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1.  A NOTCH3-mediated squamous cell differentiation program limits expansion of EMT competent cells that express the ZEB transcription factors 
Cancer research  2011;71(21):6836-6847.
Zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) proteins ZEB1 and ZEB2 are transcription factors essential in transforming growth factor (TGF)-β-mediated senescence, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer stem cell function. ZEBs are negatively regulated by members of the miR-200 microRNA family, but precisely how tumor cells expressing ZEBs emerge during invasive growth remains unknown. Here we report that NOTCH3-mediated signaling prevents expansion of a unique subset of ZEB-expressing cells. ZEB expression was associated with the lack of cellular capability of undergoing NOTCH3-mediated squamous differentiation in human esophageal cells. Genetic inhibition of the Notch-mediated transcriptional activity by dominant-negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1) prevented squamous differentiation and induction of Notch target genes including NOTCH3. Moreover, DNMAML1 enriched EMT competent cells exhibited robust upregulation of ZEBs, downregulation of the miR-200 family, and enhanced anchorage independent growth and tumor formation in nude mice. RNA interference (RNAi) experiments suggested the involvement of ZEBs in anchorage independent colony formation, invasion and TGF-β-mediated EMT. Invasive growth and impaired squamous differentiation was recapitulated upon Notch inhibition by DNMAML1 in organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Together, our findings indicate that NOTCH3 is a key factor limiting the expansion of ZEB-expressing cells, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of Notch signaling in the cell fate regulation and disease progression of squamous esophageal cancers.
PMCID: PMC3206139  PMID: 21890822
Notch; EMT; squamous cell differentiation; ZEB1; miR-200
2.  NOTCH1 and NOTCH3 coordinate esophageal squamous differentiation through a CSL-dependent transcriptional network 
Gastroenterology  2010;139(6):2113-2123.
Background & Aims
The Notch receptor family regulates cell fate through cell-cell communication. CSL (CBF-1/RBP-jκ, Su(H), Lag-1) drives canonical Notch-mediated gene transcription during cell lineage specification, differentiation and proliferation in the hematopoietic system, the intestine, the pancreas and the skin. However, the functional roles of Notch in esophageal squamous epithelial biology remain unknown.
Normal esophageal keratinocytes were stimulated with calcium chloride to induce terminal differentiation. The squamous epithelia were reconstituted in organotypic three-dimensional culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Notch was inhibited in culture with a γ-secretase inhibitor or dominant negative mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1). The roles of Notch receptors were evaluated by in vitro gain-of-function and loss-of-function experiments. Additionally, DNMAML1 was targeted to the mouse esophagus by cytokeratin K14 promoter-driven Cre (K14Cre) recombination of Lox-STOP-Lox-DNMAML1. Notch-regulated gene expression was determined by reporter transfection, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays, quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR), Western blotting, immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry.
NOTCH1 (N1) was activated at the onset of squamous differentiation in the esophagus. Intracellular domain of N1 (ICN1) directly activated NOTCH3 (N3) transcription, inducing HES5 and early differentiation markers such as involucrin (IVL) and cytokeratin CK13 in a CSL-dependent fashion. N3 enhanced ICN1 activity and was required for squamous differentiation. Loss of Notch signaling in K14Cre;DNMAML1 mice perturbed esophageal squamous differentiation and resulted in N3 loss and basal cell hyperplasia.
Notch signaling is important for esophageal epithelial homeostasis. In particular, the crosstalk of N3 with N1 during differentiation provides novel, mechanistic insights into Notch signaling and squamous epithelial biology.
PMCID: PMC2997138  PMID: 20801121
NOTCH1; NOTCH3; esophageal epithelium; squamous differentiation
3.  Detection of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma by Cathepsin B Activity in Nude Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92351.
Background and Objective
Despite great progress in treatment, the prognosis for patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) remains poor, highlighting the importance of early detection. Although upper endoscopy can be used for the screening of esophagus, it has limited sensitivity for early stage disease. Thus, development of new diagnosis approach to improve diagnostic capabilities for early detection of ESCC is an important need. The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of using cathepsin B (CB) as a novel imaging target for the detection of human ESCC by near-infrared optical imaging in nude mice.
