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1.  Integrative Genomic Analyses Identify BRF2 as a Novel Lineage-Specific Oncogene in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000315.
William Lockwood and colleagues show that the focal amplification of a gene, BRF2, on Chromosome 8p12 plays a key role in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.
Traditionally, non-small cell lung cancer is treated as a single disease entity in terms of systemic therapy. Emerging evidence suggests the major subtypes—adenocarcinoma (AC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to therapy. Identification of the molecular differences between these tumor types will have a significant impact in designing novel therapies that can improve the treatment outcome.
Methods and Findings
We used an integrative genomics approach, combing high-resolution comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression microarray profiles, to compare AC and SqCC tumors in order to uncover alterations at the DNA level, with corresponding gene transcription changes, which are selected for during development of lung cancer subtypes. Through the analysis of multiple independent cohorts of clinical tumor samples (>330), normal lung tissues and bronchial epithelial cells obtained by bronchial brushing in smokers without lung cancer, we identified the overexpression of BRF2, a gene on Chromosome 8p12, which is specific for development of SqCC of lung. Genetic activation of BRF2, which encodes a RNA polymerase III (Pol III) transcription initiation factor, was found to be associated with increased expression of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) that are involved in processes essential for cell growth, such as RNA splicing. Ectopic expression of BRF2 in human bronchial epithelial cells induced a transformed phenotype and demonstrates downstream oncogenic effects, whereas RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown suppressed growth and colony formation of SqCC cells overexpressing BRF2, but not AC cells. Frequent activation of BRF2 in >35% preinvasive bronchial carcinoma in situ, as well as in dysplastic lesions, provides evidence that BRF2 expression is an early event in cancer development of this cell lineage.
This is the first study, to our knowledge, to show that the focal amplification of a gene in Chromosome 8p12, plays a key role in squamous cell lineage specificity of the disease. Our data suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 represents a unique mechanism of SqCC lung tumorigenesis through the increase of Pol III-mediated transcription. It can serve as a marker for lung SqCC and may provide a novel target for therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Every year, 1.3 million people die from this disease, which is mainly caused by smoking. Most cases of lung cancer are “non-small cell lung cancers” (NSCLCs). Like all cancers, NSCLC starts when cells begin to divide uncontrollably and to move round the body (metastasize) because of changes (mutations) in their genes. These mutations are often in “oncogenes,” genes that, when activated, encourage cell division. Oncogenes can be activated by mutations that alter the properties of the proteins they encode or by mutations that increase the amount of protein made from them, such as gene amplification (an increase in the number of copies of a gene). If NSCLC is diagnosed before it has spread from the lungs (stage I disease), it can be surgically removed and many patients with stage I NSCLC survive for more than 5 years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, in more than half of patients, NSCLC has metastasized before it is diagnosed. This stage IV NSCLC can be treated with chemotherapy (toxic chemicals that kill fast-growing cancer cells) but only 2% of patients with stage IV lung cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Traditionally, NSCLC has been regarded as a single disease in terms of treatment. However, emerging evidence suggests that the two major subtypes of NSCLC—adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to chemotherapy. Adenocarcinoma and SqCC start in different types of lung cell and experts think that for each cell type in the body, specific combinations of mutations interact with the cell type's own unique characteristics to provide the growth and survival advantage needed for cancer development. If this is true, then identifying the molecular differences between adenocarcinoma and SqCC could provide targets for more effective therapies for these major subtypes of NSCLC. Amplification of a chromosome region called 8p12 is very common in NSCLC, which suggests that an oncogene that drives lung cancer development is present in this chromosome region. In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility by looking for an amplified gene in the 8p12 chromosome region that makes increased amounts of protein in lung SqCC but not in lung adenocarcinoma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called comparative genomic hybridization to show that focal regions of Chromosome 8p are amplified in about 40% of lung SqCCs, but that DNA loss in this region is the most common alteration in lung adenocarcinomas. Ten genes in the 8p12 chromosome region were expressed at higher levels in the SqCC samples that they examined than in adenocarcinoma samples, they report, and overexpression of five of these genes correlated with amplification of the 8p12 region in the SqCC samples. Only one of the genes—BRF2—was more highly expressed in squamous carcinoma cells than in normal bronchial epithelial cells (the cell type that lines the tubes that take air into the lungs and from which SqCC develops). Artificially induced expression of BRF2 in bronchial epithelial cells made these normal cells behave like tumor cells, whereas reduction of BRF2 expression in squamous carcinoma cells made them behave more like normal bronchial epithelial cells. Finally, BRF2 was frequently activated in two early stages of squamous cell carcinoma—bronchial carcinoma in situ and dysplastic lesions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together, these findings show that the focal amplification of chromosome region 8p12 plays a role in the development of lung SqCC but not in the development of lung adenocarcinoma, the other major subtype of NSCLC. These findings identify BRF2 (which encodes a RNA polymerase III transcription initiation factor, a protein that is required for the synthesis of RNA molecules that help to control cell growth) as a lung SqCC-specific oncogene and uncover a unique mechanism for lung SqCC development. Most importantly, these findings suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 could be used as a marker for lung SqCC, which might facilitate the early detection of this type of NSCLC and that BRF2 might provide a new target for therapy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and professionals about all aspects of lung cancer, including information on non-small cell carcinoma (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information about lung cancer and information on how cancer starts
MedlinePlus has links to other resources about lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2910599  PMID: 20668658
2.  Growth inhibition and radiosensitization of glioblastoma and lung cancer cells by siRNA silencing of tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 2 
Cancer research  2008;68(18):7570-7578.
Radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy is the treatment of choice for glioblastoma and locally advanced lung cancer, but radioresistance of these two types of cancer remains a significant therapeutic hindrance. To identify molecular target(s) for radiosensitization, we screened a siRNA library targeting all protein kinases and E3 ubiquitin ligases in the human genome and identified TRAF2 (TNF Receptor-associated factor 2). Silencing of TRAF2 using siRNA caused a significant growth suppression of glioblastoma U251 cells and moderately sensitized these radioresistant cells to radiation. Overexpression of a RING deleted dominant negative TRAF2 mutant, also conferred radiosensitivity; whereas over-expression of wild type TRAF2 significantly protected cells from radiation-induced killing. Likewise, siRNA silencing of TRAF2 in radioresistant lung cancer H1299 cells caused growth suppression and radiosensitization, whereas overexpression of wild type TRAF2 enhanced radioresistance in a RING ligase-dependent manner. Moreover, siRNA silencing of TRAF2 in UM-SCC-1 head and neck cancer cells also conferred radiosensitization. Further support for the role of TRAF2 in cancer comes from the observations that TRAF2 is overexpressed in both lung adenocarcinoma tissues and multiple lung cancer cell lines. Importantly, TRAF2 expression was very low in normal bronchial epithelial NL20 cells, and TRAF2 silencing had a minimal effect on NL20 growth and radiation sensitivity. Mechanistically, TRAF2 silencing blocks the activation of the NF-kB signaling pathway, and down-regulates a number of G2/M cell cycle control proteins, resulting in enhanced G2/M arrest, growth suppression, and radiosensitization. Our studies suggest that TRAF2 is an attractive drug target for anti-cancer therapy and for radiosensitization.
PMCID: PMC2597026  PMID: 18794145
Checkpoint controls; Growth inhibition; NF-κB; Radiosensitization; siRNA library screen; TRAF2
3.  Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Activation in Glioblastoma through Novel Missense Mutations in the Extracellular Domain 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e485.
Protein tyrosine kinases are important regulators of cellular homeostasis with tightly controlled catalytic activity. Mutations in kinase-encoding genes can relieve the autoinhibitory constraints on kinase activity, can promote malignant transformation, and appear to be a major determinant of response to kinase inhibitor therapy. Missense mutations in the EGFR kinase domain, for example, have recently been identified in patients who showed clinical responses to EGFR kinase inhibitor therapy.
Methods and Findings
Encouraged by the promising clinical activity of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) kinase inhibitors in treating glioblastoma in humans, we have sequenced the complete EGFR coding sequence in glioma tumor samples and cell lines. We identified novel missense mutations in the extracellular domain of EGFR in 13.6% (18/132) of glioblastomas and 12.5% (1/8) of glioblastoma cell lines. These EGFR mutations were associated with increased EGFR gene dosage and conferred anchorage-independent growth and tumorigenicity to NIH-3T3 cells. Cells transformed by expression of these EGFR mutants were sensitive to small-molecule EGFR kinase inhibitors.
Our results suggest extracellular missense mutations as a novel mechanism for oncogenic EGFR activation and may help identify patients who can benefit from EGFR kinase inhibitors for treatment of glioblastoma.
Ingo Mellinghoff and colleagues sequenced theEGFR gene in glioblastoma samples and cell lines and identified missense mutations in the extracellular domain that suggest a new mechanism for EGFR activation.
