  PMID: 21455500
3.  The autophagy-related protein beclin 1 shows reduced expression in early Alzheimer disease and regulates amyloid β accumulation in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2008;118(6):2190-2199.
Autophagy is the principal cellular pathway for degradation of long-lived proteins and organelles and regulates cell fate in response to stress. Recently, autophagy has been implicated in neurodegeneration, but whether it is detrimental or protective remains unclear. Here we report that beclin 1, a protein with a key role in autophagy, was decreased in affected brain regions of patients with Alzheimer disease (AD) early in the disease process. Heterozygous deletion of beclin 1 (Becn1) in mice decreased neuronal autophagy and resulted in neurodegeneration and disruption of lysosomes. In transgenic mice that express human amyloid precursor protein (APP), a model for AD, genetic reduction of Becn1 expression increased intraneuronal amyloid β (Aβ) accumulation, extracellular Aβ deposition, and neurodegeneration and caused microglial changes and profound neuronal ultrastructural abnormalities. Administration of a lentiviral vector expressing beclin 1 reduced both intracellular and extracellular amyloid pathology in APP transgenic mice. We conclude that beclin 1 deficiency disrupts neuronal autophagy, modulates APP metabolism, and promotes neurodegeneration in mice and that increasing beclin 1 levels may have therapeutic potential in AD.
PMCID: PMC2391284  PMID: 18497889
Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) is a pro-angiogenic ligand secreted by tumors and acts directly upon binding to GRP-receptor in endothelial cells. Angiogenesis plays a critical role in the pathology of various diseases, including cancer, as the formation of new blood vessels potentiates the rate of tumor growth and dissemination. GRP increases the migration of endothelial cells, but much is unknown about its role on endothelial cell proliferation and survival, as well as the signaling pathways involved. In the present study, we showed that GRP increases endothelial cell proliferation and tubule formation. There was a time-dependent increase in the levels of phosphorylated AKT, mTOR, and S6R in human umbilical vein endothelial cells treated with GRP. Interestingly, GRP treatment decreased the expression of pro-autophagic factors, ATG5, BECN1 and LC3 proteins. GRP also attenuated rapamycin-induced formation of autophagosomes. Moreover, overexpression of ATG5 or BECN1 significantly decreased tubule formation induced by exogenous GRP, whereas, siRNA against ATG5 or BECN1 resulted in increased tubule formation with GRP treatment. Our results show that GRP inhibits the process of autophagy in vascular endothelial cells, thereby, increasing endothelial cell proliferation and tubule formation. Here, we describe a novel role of GRP in the regulation of autophagy of endothelial cells, thereby, providing a potential new therapeutic strategy in targeting angiogenesis during cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC3669233  PMID: 23608754
AKT; autophagy; endothelial cells; GRP; mTOR
5.  The interplay between autophagy and ROS in tumorigenesis 
Frontiers in Oncology  2012;2:171.
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) at physiological levels are important cell signaling molecules. However, aberrantly high ROS are intimately associated with disease and commonly observed in cancer. Mitochondria are primary sources of intracellular ROS, and their maintenance is essential to cellular health. Autophagy, an evolutionarily conserved process whereby cytoplasmic components are delivered to lysosomes for degradation, is responsible for mitochondrial turnover and removal of damaged mitochondria. Impaired autophagy is implicated in many pathological conditions, including neurological disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, aging, and cancer. The first reports connecting autophagy to cancer showed that allelic loss of the essential autophagy gene BECLIN1 (BECN1) is prevalent in human breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers and that Becn1+/- mice develop mammary gland hyperplasias, lymphomas, lung and liver tumors. Subsequent studies demonstrated that Atg5-/- and Atg7-/- livers give rise to adenomas, Atg4C-/- mice are susceptible to chemical carcinogenesis, and Bif1-/- mice are prone to spontaneous tumors, indicating that autophagy defects promote tumorigenesis. Due to defective mitophagy, autophagy-deficient cells accumulate damaged mitochondria and deregulated ROS levels, which likely contribute to their tumor-initiating capacity. However, the role of autophagy in tumorigenesis is complex, as more recent work also revealed tumor dependence on autophagy: autophagy-competent mutant-Ras-expressing cells form tumors more efficiently than their autophagy-deficient counterparts; similarly, FIP200 deficiency suppresses PyMT-driven mammary tumorigenesis. These latter findings are attributed to the fact that tumors driven by powerful oncogenes have high metabolic demands catered to by autophagy. In this review, we discuss the relationship between ROS and autophagy and summarize our current knowledge on their functional interactions in tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3502876  PMID: 23181220
autophagy; ROS; oxidative stress; cancer; p62; inflammation
6.  Akt-Mediated Regulation of Autophagy and Tumorigenesis Through Beclin 1 Phosphorylation 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2012;338(6109):956-959.