Initially, we examined specimens from normal human esophageal tissue, intraepithelial neoplasia lesions, tumor in situ, ESCC and two cell lines including one human ESCC cell line (Eca-109) and one normal human esophageal epithelial cell line (HET-1A) for CB expression by immunohistochemistry and western blot, respectively. Next, the ability of a novel CB activatable near-infrared fluorescence (NIRF) probe detecting CB activity presented in Eca-109 cells was confirmed by immunocytochemistry. We also performed in vivo imaging of tumor bearing mice injected with the CB probe and ex vivo imaging of resected tumor xenografts and visceral organs using a living imaging system. Finally, the sources of fluorescence signals in tumor tissue and CB expression in visceral organs were identified by histology.
CB was absent in normal human esophageal mucosa, but it was overexpressed in ESCC and its precursor lesions. The novel probe for CB activity specifically detected ESCC xenografts in vivo and in vitro.
CB was highly upregulated in human ESCC and its precursor lesions. The elevated CB expression in ESCC allowed in vivo and in vitro detection of ESCC xenografts in nude mice. Our results support the usefulness of CB activity as a potential imaging target for the detection of human ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3950293  PMID: 24618814
4.  Periostin, a cell adhesion molecule, facilitates invasion in the tumor microenvironment and annotates a novel tumor invasive signature in esophageal cancer 
Cancer Research  2010;70(13):5281-5292.
Human squamous cell cancers are the most common epithelially derived malignancies. One example is esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), which is associated with a high mortality rate (1) that is related to a propensity for invasion and metastasis (2). Here we report that periostin, a highly expressed cell adhesion molecule, is a key component of a novel tumor invasive signature obtained from an organotypic culture model of engineered ESCC. This tumor invasive signature classifies with human ESCC microarrays, underscoring its utility in human cancer. Genetic modulation of periostin promotes tumor cell migration and invasion as revealed in gain of and loss of function experiments. Inhibition of EGFR signaling and restoration of wild-type p53 function were each found to attenuate periostin, suggesting interdependence of two common genetic alterations with periostin function. Collectively, our studies reveal periostin as an important mediator of ESCC tumor invasion and they indicate that organotypic (3D) culture can offer an important tool to discover novel biologic effectors in cancer.
PMCID: PMC3274349  PMID: 20516120
tumor microenvironment; periostin; EGFR; p53
5.  MiRNA-205 modulates cellular invasion and migration via regulating zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 2 expression in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cells 
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is often diagnosed at later stages until they are incurable. MicroRNA (miR) is a small, non-coding RNA that negatively regulates gene expression mainly via translational repression. Accumulating evidence indicates that deregulation of miR is associated with human malignancies including ESCC. The aim of this study was to identify miR that could be specifically expressed and exert distinct biological actions in ESCC.
Total RNA was extracted from ESCC cell lines, OE21 and TE10, and a non-malignant human esophageal squamous cell line, Het-1A, and subjected to microarray analysis. Expression levels of miR that showed significant differences between the 2 ESCC and Het-1A cells based on the comprehensive analysis were analyzed by the quantitative reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR method. Then, functional analyses, including cellular proliferation, apoptosis and Matrigel invasion and the wound healing assay, for the specific miR were conducted. Using ESCC tumor samples and paired surrounding non-cancerous tissue obtained endoscopically, the association with histopathological differentiation was examined with quantitative RT-PCR.
Based on the miR microarray analysis, there were 14 miRs that showed significant differences (more than 2-fold) in expression between the 2 ESCC cells and non-malignant Het-1A. Among the significantly altered miRs, miR-205 expression levels were exclusively higher in 5 ESCC cell lines examined than any other types of malignant cell lines and Het-1A. Thus, miR-205 could be a specific miR in ESCC. Modulation of miR-205 expression by transfection with its precursor or anti-miR-205 inhibitor did not affect ESCC cell proliferation and apoptosis, but miR-205 was found to be involved in cell invasion and migration. Western blot revealed that knockdown of miR-205 expression in ESCC cells substantially enhanced expression of zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 2, accompanied by reduction of E-cadherin, a regulator of epithelial mesenchymal transition. The miR-205 expression levels were not associated with histological differentiation of human ESCC.
These results imply that miR-205 is an ESCC-specific miR that exerts tumor-suppressive activities with EMT inhibition by targeting ZEB2.