Editors' Summary
Normally, cell division (which produces new cells) and cell death are finely balanced to keep the tissues and organs of the human body in working order. But sometimes, cells acquire changes (mutations) in their genetic material that allow them to divide uncontrollably to form cancers—life-threatening, disorganized masses of cells. Cancer treatments often involve drugs that kill rapidly dividing cells but, although these hit cancer cells hardest, they also damage some normal tissues. Now, though, some of the specific changes that allow cancer cells to divide uncontrollably have been identified and drugs that attack only these abnormal cells are being developed. One of these—erlotinib—inhibits the activity of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a “receptor tyrosine kinase” that sits in the cell membrane. The interaction of epidermal growth factor (EGF)—a messenger protein—with the extracellular portion (or domain) of EGFR activates its intracellular part (a kinase enzyme). This adds phosphate groups to tyrosine (an amino acid) in proteins that form part of a signaling cascade that tells cells to divide. Cancer cells often have alterations in EGFR signaling. Some have extra copies of the EGFR gene (EGFR amplification); others make a short version of EGFR that is always active because it lacks the extracellular domain that binds EGF; yet others contain EGFR that is permanently active because of mutations in its kinase domain.
Why Was This Study Done?
Erlotinib can help only patients whose tumor growth is dependent on EGFR signaling. To identify these patients it is necessary to have a detailed catalog of the mutations that occur in EGFR in tumors and to know which mutations drive uncontrolled cell growth. In this study, the researchers have catalogued and characterized the mutations in EGFR that occur in glioblastoma, a deadly type of brain tumor. The researchers chose this tumor type for their study because EGFR amplification and loss of the extracellular domain of EGFR are both common in glioblastomas and because about one in five patients with glioblastoma responds well to EGFR kinase inhibitors.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers sequenced the whole coding sequence of the EGFR gene in more than 100 glioblastomas. Nearly 15% of the tumors contained missense mutations—changes that alter the amino acid sequence of EGFR. Only one tumor had a mutation in the EGFR kinase domain; the rest had mutations in its extracellular domain. To test whether these newly identified mutations might contribute to cancer development (oncogenesis), the researchers introduced mutated or normal EGFR genes into nontumorigenic mouse cells. Only the cells that contained the mutated EGFR genes formed tumors when injected into mice, indicating that the nontumorigenic cells had been “transformed” into cancer cells by the mutated EGFR genes. Finally, the researchers showed that EGFR containing the extracellular missense mutations had kinase activity in the absence of EGF when expressed in human and mouse cells, and that the growth of cells transformed by expression of the mutated genes was sensitive to erlotinib.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify missense mutations in the extracellular domain of EGFR as a new way to oncogenically activate this protein. Until now researchers have concentrated on the kinase domain of this and other receptor tyrosine kinases in their search for oncogenic mutations, but the results of this study suggest that future searches should be much broader. The distribution of EGFR missense mutations in glioblastoma contrasts with that in lung cancer, in which alterations in EGFR signaling are also implicated in cancer development but all the oncogenic mutations are in the kinase domain. Fortunately, EGFR kinase inhibitors like erlotinib have broad activity: They inhibit the growth of cells transformed by the expression of EGFR containing extracellular domain mutations or kinase mutations, or by the expression of the short EGFR variant. This bodes well for the use of these drugs in patients with glioblastoma. However, before these inhibitors become a standard part of cancer treatments, sensitive techniques need to be developed to analyze tumors for these mutations so that the patients who will benefit from these targeted therapies can be identified.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entries on cancer and on brain tumors
US National Cancer Institute information for patients and professionals on brain tumors
Wikipedia pages on protein kinases, epidermal growth factor receptor, and erlotinib (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1702556  PMID: 17177598
4.  Association of TRAF1, TRAF2, and TRAF3 with an Epstein-Barr virus LMP1 domain important for B-lymphocyte transformation: role in NF-kappaB activation. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1996;16(12):7098-7108.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) transforming protein LMP1 appears to be a constitutively activated tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) on the basis of an intrinsic ability to aggregate in the plasma membrane and an association of its cytoplasmic carboxyl terminus (CT) with TNFR-associated factors (TRAFs). We now show that in EBV-transformed B lymphocytes most of TRAF1 or TRAF3 and 5% of TRAF2 are associated with LMP1 and that most of LMP1 is associated with TRAF1 or TRAF3. TRAF1, TRAF2, and TRAF3 bind to a single site in the LMP1 CT corresponding to amino acids (aa) 199 to 214, within a domain which is important for B-lymphocyte growth transformation (aa 187 to 231). Further deletional and alanine mutagenesis analyses and comparison with TRAF binding sequences in CD40, in CD30, and in the LMP1 of other lymphycryptoviruses provide the first evidence that PXQXT/S is a core TRAF binding motif. The negative effects of point mutations in the LMP1(1-231) core TRAF binding motif on TRAF binding and NF-kappaB activation genetically link the TRAFs to LMP1(1-231)-mediated NF-kappaB activation. NF-kappaB activation by LMP1(1-231) is likely to be mediated by TRAF1/TRAF2 heteroaggregates since TRAF1 is unique among the TRAFs in coactivating NF-kappaB with LMP1(1-231), a TRAF2 dominant-negative mutant can block LMP1(1-231)-mediated NF-kappaB activation as well as TRAF1 coactivation, and 30% of TRAF2 is associated with TRAF1 in EBV-transformed B cells. TRAF3 is a negative modulator of LMP1(1-231)-mediated NF-kappaB activation. Surprisingly, TRAF1, -2, or -3 does not interact with the terminal LMP1 CT aa 333 to 386 which can independently mediate NF-kappaB activation. The constitutive association of TRAFs with LMP1 through the aa 187 to 231 domain which is important in NF-kappaB activation and primary B-lymphocyte growth transformation implicates TRAF aggregation in LMP1 signaling.
PMCID: PMC231713  PMID: 8943365
5.  Proteomic Profiling of the TRAF3 Interactome Network Reveals a New Role for the ER-to-Golgi Transport Compartments in Innate Immunity 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(7):e1002747.
Tumor Necrosis Factor receptor-associated factor-3 (TRAF3) is a central mediator important for inducing type I interferon (IFN) production in response to intracellular double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Here, we report the identification of Sec16A and p115, two proteins of the ER-to-Golgi vesicular transport system, as novel components of the TRAF3 interactome network. Notably, in non-infected cells, TRAF3 was found associated with markers of the ER-Exit-Sites (ERES), ER-to-Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) and the cis-Golgi apparatus. Upon dsRNA and dsDNA sensing however, the Golgi apparatus fragmented into cytoplasmic punctated structures containing TRAF3 allowing its colocalization and interaction with Mitochondrial AntiViral Signaling (MAVS), the essential mitochondria-bound RIG-I-like Helicase (RLH) adaptor. In contrast, retention of TRAF3 at the ER-to-Golgi vesicular transport system blunted the ability of TRAF3 to interact with MAVS upon viral infection and consequently decreased type I IFN response. Moreover, depletion of Sec16A and p115 led to a drastic disorganization of the Golgi paralleled by the relocalization of TRAF3, which under these conditions was unable to associate with MAVS. Consequently, upon dsRNA and dsDNA sensing, ablation of Sec16A and p115 was found to inhibit IRF3 activation and anti-viral gene expression. Reciprocally, mild overexpression of Sec16A or p115 in Hec1B cells increased the activation of IFNβ, ISG56 and NF-κB -dependent promoters following viral infection and ectopic expression of MAVS and Tank-binding kinase-1 (TBK1). In line with these results, TRAF3 was found enriched in immunocomplexes composed of p115, Sec16A and TBK1 upon infection. Hence, we propose a model where dsDNA and dsRNA sensing induces the formation of membrane-bound compartments originating from the Golgi, which mediate the dynamic association of TRAF3 with MAVS leading to an optimal induction of innate immune responses.
Author Summary
In response to pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, infected cells defend themselves by generating a set of cytokines called type I interferon (IFN). Since Type I IFN (namely IFN alpha and beta) are potent antiviral agents, understanding the cellular mechanisms by which infected cells produce type I IFN is required to identify novel cellular targets for future antiviral therapies. Notably, a protein called Tumor Necrosis Factor receptor-associated factor-3 (TRAF3) was demonstrated to be an essential mediator of this antiviral response. However, how TRAF3 reacts in response to a viral infection is still not totally understood. We now demonstrate that, through its capacity to interact with other proteins (namely Sec16A and p115) that normally control protein secretion, TRAF3 resides close to the nucleus in uninfected cells, in a region called the ER-to-Golgi Intermediate Compartment (ERGIC). Following viral infection, the ERGIC reorganizes into small punctate structures allowing TRAF3 to associate with Mitochondrial AntiViral Signaling (MAVS), an essential adaptor of the anti-viral type I IFN response. Thus, our study reveals an unpredicted role of the protein secretion system for the proper localization of TRAF3 and the antiviral response.