Aberrant signaling through the class I phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-Akt axis is frequent in human cancer. Here we show that Beclin 1, an essential autophagy and tumor suppressor protein, is a target of the protein kinase Akt. Expression of a Beclin 1 mutant resistant to Akt-mediated phosphorylation increased autophagy, reduced anchorage-independent growth, and inhibited Akt-driven tumorigenesis. Akt-mediated phosphorylation of Beclin 1 enhanced its interactions with 14-3-3 and vimentin intermediate filament proteins, and vimentin depletion increased autophagy and inhibited Akt-driven transformation. Thus, Akt-mediated phosphorylation of Beclin 1 functions in autophagy inhibition, oncogenesis, and the formation of an autophagy-inhibitory Beclin 1/14-3-3/vimentin intermediate filament complex. These findings have broad implications for understanding the role of Akt signaling and intermediate filament proteins in autophagy and cancer.
PMCID: PMC3507442  PMID: 23112296
7.  Potent antitumor activity of oncolytic adenovirus expressing Beclin-1 via induction of autophagic cell death in leukemia 
Oncotarget  2013;4(6):860-874.
An attractive strategy among adenovirus-based oncolytic systems is to design adenoviral vectors to express pro-apoptotic genes, in which this gene-virotherapy approach significantly enhances tumor cell death by activating apoptotic pathways. However, the existence of cancer cells with apoptotic defects is one of the major obstacles in gene-virotherapy. Here, we investigated whether a strategy that combines the oncolytic effects of an adenoviral vector with simultaneous expression of Beclin-1, an autophagy gene, offers a therapeutic advantage for leukemia. A Beclin-1 cDNA was cloned in an oncolytic adenovirus with chimeric Ad5/11 fiber (SG511-BECN). SG511-BECN treatment induced significant autophagic cell death, and resulted in enhanced cell killing in a variety of leukemic cell lines and primary leukemic blasts. SG511-BECN effects were seen in chronic myeloid leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia with resistance to imatinib or chemotherapy, but exhibited much less cytotoxicity on normal cells. The SG511-BECN-induced autophagic cell death could be partially reversed by RNA interference knockdown of UVRAG, ATG5, and ATG7. We also showed that SG511-BECN strongly inhibited the growth of leukemic progenitors in vitro. In murine leukemia models, SG511-BECN prolonged the survival and decreased the xenograft tumor size by inducing autophagic cell death. Our results suggest that infection of leukemia cells with an oncolytic adenovirus overexpressing Beclin-1 can induce significant autophagic cell death and provide a new strategy for the elimination of leukemic cells via a unique mechanism of action distinct from apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3757243  PMID: 23765161
leukemia; oncolytic adenovirus; autophagy; Beclin-1; autophagic cell death; UVRAG
8.  Regulation of Amyloid Precursor Protein Processing by the Beclin 1 Complex 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11102.
Autophagy is an intracellular degradation pathway that functions in protein and organelle turnover in response to starvation and cellular stress. Autophagy is initiated by the formation of a complex containing Beclin 1 (BECN1) and its binding partner Phosphoinositide-3-kinase, class 3 (PIK3C3). Recently, BECN1 deficiency was shown to enhance the pathology of a mouse model of Alzheimer Disease (AD). However, the mechanism by which BECN1 or autophagy mediate these effects are unknown. Here, we report that the levels of Amyloid precursor protein (APP) and its metabolites can be reduced through autophagy activation, indicating that they are a substrate for autophagy. Furthermore, we find that knockdown of Becn1 in cell culture increases the levels of APP and its metabolites. Accumulation of APP and APP C-terminal fragments (APP-CTF) are accompanied by impaired autophagosomal clearance. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagosomal-lysosomal degradation causes a comparable accumulation of APP and APP-metabolites in autophagosomes. Becn1 reduction in cell culture leads to lower levels of its binding partner Pik3c3 and increased presence of Microtubule-associated protein 1, light chain 3 (LC3). Overexpression of Becn1, on the other hand, reduces cellular APP levels. In line with these observations, we detected less BECN1 and PIK3C3 but more LC3 protein in brains of AD patients. We conclude that BECN1 regulates APP processing and turnover. BECN1 is involved in autophagy initiation and autophagosome clearance. Accordingly, BECN1 deficiency disrupts cellular autophagy and autophagosomal-lysosomal degradation and alters APP metabolism. Together, our findings suggest that autophagy and the BECN1-PIK3C3 complex regulate APP processing and play an important role in AD pathology.