PMCID: PMC3076245  PMID: 21426561
6.  Elevated Maspin Expression Is Associated with Better Overall Survival in Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (ESCC) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63581.
Tumor suppressor maspin is a differentially regulated gene in the progression of many types of cancer. While the biological function of maspin in blocking tumor invasion and metastasis is consistent with the loss of maspin expression at the late stage of tumor progression, the differential expression and the biological significance of maspin in early stage of tumor progression appear to be complex and remain to be elucidated. In the current study, we examined the expression of maspin in 84 esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cases (stages I–III) and 55 non-tumor adjacent esophageal tissue specimens by immunohistochemical (IHC) staining. The correlation of maspin with clinicopathological parameters was analyzed. Compared to normal esophageal squamous tissue where 80% (47/55) of the cases expressed maspin at a low to moderate level, all ESCC specimens (100% (84/84)) were positive for maspin expression at a moderate to high level. ESCC with low or moderate maspin expression had significantly shorter postoperative survival rates compared to those that had high maspin expression (p<0.001). Since the correlation of maspin with ESCC histology and the correlation of maspin with ESCC prognosis seem to be at odds, we further investigated the biological function of maspin in ESCC using the established ESCC cell lines. The expression of maspin in five human esophageal squamous cancer cell lines (T12, E450, KYSE150, EC109, and KYSE510) was examined by the Western blot. ESCC cell line KYSE510 that did not express maspin and was stably transfected by maspin cDNA or an empty vector. The resulting transfected cells were characterized in vitro. Maspin expression significantly inhibited cell proliferation, motility and matrigel invasion. Taken together, our data suggest that the transient up-regulation of maspin in the early development of ESCC may be a defense mechanism against further transition towards more malignant phenotypes, ultimately slowing down ESCC tumor progression.
PMCID: PMC3661574  PMID: 23717449
7.  Down-regulation of microRNA 10a expression in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cells 
Oncology Letters  2010;1(3):527-531.
This study identified significantly down-regulated microRNAs (miRs) specific for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cells. Total RNA was extracted from ESCC cell lines (OE21 and TE10) and a non-malignant human esophageal squamous cell line (Het1A), and subjected to microarray analysis. Expression levels of miRs that showed significant down-regulation in ESCC cells compared to Het1A cells based on the comprehensive analysis were analyzed by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. Among the significantly down-regulated miRs, miR-10a expression levels in the five ESCC cell lines examined were significantly lower than in Het1A and the esophageal adenocarcinoma cells. Since miR-10a is a specific miR in ESCC, its clinical relevance was examined. Using ESCC tumor samples and non-cancerous tissue obtained endoscopically, the involvement of miR-10a in the clinicopathological findings was examined. MiR-10a expression was comparably down-regulated in the tumors of high-grade intraepithelial neoplasm and non-invasive ESCC, while the expression levels were elevated in the invasive ESCC tumors. Treatment with a demethylating agent, 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine, restored miR-10a expression in OE21 cells. Only a modest additive or synergistic effect was observed in the presence of a histone deacetylase inhibitor, trichostatin A. These results imply that miR-10a may be differentially expressed in ESCC cells and may be involved in ESCC development and progression. The unique epigenetic regulation of miR-10a expression can be mediated via hypermethylation of the CpG islands proximal to its gene locus, at least in certain ESCC cells.
PMCID: PMC3436400  PMID: 22966337
microRNA; microRNA 10a; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; DNA methylation
8.  The requirement for Notch signaling at the β-selection checkpoint in vivo is absolute and independent of the pre–T cell receptor 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2006;203(10):2239-2245.
Genetic inactivation of Notch signaling in CD4−CD8− double-negative (DN) thymocytes was previously shown to impair T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangement and to cause a partial block in CD4+CD8+ double-positive (DP) thymocyte development in mice. In contrast, in vitro cultures suggested that Notch was absolutely required for the generation of DP thymocytes independent of pre-TCR expression and activity. To resolve the respective role of Notch and the pre-TCR, we inhibited Notch-mediated transcriptional activation in vivo with a green fluorescent protein–tagged dominant-negative Mastermind-like 1 (DNMAML) that allowed us to track single cells incapable of Notch signaling. DNMAML expression in DN cells led to decreased production of DP thymocytes but only to a modest decrease in intracellular TCRβ expression. DNMAML attenuated the pre-TCR–associated increase in cell size and CD27 expression. TCRβ or TCRαβ transgenes failed to rescue DNMAML-related defects. Intrathymic injections of DNMAML− or DNMAML+ DN thymocytes revealed a complete DN/DP transition block, with production of DNMAML+ DP thymocytes only from cells undergoing late Notch inactivation. These findings indicate that the Notch requirement during the β-selection checkpoint in vivo is absolute and independent of the pre-TCR, and it depends on transcriptional activation by Notch via the CSL/RBP-J–MAML complex.