PMCID: PMC3390413  PMID: 22792062
6.  TRAF4 is a critical molecule for Akt activation in lung cancer 
Cancer research  2013;73(23):10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-13-0913.
TRAF4 is an adapter protein overexpressed in certain cancers but its contributions to tumorigenesis are unclear. In lung cancer cells and primary lung tumors, we found that TRAF4 is overexpressed. RNAi-mediated attenuation of TRAF4 expression blunted the malignant phenotype in this setting, exerting inhibitory effects on cell proliferation, anchorage-independent growth and tumor development in a xenograft mouse model. Unexpectedly, we discovered that TRAF4, but not Skp2, was required for activation of the pivotal cell survival kinase Akt through ubiquitination. Furthermore, TRAF4 attenuation impaired glucose metabolism by inhibiting expression of Glut1 and HK2 mediated by the Akt pathway. Overall, our work suggests that TRAF4 offers a candidate molecular target for lung cancer prevention and therapy.
PMCID: PMC3856436  PMID: 24154876
lung cancer; TRAF4; Akt; ubiquitination
7.  TRAF1 Is a Critical Regulator of JNK Signaling by the TRAF-Binding Domain of the Epstein-Barr Virus-Encoded Latent Infection Membrane Protein 1 but Not CD40 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(2):1316-1328.
The oncogenic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-encoded latent infection membrane protein 1 (LMP1) mimics a constitutive active tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family receptor in its ability to recruit TNF receptor-associated factors (TRAFs) and TNF receptor-associated death domain protein (TRADD) in a ligand-independent manner. As a result, LMP1 constitutively engages signaling pathways, such as the JNK and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), the transcription factor NF-κB, and the JAK/STAT cascade, and these activities may explain many of its pleiotropic effects on cell phenotype, growth, and transformation. In this study we demonstrate the ability of the TRAF-binding domain of LMP1 to signal on the JNK/AP-1 axis in a cell type- dependent manner that critically involves TRAF1 and TRAF2. Thus, expression of this LMP1 domain in TRAF1-positive lymphoma cells promotes significant JNK activation, which is blocked by dominant-negative TRAF2 but not TRAF5. However, TRAF1 is absent in many established epithelial cell lines and primary nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) biopsy specimens. In these cells, JNK activation by the TRAF-binding domain of LMP1 depends on the reconstitution of TRAF1 expression. The critical role of TRAF1 in the regulation of TRAF2-dependent JNK signaling is particular to the TRAF-binding domain of LMP1, since a homologous region in the cytoplasmic tail of CD40 or the TRADD-interacting domain of LMP1 signal on the JNK axis independently of TRAF1 status. These data further dissect the signaling components used by LMP1 and identify a novel role for TRAF1 as a modulator of oncogenic signals.
PMCID: PMC140818  PMID: 12502848
8.  TRAF4 Is a Novel Phosphoinositide-Binding Protein Modulating Tight Junctions and Favoring Cell Migration 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(12):e1001726.
The cancer-associated TRAF4 protein has a TRAF domain that is a bona fide phosphoinositide-binding domain and involved in the modulation of tight junctions and cell migration.
Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-associated factor 4 (TRAF4) is frequently overexpressed in carcinomas, suggesting a specific role in cancer. Although TRAF4 protein is predominantly found at tight junctions (TJs) in normal mammary epithelial cells (MECs), it accumulates in the cytoplasm of malignant MECs. How TRAF4 is recruited and functions at TJs is unclear. Here we show that TRAF4 possesses a novel phosphoinositide (PIP)-binding domain crucial for its recruitment to TJs. Of interest, this property is shared by the other members of the TRAF protein family. Indeed, the TRAF domain of all TRAF proteins (TRAF1 to TRAF6) is a bona fide PIP-binding domain. Molecular and structural analyses revealed that the TRAF domain of TRAF4 exists as a trimer that binds up to three lipids using basic residues exposed at its surface. Cellular studies indicated that TRAF4 acts as a negative regulator of TJ and increases cell migration. These functions are dependent from its ability to interact with PIPs. Our results suggest that TRAF4 overexpression might contribute to breast cancer progression by destabilizing TJs and favoring cell migration.
Author Summary
Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-associated factor 4, also known as TRAF4, is an unusual member of the TRAF protein family. While TRAFs are primarily known as regulators of inflammation, antiviral responses, and apoptosis, research on TRAF4 has identified its involvement in development and cancer. Importantly TRAF4 overexpression has been associated with a poor prognosis in breast cancers. TRAF4 has multiple subcellular localizations: to the plasma membrane in tight junctions (TJs), cytoplasmic and nuclear. The recruitment mechanisms and the functional impact of these distinct localizations are not completely understood. Here we investigate how TRAF4 is recruited to TJs and its involvement in cell–cell contacts in mammary epithelial cells (MECs). We show that the TRAF domain of all TRAFs contains a lipid binding module, and that TRAF4 uses this domain to form a trimeric complex that associates with phosphoinositides at the plasma membrane. Moreover this interaction is necessary for its recruitment to TJs. Additionally, we show that through its interaction with lipids TRAF4 delays TJ assembly and increases cell migration. We propose that TRAF4 has an important function in cancer progression by destabilizing TJs and favoring cell migration.
PMCID: PMC3848981  PMID: 24311986
9.  Characterization of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2 overexpression in the human breast cancer cell line SUM-52PE 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2000;2(4):311-320.
The fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR)2 gene has been shown to be amplified in 5-10% of breast cancer patients. A breast cancer cell line developed in our laboratory, SUM-52PE, was shown to have a 12-fold amplification of the FGFR2 gene, and FGFR2 message was found to be overexpressed 40-fold in SUM-52PE cells as compared with normal human mammary epithelial (HME) cells. Both human breast cancer (HBC) cell lines and HME cells expressed two FGFR2 isoforms, whereas SUM-52PE cells overexpressed those two isoforms, as well as several unique FGFR2 polypeptides. SUM-52PE cells expressed exclusively FGFR2-IIIb isoforms, which are high-affinity receptors for fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-1 and FGF-7. Differences were identified in the expression of the extracellular Ig-like domains, acid box and carboxyl termini, and several variants not previously reported were isolated from these cells.
The FGFR family of receptor tyrosine kinases includes four members, all of which are highly alternatively spliced and glycosylated. For FGFR2, alternative splicing of the second half of the third Ig-like domain, involving exons IIIb and IIIc, is a mutually exclusive choice that affects ligand binding specificity and affinity [1,2,3]. It appears that the second half of the third Ig-like domain can dictate high affinity for FGF-2 or keratinocyte growth factor (KGF), whereas affinity for FGF-1 appears to remain the same [3]. Alternative splicing of the carboxyl terminus has been shown to involve at least two different exons that can produce at least three different variants. The C1-type and C2-type carboxyl termini are encoded by the same exon, and have two different splice acceptor sites, whereas the C3-type carboxyl terminus is encoded by a separate exon [4]. The biologic significance of the C1 carboxyl terminus, as compared with the shorter C3 variant found primarily in tumorigenic samples, has been studied in NIH3T3 transfection assays, in which C3 variants were able to produce three times more transformed foci in soft agar than C1 variants (both IIIb), whereas full length FGFR2 and FGFR1 (both IIIc variants) showed no transforming activity [4].
Previous studies [5,6] have found amplification and overexpression of FGFR2 in 5-10% of primary breast cancer specimens. A recent study [7] done using a tissue array consisting of 372 primary breast cancer specimens found a 5% incidence of FGFR2 amplification. To our knowledge, none of the HBC cell lines studied thus far have an FGFR2 gene amplification, although overexpression of FGFR2 message and protein has been documented for some breast cancer cell lines [6,8,9].
SUM-52PE is a breast cancer cell line previously isolated in our laboratory that grows under serum-free and epidermal growth factor-free conditions, has high levels of tyrosine-phosphorylated membrane proteins, and has the capacity to invade and grow under anchorage-independent conditions [10,11,12]. This cell line exhibits all of the important hallmarks of transformed, highly malignant cells. Therefore, SUM-52PE was used as a model to study the diversity of FGFR2 expression in a breast cancer cell line that has true amplification and overexpression of FGFR2.
This study was conducted to examine the degree of FGFR2 amplification and overexpression in the breast cancer cell line SUM-52PE. Subsequent sequencing and characterization of individual FGFR2 variants cloned from the SUM-52PE cell line was completed to determine the complexity of FGFR2 alternative splicing in the context of a highly metastatic breast cancer cell line.