PMCID: PMC2886067  PMID: 20559548
9.  Targeting the prodeath and prosurvival functions of autophagy as novel therapeutic strategies in cancer 
Autophagy  2010;6(3):322-329.
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved lysosomal pathway for degrading cytoplasmic proteins, macromolecules, and organelles. While autophagy has become one of the most attractive topics in cancer research, the current autophagy literature is often viewed as confusing, because of its association with apparently contradictory roles, such as survival and cell death. Autophagy can serve as a tumor suppressor, as a partial reduction in autophagic capacity or defective autophagy (e.g., heterozygous knockdown BECN1 (+/−) in mice) provides an oncogenic stimulus, causing malignant transformation and spontaneous tumors. In addition, autophagy seems to function as a protective cell survival mechanism against environmental and cellular stress (e.g., nutrient deprivation, hypoxia and therapeutic stress) and causes resistance to antineoplastic therapies. Recent studies have demonstrated that the inhibition of autophagy in cancer cells may be therapeutically beneficial in some circumstances, as it can sensitize cancer cells to different therapies, including DNA-damaging agents, antihormone therapies (e.g., tamoxifen), and radiation therapy. This supports the hypothesis that inhibiting autophagy can negatively influence cancer cell survival and increase cell death when combined with anticancer agents, providing a therapeutic advantage against cancer. On the other hand, the induction of autophagy by the inhibition of anti-autophagic proteins, such as Bcl-2, PKCδ, and tissue transglutaminase 2 (TG2), may lead to autophagic cell death in some apoptosis-resistant cancers (i.e., breast and pancreatic cancers), indicating that the induction of autophagy alone may also be used as a potential therapy. Overall, the data suggest that, depending on the cellular features, either the induction or the inhibition of autophagy can provide therapeutic benefits to patients and that the design and synthesis of the first-generation modulators of autophagy may provide the tools for proof of concept experiments and the impetus for translational studies that may ultimately lead to new therapeutic strategies in cancer.
PMCID: PMC2914492  PMID: 20224296
autophagy; programmed cell death; apoptosis; Bcl-2; Beclin 1; siRNA; small-molecule inhibitors; cancer
10.  Host CXCR2-dependent Regulation of Melanoma Growth, Angiogenesis and Experimental Lung Metastasis 
Cancer research  2009;69(2):411-415.
Crucial steps in tumor growth and metastasis are proliferation, survival and neovascularization. Previously, we have demonstrated that receptors for CXCL-8, CXCR1 and CXCR2, are expressed on endothelial cells and CXCR2 has been shown to be a putative receptor for angiogenic chemokines. In this report, we examined whether tumor angiogenesis and growth of CXCL-8-expressing human melanoma cells are regulated in vivo by a host-CXCR2-dependent mechanism. We generated mCXCR2−/−, mCXCR2+/− and wild type (WT) nude mice following crosses between BALB/c mice heterozygous nude+/− and heterozygous for mCXCR2+/−. We observed a significant inhibition of human melanoma tumor growth and experimental lung metastasis in mCXCR2−/− mice as compared to WT nude mice. Inhibition in tumor growth and metastasis was associated with a decrease in melanoma cell proliferation, survival, inflammatory response and angiogenesis. Together, these studies demonstrate the importance of host CXCR2-dependent CXCL-8-mediated angiogenesis in the regulation of melanoma growth and metastasis.
PMCID: PMC2652477  PMID: 19147552
CXCR2; Melanoma; Metastasis
11.  Role of Autophagy in Cancer 
Autophagy  2007;3(1):28-31.