Southern, Northern and Western blot analyses were done in order to determine the degree of FGFR2 amplification and overexpression in the breast cancer cell line SUM-52PE. Individual FGFR2 variants were cloned out of SUM-52PE using FGFR2-specific primers in a reverse transcription (RT) polymerase chain reaction (PCR). FGFR2 cDNAs were characterized by restriction fragment analysis, sequencing and transient transfection into 293 cells to examine the protein expression of each FGFR2 clone.
The results of the Southern blot showed that there was a 12-fold amplification of FGFR2 in the SUM-52PE cell line. Northern blot analysis of SUM-52PE showed FGFR2 transcripts to be highly overexpressed compared with other breast cancer cell lines and normal HME cells. Several overexpressed bands of approximately 6.3, 5.0, 4.0, and 2.8kb were observed in SUM-52PE cells. The most prominent band, at 2.8kb, was so abundant that it was difficult to discern other individual bands clearly. Western blot analysis showed that both normal HME and HBC cells expressed two FGFR2 variants of 95 and 135kDa. The SUM-52PE cell line greatly overexpressed not only these two polypeptides, as compared with HME and HBC cells, but also overexpressed two unique variants of FGFR2 - 85 and 109kDa polypeptides - as well as several smaller polypeptides in the 46-53kDa range. The antibody used in Western blot analysis only recognizes FGFR2 isoforms that express the C1 carboxyl termini, therefore greatly underestimating the actual number of different FGFR2 variants that are overexpressed in this cell line.
PCR was performed to determine the proportion of C1/C2 variants as compared with C3 variants in the SUM-52PE cell line. Results of this analysis indicated the presence of all three types of variants in this cell line, although the C1/C2 variants were predominant as compared with the C3 variants in SUM-52PE.
Four different FGFR2-C1 clones were isolated and sequenced from SUM-52PE cells, which differed in their signal sequence, first Ig-like loop, and acid box. Two FGFR2-C2 clones were isolated from the SUM-52PE cell line, which were identical to each other except for the variable expression of the number of Ig-like domains (two or three). Three C3 clones were isolated and sequenced, two of which have not previously been described in the literature. Clone C3-#3 contained two Ig-like domains, but no acid box. C3-#5 was missing the first two Ig-like domains and the acid box, but did contain the third Ig-like domain.
There is an extensive amount of evidence implicating erbB-2, a gene that is overexpressed in approximately 30% of breast cancer cases, as a breast cancer gene [13]. The identification of other breast oncogenes that function in the remaining 70% of cases is an ongoing challenge, as is establishing a causal role for such oncogenes in HME cell transformation.
FGFR1 and FGFR2, previously established oncogenes, were found to be amplified within large amplicons on 8p11 and 10q26, respectively, in the breast cancer cell line SUM-52PE [14]. Previous studies have shown that the FGFR2 gene is amplified in about 5-10% of breast cancer cases.
Our results showed that SUM-52PE cells overexpressed many alternatively spliced isoforms of FGFR2 at both the transcript and protein level as compared with normal HME cells. The variability in FGFR2 isoform expression is complex and involves exon IIIb/c, which encodes the second half of the third Ig-like loop; variations in the carboxyl terminal end of the receptor, involving the C1/C2 or C3 domains; and variable expression of the Ig-like loops and acid box in the extracellular portion of the receptor. The characterization of three unique FGFR2 isoforms that were cloned from SUM-52PE may build on the findings of others concerning the transforming potential of FGFR2 variants [4]. In particular, because it has been demonstrated that expression of C3-IIIb variants may have more transforming activity than C1-IIIb variants, differences between the three C3 clones we have isolated may provide information regarding the influence of particular structural domains on transforming potential.
Ongoing studies are aimed at characterizing the transforming ability of FGFR2 isoforms obtained from SUM-52PE cells by transducing these genes into normal HME cells. By overexpressing FGFR2 isoforms in a physiologically relevant system, we hope to determine the isoform(s) that acts in a dominant way in the process of cell transformation, and to determine whether different regions present in individual clones drive specific phenotypes associated with transformation.
PMCID: PMC13919  PMID: 11056689
alternative splicing; breast cancer; fibroblast growth factor receptor; receptor tyrosine kinase; SUM-52PE
10.  Role of the TRAF Binding Site and NF-κB Activation in Epstein-Barr Virus Latent Membrane Protein 1-Induced Cell Gene Expression 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(10):7900-7908.
In this study, we investigated the induction of cellular gene expression by the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1). Previously, LMP1 was shown to induce the expression of ICAM-1, LFA-3, CD40, and EBI3 in EBV-negative Burkitt lymphoma (BL) cells and of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R) in epithelial cells. We now show that LMP1 expression also increased Fas and tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 1 (TRAF1) in BL cells. LMP1 mediates NF-κB activation via two independent domains located in its C-terminal cytoplasmic tail, a TRAF-interacting site that associates with TRAF1, -2, -3, and -5 through a PXQXT/S core motif and a TRADD-interacting site. In EBV-transformed B cells or transiently transfected BL cells, significant amounts of TRAF1, -2, -3, and -5 are associated with LMP1. In epithelial cells, very little TRAF1 is expressed, and only TRAF2, -3, and -5, are significantly complexed with LMP1. The importance of TRAF binding to the PXQXT/S motif in LMP1-mediated gene induction was studied by using an LMP1 mutant that contains alanine point mutations in this motif and fails to associate with TRAFs. This mutant, LMP1(P204A/Q206A), induced 60% of wild-type LMP1 NF-κB activation and had approximately 60% of wild-type LMP1 effect on Fas, ICAM-1, CD40, and LFA-3 induction. In contrast, LMP1(P204A/Q206A) was substantially more impaired in TRAF1, EBI3, and EGF-R induction. Thus, TRAF binding to the PXQXT/S motif has a nonessential role in up-regulating Fas, ICAM-1, CD40, and LFA-3 expression and a critical role in up-regulating TRAF1, EBI3, and EGF-R expression. Further, D1 LMP1, an LMP1 mutant that does not aggregate failed to induce TRAF1, EBI3, Fas, ICAM-1, CD40, and LFA-3 expression confirming the essential role for aggregation in LMP1 signaling. Overexpression of a dominant form of IκBα blocked LMP1-mediated TRAF1, EBI3, Fas, ICAM-1, CD40, and LFA-3 up-regulation, indicating that NF-κB is an important component of LMP1-mediated gene induction from both the TRAF- and TRADD-interacting sites.
PMCID: PMC110117  PMID: 9733827
11.  Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Associated Factor 6 Is Not Required for Atherogenesis in Mice and Does Not Associate with Atherosclerosis in Humans 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11589.
Tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factors (TRAFs) are important signaling molecules for a variety of pro-atherogenic cytokines including CD40L, TNF α, and IL1β. Several lines of evidence identified TRAF6 as a pro-inflammatory signaling molecule in vitro and we previously demonstrated overexpression of TRAF6 in human and Murine atherosclerotic plaques. This study investigated the role of TRAF6-deficiency in mice developing atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory disease.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Lethally irradiated low density lipoprotein receptor-deficient mice (TRAF6+/+/LDLR−/−) were reconstituted with TRAF6-deficient fetal liver cells (FLC) and consumed high cholesterol diet for 18 weeks to assess the relevance of TRAF6 in hematopoietic cells for atherogenesis. Additionally, TRAF6+/−/LDLR−/− mice received TRAF6-deficient FLC to gain insight into the role of TRAF6 deficiency in resident cells. Surprisingly, atherosclerotic lesion size did not differ between the three groups in both aortic roots and abdominal aortas. Similarly, no significant differences in plaque composition could be observed as assessed by immunohistochemistry for macrophages, lipids, smooth muscle cells, T-cells, and collagen. In accord, in a small clinical study TRAF6/GAPDH total blood RNA ratios did not differ between groups of patients with stable coronary heart disease (0.034±0.0021, N = 178), acute coronary heart disease (0.029±0.0027, N = 70), and those without coronary heart disease (0.032±0.0016, N = 77) as assessed by angiography.
Our study demonstrates that TRAF6 is not required for atherogenesis in mice and does not associate with clinical disease in humans. These data suggest that pro- and anti-inflammatory features of TRAF6 signaling outweigh each other in the context of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2904388  PMID: 20644648
12.  Mouse Model for ROS1-Rearranged Lung Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56010.
Genetic rearrangement of the ROS1 receptor tyrosine kinase was recently identified as a distinct molecular signature for human non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, direct evidence of lung carcinogenesis induced by ROS1 fusion genes remains to be verified. The present study shows that EZR-ROS1 plays an essential role in the oncogenesis of NSCLC harboring the fusion gene. EZR-ROS1 was identified in four female patients of lung adenocarcinoma. Three of them were never smokers. Interstitial deletion of 6q22–q25 resulted in gene fusion. Expression of the fusion kinase in NIH3T3 cells induced anchorage-independent growth in vitro, and subcutaneous tumors in nude mice. This transforming ability was attributable to its kinase activity. The ALK/MET/ROS1 kinase inhibitor, crizotinib, suppressed fusion-induced anchorage-independent growth of NIH3T3 cells. Most importantly, established transgenic mouse lines specifically expressing EZR-ROS1 in lung alveolar epithelial cells developed multiple adenocarcinoma nodules in both lungs at an early age. These data suggest that the EZR-ROS1 is a pivotal oncogene in human NSCLC, and that this animal model could be valuable for exploring therapeutic agents against ROS1-rearranged lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3572153  PMID: 23418494
13.  Amplification of CRKL induces transformation and EGFR inhibitor resistance in human non small cell lung cancers 
Cancer discovery  2011;1(7):608-625.
We previously identified a region of recurrent amplification on chromosome 22q11.21 in a subset of primary lung adenocarcinomas. Here we show that CRKL, encoding for an adaptor protein, is amplified and overexpressed in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells that harbor 22q11.21 amplifications. Overexpression of CRKL in immortalized human airway epithelial cells promoted anchorage independent growth and tumorigenicity. Oncogenic CRKL activates SOS1-RAS-RAF-ERK and SRC-C3G-RAP1 pathways. Suppression of CRKL in NSCLC cells that harbor CRKL amplifications induced cell death. Overexpression of CRKL in EGFR mutant cells induces resistance to gefitinib by activating ERK and AKT signaling. We identified CRKL amplification in an EGFR inhibitor treated lung adenocarcinoma that was not present prior to treatment. These observations show that CRKL overexpression induces cell transformation, credential CRKL as a therapeutic target for a subset of NSCLC that harbor CRKL amplifications and implicate CRKL as an additional mechanism of resistance to EGFR-directed therapy.
PMCID: PMC3353720  PMID: 22586683
non small cell lung cancer; CRKL; cell transformation; RAP1; oncogene
14.  The Germinal Center Kinase TNIK Is Required for Canonical NF-κB and JNK Signaling in B-Cells by the EBV Oncoprotein LMP1 and the CD40 Receptor 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(8):e1001376.
TNIK has an important function in physiological activation and viral transformation of human B-cells by interacting with the TRAF6 adapter complex and mediating NF-κB and JNK signal transduction.
The tumor necrosis factor-receptor-associated factor 2 (TRAF2)- and Nck-interacting kinase (TNIK) is a ubiquitously expressed member of the germinal center kinase family. The TNIK functions in hematopoietic cells and the role of TNIK-TRAF interaction remain largely unknown. By functional proteomics we identified TNIK as interaction partner of the latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) signalosome in primary human B-cells infected with the Epstein-Barr tumor virus (EBV). RNAi-mediated knockdown proved a critical role for TNIK in canonical NF-κB and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activation by the major EBV oncoprotein LMP1 and its cellular counterpart, the B-cell co-stimulatory receptor CD40. Accordingly, TNIK is mandatory for proliferation and survival of EBV-transformed B-cells. TNIK forms an activation-induced complex with the critical signaling mediators TRAF6, TAK1/TAB2, and IKKβ, and mediates signalosome formation at LMP1. TNIK directly binds TRAF6, which bridges TNIK's interaction with the C-terminus of LMP1. Separate TNIK domains are involved in NF-κB and JNK signaling, the N-terminal TNIK kinase domain being essential for IKKβ/NF-κB and the C-terminus for JNK activation. We therefore suggest that TNIK orchestrates the bifurcation of both pathways at the level of the TRAF6-TAK1/TAB2-IKK complex. Our data establish TNIK as a novel key player in TRAF6-dependent JNK and NF-κB signaling and a transducer of activating and transforming signals in human B-cells.
Author Summary
The germinal center kinase family member TNIK was discovered in a yeast-two-hybrid screen for interaction partners of the adapter proteins TRAF2 and Nck, and here we show it is one of the missing molecular players in two key signaling pathways in B-lymphocytes. We found that TNIK is crucial for the activities of the CD40 receptor on Bcells and its viral mimic, the latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is a human DNA tumor virus that is associated with various malignancies. It targets and transforms B-cells by hijacking the cellular signaling machinery via its oncogene LMP1. In normal Bcell physiology, the CD40 receptor is central to the immune response by mediating B-cell activation and proliferation. TNIK turns out to be an organizer of the LMP1- and CD40-induced signaling complexes by interacting with the TRAF6 adapter protein, well known for its role in linking distinct signaling pathways. Through this mechanism the two receptors depend on TNIK to activate the canonical NF-κB and JNK signal transduction pathways, which are important for the physiological activation of B-cells (a process that enables antibody production), as well as for their transformation into tumor cells. TNIK thus constitutes a key player in the transmission of physiological and pathological signals in human B-cells that might serve as a future therapeutic target against B-cell malignancies.
PMCID: PMC3419181  PMID: 22904686
15.  Co-expression network analysis identifies Spleen Tyrosine Kinase (SYK) as a candidate oncogenic driver in a subset of small-cell lung cancer 
BMC Systems Biology  2013;7(Suppl 5):S1.
Oncogenic mechanisms in small-cell lung cancer remain poorly understood leaving this tumor with the worst prognosis among all lung cancers. Unlike other cancer types, sequencing genomic approaches have been of limited success in small-cell lung cancer, i.e., no mutated oncogenes with potential driver characteristics have emerged, as it is the case for activating mutations of epidermal growth factor receptor in non-small-cell lung cancer. Differential gene expression analysis has also produced SCLC signatures with limited application, since they are generally not robust across datasets. Nonetheless, additional genomic approaches are warranted, due to the increasing availability of suitable small-cell lung cancer datasets. Gene co-expression network approaches are a recent and promising avenue, since they have been successful in identifying gene modules that drive phenotypic traits in several biological systems, including other cancer types.
We derived an SCLC-specific classifier from weighted gene co-expression network analysis (WGCNA) of a lung cancer dataset. The classifier, termed SCLC-specific hub network (SSHN), robustly separates SCLC from other lung cancer types across multiple datasets and multiple platforms, including RNA-seq and shotgun proteomics. The classifier was also conserved in SCLC cell lines. SSHN is enriched for co-expressed signaling network hubs strongly associated with the SCLC phenotype. Twenty of these hubs are actionable kinases with oncogenic potential, among which spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK) exhibits one of the highest overall statistical associations to SCLC. In patient tissue microarrays and cell lines, SCLC can be separated into SYK-positive and -negative. SYK siRNA decreases proliferation rate and increases cell death of SYK-positive SCLC cell lines, suggesting a role for SYK as an oncogenic driver in a subset of SCLC.
SCLC treatment has thus far been limited to chemotherapy and radiation. Our WGCNA analysis identifies SYK both as a candidate biomarker to stratify SCLC patients and as a potential therapeutic target. In summary, WGCNA represents an alternative strategy to large scale sequencing for the identification of potential oncogenic drivers, based on a systems view of signaling networks. This strategy is especially useful in cancer types where no actionable mutations have emerged.
PMCID: PMC4029366  PMID: 24564859
Co-expression network; Small-cell lung cancer; SYK; FYN; proteomics; gene expression; RNAseq
16.  Gefitinib-Induced Killing of NSCLC Cell Lines Expressing Mutant EGFR Requires BIM and Can Be Enhanced by BH3 Mimetics 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(10):e316.
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) plays a critical role in the control of cellular proliferation, differentiation, and survival. Abnormalities in EGF-EGFR signaling, such as mutations that render the EGFR hyperactive or cause overexpression of the wild-type receptor, have been found in a broad range of cancers, including carcinomas of the lung, breast, and colon. EGFR inhibitors such as gefitinib have proven successful in the treatment of certain cancers, particularly non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) harboring activating mutations within the EGFR gene, but the molecular mechanisms leading to tumor regression remain unknown. Therefore, we wished to delineate these mechanisms.
Methods and Findings
We performed biochemical and genetic studies to investigate the mechanisms by which inhibitors of EGFR tyrosine kinase activity, such as gefitinib, inhibit the growth of human NSCLCs. We found that gefitinib triggered intrinsic (also called “mitochondrial”) apoptosis signaling, involving the activation of BAX and mitochondrial release of cytochrome c, ultimately unleashing the caspase cascade. Gefitinib caused a rapid increase in the level of the proapoptotic BH3-only protein BIM (also called BCL2-like 11) through both transcriptional and post-translational mechanisms. Experiments with pharmacological inhibitors indicated that blockade of MEK–ERK1/2 (mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase–extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase 1/2) signaling, but not blockade of PI3K (phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase), JNK (c-Jun N-terminal kinase or mitogen-activated protein kinase 8), or AKT (protein kinase B), was critical for BIM activation. Using RNA interference, we demonstrated that BIM is essential for gefitinib-induced killing of NSCLC cells. Moreover, we found that gefitinib-induced apoptosis is enhanced by addition of the BH3 mimetic ABT-737.