Human breast, ovarian, and prostate tumors display allelic loss of the essential autophagy gene beclin1 with high frequency, and an increase in the incidence of tumor formation is observed in beclin1+/− mutant mice. These findings suggest a role for beclin1 and autophagy in tumor suppression; however, the mechanism by which this occurs has been unclear. Autophagy is a bulk degradation process whereby organelles and cytoplasm are engulfed and targeted to lysosomes for proteolysis,1,2 There is evidence that autophagy sustains cell survival during nutrient deprivation through catabolism, but also that autophagy is a means of achieving cell death when executed to completion. If or how either of these diametrically opposing functions proposed for autophagy may be related to tumor suppression is unknown. We found that metabolic stress is a potent trigger of apoptotic cell death, defects in which enable long-term survival that is dependent on autophagy both in vitro and in tumors in vivo.3 These findings raise the conundrum whereby inactivation of a survival pathway (autophagy) promotes tumorigenesis. Interestingly, when cells with defects in apoptosis are denied autophagy, this creates the inability to tolerate metabolic stress, reduces cellular fitness, and activates a necrotic pathway to cell death. This necrosis in tumors is associated with inflammation and enhancement of tumor growth, due to the survival of a small population of surviving, but injured, cells in a microenvironment that favors oncogenesis. Thus, by sustaining metabolism through autophagy during periods of metabolic stress, cells can limit energy depletion, cellular damage, and cell death by necrosis, which may explain how autophagy can prevent cancer, and how loss of a survival function can be tumorigenic.
PMCID: PMC2770734  PMID: 16969128
autophagy; apoptosis; necrosis; Beclin1; cancer
12.  Attenuation of TNFSF10/TRAIL-induced apoptosis by an autophagic survival pathway involving TRAF2- and RIPK1/RIP1-mediated MAPK8/JNK activation 
Autophagy  2012;8(12):1811-1821.
Although it is known that tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TNFSF10/TRAIL) induces autophagy, the mechanism by which autophagy is activated by TNFSF10 is still elusive. In this report, we show evidence that TRAF2- and RIPK1-mediated MAPK8/JNK activation is required for TNFSF10-induced cytoprotective autophagy. TNFSF10 activated autophagy rapidly in cancer cell lines derived from lung, bladder and prostate tumors. Blocking autophagy with either pharmacological inhibitors or siRNAs targeting the key autophagy factors BECN1/Beclin 1 or ATG7 effectively increased TNFSF10-induced apoptotic cytotoxicity, substantiating a cytoprotective role for TNFSF10-induced autophagy. Blocking MAPK8 but not NFκB effectively blocked autophagy, suggesting that MAPK8 is the main pathway for TNFSF10-induced autophagy. In addition, blocking MAPK8 effectively inhibited degradation of BCL2L1/Bcl-xL and reduction of the autophagy-suppressing BCL2L1–BECN1complex. Knockdown of TRAF2 or RIPK1 effectively suppressed TNFSF10-induced MAPK8 activation and autophagy. Furthermore, suppressing autophagy inhibited expression of antiapoptosis factors BIRC2/cIAP1, BIRC3/cIAP2, XIAP and CFLAR/c-FLIP and increased the formation of TNFSF10-induced death-inducing signaling complex (DISC). These results reveal a critical role for the MAPK8 activation pathway through TRAF2 and RIPK1 for TNFSF10-induced autophagy that blunts apoptosis in cancer cells. Thus, suppression of MAPK8-mediated autophagy could be utilized for sensitizing cancer cells to therapy with TNFSF10.
PMCID: PMC3541290  PMID: 23051914
autophagy; MAPK8/JNK; RIPK1/RIP1; TRAF2; TNFSF10/TRAIL; apoptosis
13.  Inhibition of autophagy enhances anticancer effects of bevacizumab in hepatocarcinoma 
Angiogenesis inhibitors have long been considered desirable anticancer agents. However, it was found that many tumors could develop resistance to antiangiogenesis inhibitors. Antiangiogenic therapy results in metabolic stress. Autophagy is an important survival mechanism in cancer cells under metabolic stress; however, it remains unknown if autophagy contributes to antiangiogenesis resistance. In this study, we reported that bevacizumab treatment reduced the development of new blood vessels and inhibited cell growth in xenografts of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tumors. Bevacizumab treatment also upregulated expression of the autophagy-related genes (Beclin1 and LC3) and increased autophagosome formation. Our in vitro studies demonstrated that autophagy inhibition significantly increased apoptosis of HCC cells during nutrient starvation or hypoxia. In addition, the combined treatment of an autophagy inhibitor and bevacizumab markedly inhibited the tumor growth of HCC xenografts, led to enhanced apoptosis, and impaired the proliferation of tumor cells compared with treatment with either drug alone. Furthermore, autophagy inhibition led to enhanced reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation in HCC cells exposed to nutrient starvation or hypoxia in vitro and increased DNA oxidative damage in vivo. Antioxidants reduced nutrient starvation or the hypoxia-induced cell death of HCC cells after autophagy inhibition. Our results suggest that autophagy modulates ROS generation and contributes to cell survival under metabolic stress. Therefore, autophagy inhibition may be a novel way of increasing the efficicacy of antiangiogenic agents in the treatment of HCC.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00109-012-0966-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3611041  PMID: 23052483
Hepatocarcinoma; Antiangiogenesis; Autophagy; Metabolic stress; Apoptosis
14.  Downregulation of Autophagy by Bcl-2 Promotes MCF7 Breast Cancer Cell Growth Independent of Its Inhibition of Apoptosis 
Cell death and differentiation  2010;18(3):452-464.
The anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein, which confers oncogenic transformation and drug resistance in most human cancers, including breast cancer, has recently been shown to effectively counteract autophagy by directly targeting Beclin1, an essential autophagy mediator and tumor suppressor. However, it remains unknown whether autophagy inhibition contributes to Bcl-2-mediated oncogenesis. Here, by using a loss-of-function mutagenesis study, we show that Bcl-2-mediated antagonism of autophagy plays a critical role in enhancing the tumorigenic properties of MCF7 breast cancer cells independent of its anti-apoptosis activity. A Bcl-2 mutant defective in apoptosis inhibition but competent for autophagy suppression promotes MCF7 breast cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo as efficiently as wild-type Bcl-2. The growth-promoting activity of this Bcl-2 mutant is strongly correlated with its suppression of Beclin1-dependent autophagy, leading to sustained p62 expression and increased DNA damage in xenograft tumors, which may directly contribute to tumorigenesis. Thus, the anti-autophagic property of Bcl-2 is a key feature of Bcl-2-mediated oncogenesis and may in some contexts, serve as an attractive target for breast and other cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3017654  PMID: 20885445
Bcl-2; autophagy; apoptosis; MCF7; Tumorigenesis
15.  Downregulation of autophagy by Bcl-2 promotes MCF7 breast cancer cell growth independent of its inhibition of apoptosis 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2010;18(3):452-464.
The anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein, which confers oncogenic transformation and drug resistance in most human cancers, including breast cancer, has recently been shown to effectively counteract autophagy by directly targeting Beclin1, an essential autophagy mediator and tumor suppressor. However, it remains unknown whether autophagy inhibition contributes to Bcl-2-mediated oncogenesis. Here, by using a loss-of-function mutagenesis study, we show that Bcl-2-mediated antagonism of autophagy has a critical role in enhancing the tumorigenic properties of MCF7 breast cancer cells independent of its anti-apoptosis activity. A Bcl-2 mutant defective in apoptosis inhibition but competent for autophagy suppression promotes MCF7 breast cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo as efficiently as wild-type Bcl-2. The growth-promoting activity of this Bcl-2 mutant is strongly correlated with its suppression of Beclin1-dependent autophagy, leading to sustained p62 expression and increased DNA damage in xenograft tumors, which may directly contribute to tumorigenesis. Thus, the anti-autophagic property of Bcl-2 is a key feature of Bcl-2-mediated oncogenesis and may in some contexts, serve as an attractive target for breast and other cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3017654  PMID: 20885445
Bcl-2; autophagy; apoptosis; MCF7; tumorigenesis
16.  Autophagy and cancer cell metabolism 
Autophagy is a catabolic process involving lysosomal turnover of proteins and organelles for maintenance of cellular homeostasis and mitigation of metabolic stress. Autophagy defects are linked to diseases, such as liver failure, neurodegeneration, inflammatory bowel disease, aging and cancer. The role of autophagy in tumorigenesis is complex and likely context-dependent. Human breast, ovarian and prostate cancers have allelic deletions of the essential autophagy regulator BECN1 and Becn1+/− and other autophagy-deficient transgenic mice are tumor-prone, whereas tumors with constitutive Ras activation, including human pancreatic cancers, upregulate basal autophagy and are commonly addicted to this pathway for survival and growth; furthermore, autophagy suppression by Fip200 deletion compromises PyMT-induced mammary tumorigenesis. The double-edged sword function of autophagy in cancer has been attributed to both cell- and non-cell-autonomous mechanisms, as autophagy defects promote cancer progression in association with oxidative and ER stress, DNA damage accumulation, genomic instability and persistence of inflammation, while functional autophagy enables cancer cell survival under stress and likely contributes to treatment resistance. In this review, we will focus on the intimate link between autophagy and cancer cell metabolism, a topic of growing interest in recent years, which has been recognized as highly clinically relevant and has become the focus of intense investigation in translational cancer research. Many tumor-associated conditions, including intermittent oxygen and nutrient deprivation, oxidative stress, fast growth and cell death suppression, modulate, in parallel and in interconnected ways, both cellular metabolism and autophagy to enable cancer cells to rapidly adapt to environmental stressors, maintain uncontrolled proliferation and evade the toxic effects of radiation and/or chemotherapy. Elucidating the interplay between autophagy and tumor cell metabolism will provide unique opportunities to identify new therapeutic targets and develop synthetically lethal treatment strategies that preferentially target cancer cells, while sparing normal tissues.