Inhibitors of the EGFR tyrosine kinase have proven useful in the therapy of certain cancers, in particular NSCLCs possessing activating mutations in the EGFR kinase domain, but the mechanisms of tumor cell killing are still unclear. In this paper, we demonstrate that activation of the proapoptotic BH3-only protein BIM is essential for tumor cell killing and that shutdown of the EGFR–MEK–ERK signaling cascade is critical for BIM activation. Moreover, we demonstrate that addition of a BH3 mimetic significantly enhances killing of NSCLC cells by the EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor gefitinib. It appears likely that this approach represents a paradigm shared by many, and perhaps all, oncogenic tyrosine kinases and suggests a powerful new strategy for cancer therapy.
Andreas Strasser and colleagues demonstrate that activation of the proapoptotic BH3-only protein BIM is essential for tumor cell killing and that shutdown of the EGFR−MEK−ERK signaling cascade is critical for BIM activation.
Editors' Summary
Normally, cell division (which produces new cells) and cell death are finely balanced to keep the human body in good working order. But sometimes cells acquire changes (mutations) in their genetic material that allow them to divide uncontrollably to form cancers—life-threatening, disorganized masses of cells. One protein with a critical role in cell division that is often mutated in tumors is the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). In normal cells, protein messengers bind to EGFR and activate its tyrosine kinase. This enzyme then adds phosphate groups to tyrosine (an amino acid) in proteins that form part of signaling cascades (for example, the MEK–ERK signaling cascade) that tell the cell to divide. In cancers that have mutations in EGFR, signaling is overactive so the cancer cells divide much more than they should. Some non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC, the commonest type of lung cancer), for example, have activating mutations within the EGFR tyrosine kinase. Treatment with EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) such as gefitinib and erlotinib induces the cells in these tumors to stop growing and die. This cell death causes tumor shrinkage (regression) and increases the life expectancy of patients with this type of NSCLC.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, treatment with TKIs rarely cures NSCLC, so it would be useful to find a way to augment the effect that TKIs have on cancer cells. To do this, the molecular mechanisms that cause cancer-cell death and tumor regression in response to these drugs need to be fully understood. In this study, the researchers have used a combination of biochemical and genetic approaches to investigate how gefitinib kills NSCLC cells with mutated EGFR.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first measured the sensitivity of NSCLC cell lines (tumor cells that grow indefinitely in dishes) to gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Gefitinib caused extensive apoptosis in two cell lines expressing mutant EGFR but not in one expressing normal EGFR. Next, they investigated the mechanism of gefitinib-induced apoptosis in the most sensitive cell line (H3255). Apoptosis is activated via two major pathways. Hallmarks of the “intrinsic” pathway include activation of a protein called BAX and cytochrome c release from subcellular compartments known as mitochondria. Gefitinib treatment induced both these events in H3255 cells. BAX (a proapoptotic member of the BCL-2 family of proteins) is activated when proapoptotic BH3-only BCL-2 proteins (for example, BIM; “BH3-only” describes the structure of these proteins) bind to antiapoptotic BCL2 proteins. Gefitinib treatment rapidly increased BIM activity in H3255 and HCC827 cells (but not in gefitinib-resistant cells) by increasing the production of BIM protein and the removal of phosphate groups from it, which increases BIM activity. Pharmacological blockade of the MEK–ERK signaling cascade, but not of other EGFR signaling cascades, also caused the accumulation of BIM. By contrast, blocking BIM expression using a technique called RNA interference reduced gefitinib-induced apoptosis. Finally, a combination of gefitinib and a BH3-mimicking compound called ABT-737 (which, like BIM, binds to antiapoptotic BCL-2 proteins) caused more apoptosis than gefitinib alone.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings (and those reported by Gong et al. and Costa et al.) indicate that activation of the proapoptotic BH3-only protein BIM is essential for gefitinib-induced killing of NSCLC cells that carry EGFR tyrosine kinase mutations. They also show that inhibition of the EGFR–MEK–ERK signaling cascade by gefitinib is essential for BIM activation. Because these findings come from studies on NSCLC cell lines, they need confirming in freshly isolated tumor cells and in tumors growing in people. However, the demonstration that a compound that mimics BH3 action enhances gefitinib-induced killing of NSCLC cells suggests that combinations of TKIs and drugs that affect the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis activation might provide a powerful strategy for treating cancers in which tyrosine kinase mutations drive tumor growth.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A perspective by Ingo Mellinghoff discusses this article and two related research articles
Wikipedia pages on epidermal growth factor receptor, apoptosis, and BCL2 proteins (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
CancerQuest provides information on all aspects of cancer from Emory University (in several languages)
US National Cancer Institute information for patients and professionals on lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
Information for patients from Cancer Research UK on lung cancer including information on treatment with TKIs
Information for patients from Cancerbackup on erlotinib and gefitinib
PMCID: PMC2043013  PMID: 17973573
17.  SOX2 Is an Oncogene Activated by Recurrent 3q26.3 Amplifications in Human Lung Squamous Cell Carcinomas 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(1):e8960.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the lung is a frequent and aggressive cancer type. Gene amplifications, a known activating mechanism of oncogenes, target the 3q26-qter region as one of the most frequently gained/amplified genomic sites in SCC of various types. Here, we used array comparative genomic hybridization to delineate the consensus region of 3q26.3 amplifications in lung SCC. Recurrent amplifications occur in 20% of lung SCC (136 tumors in total) and map to a core region of 2 Mb (Megabases) that encompasses SOX2, a transcription factor gene. Intense SOX2 immunostaining is frequent in nuclei of lung SCC, indicating potential active transcriptional regulation by SOX2. Analyses of the transcriptome of lung SCC, SOX2-overexpressing lung epithelial cells and embryonic stem cells (ESCs) reveal that SOX2 contributes to activate ESC-like phenotypes and provide clues pertaining to the deregulated genes involved in the malignant phenotype. In cell culture experiments, overexpression of SOX2 stimulates cellular migration and anchorage-independent growth while SOX2 knockdown impairs cell growth. Finally, SOX2 over-expression in non-tumorigenic human lung bronchial epithelial cells is tumorigenic in immunocompromised mice. These results indicate that the SOX2 transcription factor, a major regulator of stem cell function, is also an oncogene and a driver gene for the recurrent 3q26.33 amplifications in lung SCC.
PMCID: PMC2813300  PMID: 20126410
18.  A Genome-Wide Screen for Promoter Methylation in Lung Cancer Identifies Novel Methylation Markers for Multiple Malignancies  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e486.
Promoter hypermethylation coupled with loss of heterozygosity at the same locus results in loss of gene function in many tumor cells. The “rules” governing which genes are methylated during the pathogenesis of individual cancers, how specific methylation profiles are initially established, or what determines tumor type-specific methylation are unknown. However, DNA methylation markers that are highly specific and sensitive for common tumors would be useful for the early detection of cancer, and those required for the malignant phenotype would identify pathways important as therapeutic targets.
Methods and Findings
In an effort to identify new cancer-specific methylation markers, we employed a high-throughput global expression profiling approach in lung cancer cells. We identified 132 genes that have 5′ CpG islands, are induced from undetectable levels by 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in multiple non-small cell lung cancer cell lines, and are expressed in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells. As expected, these genes were also expressed in normal lung, but often not in companion primary lung cancers. Methylation analysis of a subset (45/132) of these promoter regions in primary lung cancer (n = 20) and adjacent nonmalignant tissue (n = 20) showed that 31 genes had acquired methylation in the tumors, but did not show methylation in normal lung or peripheral blood cells. We studied the eight most frequently and specifically methylated genes from our lung cancer dataset in breast cancer (n = 37), colon cancer (n = 24), and prostate cancer (n = 24) along with counterpart nonmalignant tissues. We found that seven loci were frequently methylated in both breast and lung cancers, with four showing extensive methylation in all four epithelial tumors.
By using a systematic biological screen we identified multiple genes that are methylated with high penetrance in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers. The cross-tumor methylation pattern we observed for these novel markers suggests that we have identified a partial promoter hypermethylation signature for these common malignancies. These data suggest that while tumors in different tissues vary substantially with respect to gene expression, there may be commonalities in their promoter methylation profiles that represent targets for early detection screening or therapeutic intervention.
John Minna and colleagues report that a group of genes are commonly methylated in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Editors' Summary
Tumors or cancers contain cells that have lost many of the control mechanisms that normally regulate their behavior. Unlike normal cells, which only divide to repair damaged tissues, cancer cells divide uncontrollably. They also gain the ability to move round the body and start metastases in secondary locations. These changes in behavior result from alterations in their genetic material. For example, mutations (permanent changes in the sequence of nucleotides in the cell's DNA) in genes known as oncogenes stimulate cells to divide constantly. Mutations in another group of genes—tumor suppressor genes—disable their ability to restrain cell growth. Key tumor suppressor genes are often completely lost in cancer cells. But not all the genetic changes in cancer cells are mutations. Some are “epigenetic” changes—chemical modifications of genes that affect the amount of protein made from them. In cancer cells, methyl groups are often added to CG-rich regions—this is called hypermethylation. These “CpG islands” lie near gene promoters—sequences that control the transcription of DNA into RNA, the template for protein production—and their methylation switches off the promoter. Methylation of the promoter of one copy of a tumor suppressor gene, which often coincides with the loss of the other copy of the gene, is thought to be involved in cancer development.
Why Was This Study Done?
The rules that govern which genes are hypermethylated during the development of different cancer types are not known, but it would be useful to identify any DNA methylation events that occur regularly in common cancers for two reasons. First, specific DNA methylation markers might be useful for the early detection of cancer. Second, identifying these epigenetic changes might reveal cellular pathways that are changed during cancer development and so identify new therapeutic targets. In this study, the researchers have used a systematic biological screen to identify genes that are methylated in many lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers—all cancers that form in “epithelial” tissues.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used microarray expression profiling to examine gene expression patterns in several lung cancer and normal lung cell lines. In this technique, labeled RNA molecules isolated from cells are applied to a “chip” carrying an array of gene fragments. Here, they stick to the fragment that represents the gene from which they were made, which allows the genes that the cells express to be catalogued. By comparing the expression profiles of lung cancer cells and normal lung cells before and after treatment with a chemical that inhibits DNA methylation, the researchers identified genes that were methylated in the cancer cells—that is, genes that were expressed in normal cells but not in cancer cells unless methylation was inhibited. 132 of these genes contained CpG islands. The researchers examined the promoters of 45 of these genes in lung cancer cells taken straight from patients and found that 31 of the promoters were methylated in tumor tissues but not in adjacent normal tissues. Finally, the researchers looked at promoter methylation of the eight genes most frequently and specifically methylated in the lung cancer samples in breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Seven of the genes were frequently methylated in both lung and breast cancers; four were extensively methylated in all the tumor types.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results identify several new genes that are often methylated in four types of epithelial tumor. The observation that these genes are methylated in multiple independent tumors strongly suggests, but does not prove, that loss of expression of the proteins that they encode helps to convert normal cells into cancer cells. The frequency and diverse patterning of promoter methylation in different tumor types also indicates that methylation is not a random event, although what controls the patterns of methylation is not yet known. The identification of these genes is a step toward building a promoter hypermethylation profile for the early detection of human cancer. Furthermore, although tumors in different tissues vary greatly with respect to gene expression patterns, the similarities seen in this study in promoter methylation profiles might help to identify new therapeutic targets common to several cancer types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute, information for patients on understanding cancer
CancerQuest, information provided by Emory University about how cancer develops
Cancer Research UK, information for patients on cancer biology
Wikipedia pages on epigenetics (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Epigenome Network of Excellence, background information and latest news about epigenetics
PMCID: PMC1716188  PMID: 17194187
19.  Protein Kinase Cδ is a downstream effector of oncogenic KRAS in lung tumors1 
Cancer Research  2011;71(6):2087-2097.
Oncogenic activation of KRAS occurs commonly in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), but strategies to therapeutically target this pathway have been challenging to develop. Information about downstream effectors of KRAS remains incomplete and tractable targets are yet to be defined. In this study we investigated the role of Protein Kinase C delta (PKCδ) in KRAS dependent lung tumorigenesis using a mouse carcinogen model and human NSCLC cells. The incidence of urethane-induced lung tumors was decreased by 69% in PKCδ deficient (δKO) mice compared to wild type (δWT) mice. δKO tumors are smaller and showed reduced proliferation. DNA sequencing indicated that all δWT tumors had activating mutations in KRAS, whereas only 69% of δKO tumors did, suggesting that PKCδ acts as a tumor promoter downstream of oncogenic KRAS, while acting as a tumor suppressor in other oncogenic contexts. Similar results were obtained in a panel of NSCLC cell lines with oncogenic KRAS, but which differ in their dependence on KRAS for survival. RNAi-mediated attenuation of PKCδ inhibited anchorage-independent growth, invasion, migration and tumorigenesis in KRAS-dependent cells. These effects were associated with suppression of MAPK pathway activation. In contrast, PKCδ attenuation enhanced anchorage-independent growth, invasion and migration in NSCLC cells that were either KRAS-independent or that had wild-type KRAS. Unexpectedly, our studies indicate that the function of PKCδ in tumor cells depends on a specific oncogenic context, as loss of PKCδ in NSCLC cells suppressed transformed growth only in cells dependent upon oncogenic KRAS for proliferation and survival.
PMCID: PMC3271733  PMID: 21335545
PKC delta; K-Ras; lung cancer; transformation
20.  Interaction of Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor-Associated Factor Signaling Proteins with the Latent Membrane Protein 1 PXQXT Motif Is Essential for Induction of Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Expression 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1998;18(5):2835-2844.
The Epstein-Barr virus latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) oncoprotein causes multiple cellular changes, including induction of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression and activation of the NF-κB transcription factor. LMP1 and the cellular protein CD40, which also induces EGFR expression, interact with the tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor (TRAF) proteins. The LMP1 carboxy-terminal activation region 1 signaling domain interacts specifically with the TRAFs and is essential for EGFR induction through a mechanism independent of NF-κB alone. LMP1 and CD40 share a common TRAF binding motif, PXQXT. In this study, the PXQXT motifs in both LMP1 and CD40 were altered and mutant proteins were analyzed for induction of EGFR expression. Replacement of the T residue with A in CD40 completely blocked induction of the EGFR, while the same mutation in LMP1 did not affect EGFR induction. Replacement of both P and Q residues with A’s in LMP1 reduced EGFR induction by >75%, while deletion of PXQXT blocked EGFR induction. These results genetically link EGFR induction by LMP1 to the TRAF signaling pathway. Overexpression of TRAF2 potently activates NF-κB, although TRAF2 did not induce expression of the EGFR either alone or in combination with TRAF1 and TRAF3. In vivo analyses of the interaction of the TRAFs with LMP1 variants mutated in the PXQXT domain indicate that high-level induction of EGFR expression requires interaction with TRAF1, -2, and -3. However, exogenous expression of TRAF3 decreased EGFR induction mediated by either LMP1 or CD40. These data suggest that TRAF-mediated activation of EGFR expression requires assembly of a complex containing the appropriate stoichiometry of TRAF proteins clustered at the cell membrane with LMP1.
PMCID: PMC110662  PMID: 9566902
21.  Predicting Survival within the Lung Cancer Histopathological Hierarchy Using a Multi-Scale Genomic Model of Development 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e232.
The histopathologic heterogeneity of lung cancer remains a significant confounding factor in its diagnosis and prognosis—spurring numerous recent efforts to find a molecular classification of the disease that has clinical relevance.
Methods and Findings
Molecular profiles of tumors from 186 patients representing four different lung cancer subtypes (and 17 normal lung tissue samples) were compared with a mouse lung development model using principal component analysis in both temporal and genomic domains. An algorithm for the classification of lung cancers using a multi-scale developmental framework was developed. Kaplan–Meier survival analysis was conducted for lung adenocarcinoma patient subgroups identified via their developmental association. We found multi-scale genomic similarities between four human lung cancer subtypes and the developing mouse lung that are prognostically meaningful. Significant association was observed between the localization of human lung cancer cases along the principal mouse lung development trajectory and the corresponding patient survival rate at three distinct levels of classical histopathologic resolution: among different lung cancer subtypes, among patients within the adenocarcinoma subtype, and within the stage I adenocarcinoma subclass. The earlier the genomic association between a human tumor profile and the mouse lung development sequence, the poorer the patient's prognosis. Furthermore, decomposing this principal lung development trajectory identified a gene set that was significantly enriched for pyrimidine metabolism and cell-adhesion functions specific to lung development and oncogenesis.
From a multi-scale disease modeling perspective, the molecular dynamics of murine lung development provide an effective framework that is not only data driven but also informed by the biology of development for elucidating the mechanisms of human lung cancer biology and its clinical outcome.