PMCID: PMC3639127  PMID: 22281437
Autophagy; Cancer cell metabolism; Warburg effect; Oxidative phosphorylation; Glycolysis
17.  Crystal structure and biochemical analyses reveal Beclin 1 as a novel membrane binding protein 
Cell Research  2012;22(3):473-489.
The Beclin 1 gene is a haplo-insufficient tumor suppressor and plays an essential role in autophagy. However, the molecular mechanism by which Beclin 1 functions remains largely unknown. Here we report the crystal structure of the evolutionarily conserved domain (ECD) of Beclin 1 at 1.6 Å resolution. Beclin 1 ECD exhibits a previously unreported fold, with three structural repeats arranged symmetrically around a central axis. Beclin 1 ECD defines a novel class of membrane-binding domain, with a strong preference for lipid membrane enriched with cardiolipin. The tip of a surface loop in Beclin 1 ECD, comprising three aromatic amino acids, acts as a hydrophobic finger to associate with lipid membrane, consequently resulting in the deformation of membrane and liposomes. Mutation of these aromatic residues rendered Beclin 1 unable to stably associate with lipid membrane in vitro and unable to fully rescue autophagy in Beclin 1-knockdown cells in vivo. These observations form an important framework for deciphering the biological functions of Beclin 1.
PMCID: PMC3292424  PMID: 22310240
Beclin 1; autophagy; crystal structure; membrane binding; membrane deformation; omegasome
18.  p65/RelA Modulates BECN1 Transcription and Autophagy▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2009;29(10):2594-2608.
Recently, autophagy has emerged as a critical process in the control of T-cell homeostasis. Given the pivotal role of NF-κB in the signaling events of T cells, we have analyzed and unveiled a conserved NF-κB binding site in the promoter of the murine and human BECN1 autophagic gene (Atg6). Accordingly, we demonstrate that the NF-κB family member p65/RelA upregulates BECN1 mRNA and protein levels in different cellular systems. Moreover, p65-mediated upregulation of BECN1 is coupled to increased autophagy. The newly identified κB site in the BECN1 promoter specifically interacts with p65 both in vitro and in living Jurkat cells upon phorbol myristate acetate (PMA)-ionomycin stimulation, where p65 induction is coupled to BECN1 upregulation and autophagy induction. Finally, anti-CD3- and PMA-ionomycin-mediated activation of T-cell receptor signaling in peripheral T cells from lymph nodes of healthy mice results in an upregulation of BECN1 expression that can be blocked by the NF-κB inhibitor BAY 11-7082. Altogether, these data suggest that autophagy could represent a novel route modulated by p65 to regulate cell survival and control T-cell homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC2682036  PMID: 19289499
19.  к Opioids inhibit tumor angiogenesis by suppressing VEGF signaling 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:3213.
Opioids are effective analgesics for the management of moderate to severe cancer pain. Here we show that κ opioid receptor (KOR) agonists act as anti-angiogenic factors in tumors. Treatment with KOR agonists, U50,488H and TRK820, significantly inhibited human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) migration and tube formation by suppressing VEGFR2 expression. In contrast, treatment with a μ opioid receptor agonist, DAMGO, or a δ opioid receptor agonist, SNC80, did not prevent angiogenesis in HUVECs. Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) or B16 melanoma grafted in KOR knockout mice showed increased proliferation and remarkably enhanced tumor angiogenesis compared with those in wild type mice. On the other hand, repeated intraperitoneal injection of TRK820 (0.1–10 μg/kg, b.i.d.) significantly inhibited tumor growth by suppressing tumor angiogenesis. These findings indicate that KOR agonists play an important role in tumor angiogenesis and this knowledge could lead to a novel strategy for cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3827603  PMID: 24225480
20.  Interleukin-10 Promotes Pathological Angiogenesis by Regulating Macrophage Response to Hypoxia during Development 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3381.