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer causes the most deaths from cancer worldwide—around a quarter of all cancer deaths—and the number of deaths is rising each year. There are a number of different types of the disease, whose names come from early descriptions of the cancer cells when seen under the microscope: carcinoid, small cell, and non–small cell, which make up 2%, 13%, and 86% of lung cancers, respectively. To make things more complicated, each of these cancer types can be subdivided further. It is important to distinguish the different types of cancer because they differ in their rates of growth and how they respond to treatment; for example, small cell lung cancer is the most rapidly progressing type of lung cancer. But although these current classifications of cancers are useful, researchers believe that if the underlying molecular changes in these cancers could be discovered then a more accurate way of classifying cancers, and hence predicting outcome and response to treatment, might be possible.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous work has suggested that some cancers come from very immature cells, that is, cells that are present in the early stages of an animal's development from an embryo in the womb to an adult animal. Many animals have been closely studied so as to understand how they develop; the best studied model that is also relevant to human disease is the mouse, and researchers have previously studied lung development in mice in detail. This group of researchers wanted to see if there was any relation between the activity (known as expression) of mouse genes during the development of the lung and the expression of genes in human lung cancers, particularly whether they could use gene expression to try to predict the outcome of lung cancer in patients.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They compared the gene expression in lung cancer samples from 186 patients with four different types of lung cancer (and in 17 normal lung tissue samples) to the gene expression found in normal mice during development. They found similarities between expression patterns in the lung cancer subtypes and the developing mouse lung, and that these similarities explain some of the different outcomes for the patients. In general, they found that when the gene expression in the human cancer was similar to that of very immature mouse lung cells, patients had a poor prognosis. When the gene expression in the human cancer was more similar to mature mouse lung cells, the prognosis was better. However, the researchers found that carcinoid tumors had rather different expression profiles compared to the other tumors.
  The researchers were also able to discover some specific gene types that seemed to have particularly strong associations between mouse development and the human cancers. Two of these gene types were ones that are involved in building and breaking down DNA itself, and ones involved in how cells stick together. This latter group of genes is thought to be involved in how cancers spread.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results provide a new way of thinking about how to classify lung cancers, and also point to a few groups of genes that may be particularly important in the development of the tumor. However, before these results are used in any clinical assessment, further work will need to be done to work out whether they are true for other groups of patients.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
•  MedlinePlus has information from the United States National Library of Medicine and other government agencies and health-related organizations [MedlinePlus]
•  National Institute on Aging is also a good place to start looking for information [National Institute for Aging]
•  [The National Cancer Institute] and Lung Cancer Online [ Lung Cancer Online] have a wide range of information on lung cancer
Comparison of gene expression patterns in patients with lung cancer and in mouse lung development showed that those tumors associated with earlier mouse lung development had a poorer prognosis.
PMCID: PMC1483910  PMID: 16800721
22.  Genomic and functional analysis identifies CRKL as an oncogene amplified in lung cancer 
Oncogene  2009;29(10):1421-1430.
DNA amplifications, leading to the overexpression of oncogenes, are a cardinal feature of lung cancer and directly contribute to its pathogenesis. To uncover novel such alterations, we performed an array-based comparative genomic hybridization survey of 128 non-small cell lung cancer cell lines and tumors. Prominent among our findings, we identified recurrent high-level amplification at cytoband 22q11.21 in 3% of lung cancer specimens, with another 11% of specimens exhibiting low-level gain spanning that locus. The 22q11.21 amplicon core contained eight named genes, only four of which were overexpressed (by transcript profiling) when amplified. Among these, CRKL encodes an adaptor protein functioning in signal transduction, best known as a substrate of the BCR-ABL kinase in chronic myelogenous leukemia. RNA interference-mediated knockdown of CRKL in lung cancer cell lines with (but not without) amplification led to significantly decreased cell proliferation, cell-cycle progression, cell survival, and cell motility and invasion. In addition, overexpression of CRKL in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells led to EGF-independent cell growth. Our findings indicate that amplification and resultant overexpression of CRKL contributes to diverse oncogenic phenotypes in lung cancer, with implications for targeted therapy, and highlighting a role of adapter proteins as primary genetic drivers of tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3320568  PMID: 19966867
CRKL; lung cancer; DNA amplification; genomic profiling; adapter protein
Interactions between CXCL12 and its receptors CXCR4 or CXCR7 are involved in tumor growth and metastasis in various types of human cancer. However, CXCL12 expression and its role in lung cancer are not fully elucidated. Here we examined the expression of CXCL12 in 54 lung cancer cell lines consisting of 23 small cell lung cancers (SCLCs) and 31 non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). CXCL12 was overexpressed in lung cancer cell lines compared to non-malignant human bronchial epithelial cell lines (N = 6). CXCL12 expression was positively but weakly correlated with the expression of CXCR4 or CXCR7. We also examined CXCL12 expression in 89 NSCLC specimens and found that CXCL12 expression was significantly higher in tumor specimens from female patients, non-smokers and adenocarcinoma patients. Small interfering RNAs targeting CXCL12 inhibited cellular proliferation, colony formation and migration of CXCL12-overexpressing lung cancer cells; however, this inhibition did not occur in lung cancer cells that lacked CXCL12. Furthermore, the anti-CXCL12 neutralizing antibody mediated inhibitory effects in three lung cancer cell lines that overexpressed CXCL12, but not in two CXCL12 non-expressing lung cancer cell lines nor two non-malignant bronchial epithelial cell lines. The present study demonstrates that: CXCL12 is concomitantly overexpressed with CXCR4 or CXCR7 in lung cancers; CXCL12 is highly expressed in NSCLCs from females, non-smokers and adenocarcinoma patients; and disruption of CXCL12 inhibits the growth and migration of lung cancer cells. Our findings indicate that CXCL12 is required for tumor growth and provide a rationale for the anti-CXCL12 treatment strategy in lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC3368436  PMID: 20378003
CXCL12; CXCR4; CXCR7; overexpression; lung cancer
The Journal of biological chemistry  2006;282(6):4102-4112.
Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6) is a key mediator in proximal signaling of the interleukin-1/Toll-like receptor and the TNF receptor superfamily. Analysis of TRAF6-deficient mice revealed a fundamental role of TRAF6 in osteoclastogenesis; however, the molecular mechanism underlying TRAF6 signaling in this biological process is not understood. Recent biochemical evidence has indicated that TRAF6 possesses ubiquitin ligase activity that controls the activation of IKK and NF-κB. Because these studies are primarily based on cell-free systems, the role of the ubiquitin ligase activity of TRAF6 and its auto-ubiquitination to initiate the NF-κB pathway in vivo remain elusive. Here we show that an intact RING domain of TRAF6 in conjunction with the E2 enzyme Ubc13/Uev1A is necessary for Lys-63-linked auto-ubiquitination of TRAF6 and for its ability to activate IKK and NF-κB. Furthermore, a RING mutant of TRAF6 abolishes its ability to induce receptor activator of NF-κB-independent osteoclast differentiation and nuclear accumulation of the transcription factor NFATc1. Notably, we map the auto-ubiquitination site of TRAF6 to a single Lys residue, which if mutated renders TRAF6 unable to activate transforming growth factor-β-activated kinase 1 and IKK and causes spontaneous osteoclast differentiation. Additionally, we provide biochemical and in vivo evidence that TRAF6 serves as an E3 to directly ubiquitinate NEMO. Reconstituting TRAF6-deficent cells with various TRAF6 mutants, we clearly demonstrate the requirement for the TRAF6 RING domain and site-specific auto-ubiquitination of TRAF6 to activate IKK in response to interleukin-1. These data establish a signaling cascade in which regulated site-specific Lys-63-linked TRAF6 auto-ubiquitination is the critical upstream mediator of IKK.
PMCID: PMC3221607  PMID: 17135271
25.  Up-regulation of MMP-2 by HMGA1 Promotes Transformation in Undifferentiated, Large Cell Lung Cancer 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2009;7(11):1803-1812.
Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, the precise molecular mechanisms that give rise to lung cancer are incompletely understood. Here, we demonstrate that HMGA1 is an important oncogene that drives transformation in undifferentiated, large cell carcinoma. First, we show that the HMGA1 gene is overexpressed in lung cancer cell lines and primary human lung tumors. Forced overexpression of HMGA1 induces a transformed phenotype with anchorage-independent cell growth in cultured lung cells derived from normal tissue. Conversely, inhibiting HMGA1 expression blocks anchorage-independent cell growth in the H1299 metastatic, undifferentiated, large cell human lung carcinoma cells. We also demonstrate that the matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP-2) gene is a downstream target up-regulated by HMGA1 in large cell carcinoma cells. In chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, HMGA1 binds directly to the MMP-2 promoter in vivo in large cell lung cancer cells, but not in squamous cell carcinoma cells. In large cell carcinoma cell lines, there is a significant, positive correlation between HMGA1 and MMP-2 mRNA. Moreover, interfering with MMP-2 expression blocks anchorage-independent cell growth in H1299 large cell carcinoma cells, indicating that the HMGA1-MMP-2 pathway is required for this transformation phenotype in these cells. Blocking MMP-2 expression also inhibits migration and invasion in the H1299 large cell carcinoma cells. Our findings suggest an important role for MMP-2 in transformation mediated by HMGA1 in large cell, undifferentiated lung carcinoma and support the development of strategies to target this pathway in selected tumors.
PMCID: PMC3069640  PMID: 19903768
MMP-2; HMGA1; lung cancer; oncogene

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