Aberrant angiogenesis in the eye is the most common cause of blindness. The current study examined the role of interleukin-10 (IL-10) in ischemia-induced pathological angiogenesis called neovascularization during postnatal development. IL-10 deficiency resulted in significantly reduced pathological retinal angiogenesis. In contrast to the choroicapillaris where IL-10 interferes with macrophage influx, IL-10 did not prevent anti-angiogenic macrophages from migrating to the retina in response to hypoxia. Instead, IL-10 promoted retinal angiogenesis by altering macrophage angiogenic function, as macrophages from wild-type mice demonstrated increased vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and nitric oxide (NO) compared to IL-10 deficient macrophages. IL-10 appears to directly affect macrophage responsiveness to hypoxia, as macrophages responded to hypoxia with increased levels of IL-10 and STAT3 phosphorylation as opposed to IL-10 deficient macrophages. Also, IL-10 deficient macrophages inhibited the proliferation of vascular endothelial cells in response to hypoxia while wild-type macrophages failed to do so. These findings suggest that hypoxia guides macrophage behavior to a pro-angiogenic phenotype via IL-10 activated pathways.
PMCID: PMC2557127  PMID: 18852882
21.  Erythropoietin Promotes the Growth of Tumors Lacking Its Receptor and Decreases Survival of Tumor-Bearing Mice by Enhancing Angiogenesis1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2008;10(9):932-939.
Erythropoietin (Epo), a known hematopoietic growth factor, has been reported to promote tumor growth and angiogenesis in Epo receptor (EpoR)-positive tumors, but its effects on EpoR-negative tumors have not been clearly shown. Here, we show that Epo accelerates the growth of EpoR-negative tumors by promoting tumor angiogenesis. Mice were inoculated with Lewis lung carcinoma cells and treated with Epo. Erythropoietin accelerated tumor growth and increased intratumoral microvessel density, although it did not accelerate Lewis lung carcinoma cell tumor proliferation in vitro. To observe the direct effect of Epo on endothelial cells, we examined human dermal microvascular endothelial cells (HMVECs) that expressed EpoR. Erythropoietin induced the proliferation of HMVECs and protected them from H2O2-induced cell death. Erythropoietin activated the extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathway and up-regulated the expression of the downstream antiapoptotic protein Bcl-xL in HMVECs. Moreover, in both the absence and presence of tumors, in vivo treatment of mice with Epo increased circulating endothelial progenitor cells. To investigate the role of Epo in a primary tumor model, we inoculated the chemical carcinogen methylcholanthrene (MCA) subcutaneously into mice at two doses, a high or a low dose, which induced fibrosarcoma, and treated them with Epo. Erythropoietin promoted tumor growth after MCA inoculation at both doses and decreased the overall survival of the mice inoculated with the high-dose MCA. However, Epo did not increase the incidence of fibrosarcoma at either dose. Lewis lung carcinoma cells and MCA-induced fibrosarcomas did not express EpoR. These results suggest that Epo accelerates the growth of tumors that lack EpoR expression by promoting tumor angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2517637  PMID: 18714393
22.  BCL2L11/BIM 
Autophagy  2013;9(1):104-105.
In response to toxic stimuli, BCL2L11 (also known as BIM), a BH3-only protein, is released from its interaction with dynein light chain 1 (DYNLL1 also known as LC8) and can induce apoptosis by inactivating anti-apoptotic BCL2 proteins and by activating BAX-BAK1. Recently, we discovered that BCL2L11 interacts with BECN1 (Beclin 1), and that this interaction is facilitated by DYNLL1. BCL2L11 recruits BECN1 to microtubules by bridging BECN1 and DYNLL1, thereby inhibiting autophagy. In starvation conditions, BCL2L11 is phosphorylated by MAPK8/JNK and this phosphorylation abolishes the BCL2L11-DYNLL1 interaction, allowing dissociation of BCL2L11 and BECN1, thereby ameliorating autophagy inhibition. This finding demonstrates a novel function of BIM beyond its roles in apoptosis, highlighting the crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis, and suggests that BCL2L11’s dual effects in inhibiting autophagy and promoting apoptosis may have important roles in disease pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3542209  PMID: 23064249
BIM; autophagy; apoptosis; BH-3 domain; BECN1
23.  Beclin1 inhibition promotes autophagy and decreases gemcitabine–induced apoptosis in Miapaca2 pancreatic cancer cells 
Beclin1 is a well-known key regulator of autophagy, which is also a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor. Current studies revealed that down-regulation or monoallelic deletions of Beclin1 were frequently found in various cancers. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of Beclin1 inhibition on autophagy and Gemcitabine-induced apoptosis of pancreatic cancer cells.
Beclin1 expression was inhibited by siRNA transduction and gene expression was determined by Real-time PCR and Western blot. The effects of Beclin1 inhibition on autophagy and Gemcitabine-induced apoptosis of Miapaca2 cells were analyed through LC3 expression, cell viability, cell cycle and apoptosis by using Western blot.
We observed that Beclin1 silence promoted microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3-II (LC3-II) protein formation and increased punctate fluorescent signals in Miapaca2 cells transfected with green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged LC3. Beclin1 inhibition showed a greater suppressive effect on Gemcitabine-induced apoptosis of Miapaca2 cells.
Our data suggested that Beclin1 silence not only up-adjusted autophagy process, but also played an important role in the regulation of apoptosis. Beclin1 inhibition could inhibit apoptosis signaling induced by Gemcitabine in Miapaca2 cells.
PMCID: PMC3607839  PMID: 23497401
24.  Disparate effects of simvastatin on angiogenesis during hypoxia and inflammation 
Life sciences  2008;83(23-24):801-809.
Studies have shown that some of statin's pleiotropic effects were achieved by either promotion or inhibition of angiogenesis, depending on the underlying disease. This study tested the hypothesis that the angiogenic potential of simvastatin is related to the microenvironmental conditions.
Main methods
Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) were studied after exposure to hypoxia or the inflammatory factors tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, with or without co-incubation with simvastatin (1μmol/L) and mevalonate. HUVEC angiogenesis was evaluated by tube formation, migration, and proliferation assays. Hypoxia inducible factor (HIF)-1α, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), Akt, endothelium nitric oxide synthase (e-NOS), and oxidative stress were evaluated.
Key findings
HUVEC angiogenesis increased during hypoxia (tube length 14.7±0.5 vs. 7.8±0.6 mm, p<0.05) and further enhanced by simvastatin (19.3±1.1 mm, p<0.05 vs. hypoxia alone), which downregulated the expression of the HIF-1 inhibitor PHD2 and upregulated HIF-1α, VEGF, and Akt, without changing oxidative stress or eNOS. Incubation with TNF-α promoted HUVEC angiogenesis (7.4±0.2 vs. 6.5±0.2 mm, p<0.05) with increased oxidative stress. However, simvastatin inhibited this promotion (2.5±0.3 mm, p<0.001 vs. TNF-α alone) by decreasing oxidative stress, VEGF, Akt, and eNOS.
We conclude that at the same dosage, simvastatin can either promote or inhibit angiogenesis, possibly by activating upstream regulators of HIF-1α in hypoxia, but conversely interfering with angiogenic signaling downstream to inflammation. These opposing angiogenic effects should be considered in the therapeutic strategies with statins.
PMCID: PMC2596882  PMID: 18976673
Simvastatin; hypoxia; angiogenesis; inflammation
25.  Role of Autophagy in Breast Cancer 
Autophagy  2007;3(6):610-613.
Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process of cytoplasm and cellular organelle degradation in lysosomes. Autophagy is a survival pathway required for cellular viability during starvation; however, if it proceeds to completion, autophagy can lead to cell death. In neurons, constitutive autophagy limits accumulation of polyubiquitinated proteins and prevents neuronal degeneration. Therefore, autophagy has emerged as a homeostatic mechanism regulating the turnover of long-lived or damaged proteins and organelles, and buffering metabolic stress under conditions of nutrient deprivation by recycling intracellular constituents. Autophagy also plays a role in tumorigenesis, as the essential autophagy regulator beclin1 is monoallelically deleted in many human ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers, and beclin1+/− mice are tumor-prone. We found that allelic loss of beclin1 renders immortalized mouse mammary epithelial cells susceptible to metabolic stress and accelerates lumen formation in mammary acini. Autophagy defects also activate the DNA damage response in vitro and in mammary tumors in vivo, promote gene amplification, and synergize with defective apoptosis to accelerate mammary tumorigenesis. Thus, loss of the prosurvival role of autophagy likely contributes to breast cancer progression by promoting genome damage and instability. Exploring the yet unknown relationship between defective autophagy and other breast cancer-promoting functions may provide valuable insight into the pathogenesis of breast cancer and may have significant prognostic and therapeutic implications for breast cancer patients.
PMCID: PMC2859167  PMID: 17786023
autophagy; breast cancer; beclin1; DNA damage; genomic instability

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