PMCID: PMC2118105  PMID: 16966428
9.  Different patterns of NF-κB and Notch1 signaling contribute to tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 
Lymph node involvement and tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis appear as the earliest features of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), although the molecular regulatory mechanisms involved have remained unclear. Our aim was to investigate the contribution of NF-κB and Notch1 signaling to lymph node involvement and tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis in ESCC.
Material and methods
NF-κB and Notch1 expression in 60 tissue samples of ESCC were assessed by immunohistochemical staining. The correlations of NF-κB and Notch1 with lymph node involvement, lymphatic vessel density (LVD), podoplanin, and vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C) were further evaluated to determine the association of NF-κB and Notch1 expression with tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis.
Chi-square tests revealed that NF-κB and Notch1 expression in ESCC tissues were significant associated with lymph node metastasis, LVD, podoplanin, and VEGF-C expression. Strong expression of NF-κB, but weak expression of Notch1, was observed in tumor tissues with lymph nodes involvement (P < 0.05 for both). The mean histoscores of LVD, podoplanin, and VEGF-C staining were higher in high-NF-κB-expressing tissue than in low-expressing tissue (P < 0.05 for each). In contrast, the mean histoscores of LVD and VEGF-C staining were lower in high-Notch1-expressing tissue than in low-expressing tissue (P < 0.05 for both). A multiple factors analysis of LVD and VEGF-C further demonstrated that LVD and VEGF-C status were significantly correlated with NF-κB and Notch1 expression in tumors. NF-κB and Notch1 expression were also significantly inversely correlated (P < 0.05).
These results suggest that different patterns of NF-κB and Notch1 signaling contribute to lymph nodes metastasis and tumor-induced lymphangiogenesis of ESCC, and reveal that up-regulation of NF-κB is associated with down-regulation of Notch1 in tumor tissue.
PMCID: PMC3215933  PMID: 21939555
esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; Notch; NF-κB; angiogenesis; lymphangiogenesis
10.  Expression of Hsp90α and cyclin B1 were related to prognosis of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and keratin pearl formation 
Hsp90α (heat shock protein 90α), one of the important molecular chaperones in cancer cell signal transduction, has been a new candidate target for cancer therapy. Cyclin B1, the client protein of Hsp90α, plays a key role as a mitotic cyclin in the G2-M phase transition during the cell cycle progression. However, the relationship between the level of HSP90α and cyclin B1, the location of Hsp90α and cyclin B1 in prognosis of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) has not been examined. Here, we demonstrate that the diagnostic significance of Hsp90α and cyclin B1 by immunohistochemistry and the association of Hsp90α and cyclin B1 expression in ESCC. In the specimens from 105 ESCC patients (81 stained with Hsp90α antibody by Immunohistochemistry, 65 with cyclin B1 antibody, and among them, 41 paired specimens were stained with Hsp90α and cyclin B1 respectively, and then checked for the correlation of the level and location of Hsp90α and cylcin B1. The positivity rate of Hsp90α and cyclin B1 expression were 96.3% (78 of 81) and 84.6% (55 of 65) respectively. Both of them, the expression levels are associated with the clinical pathological stage (Hsp90α, p=0.027; cyclin B1, p=0.007). No association was found between Hsp90α or cyclin B1 and gender, age, tumor location. As to TMN stage, there is no association with the level of Hsp90α, However, cyclin B1 expression is significantly related to tumor status (p=0.002). Interestingly, Hsp90α expression was negatively correlated to cyclin B1 expression (Gamma=-0.692, p=0.007) in the keratin pearls though there is a positive correlation in the other areas of tumor (Gamma=0.503, p=0.015), which suggest Hsp90α might play diverse roles in the cyclin B1 expression and cyclin B1 related cell cycle regulation in the different area of tumor. These findings demonstrated that the expression of Hsp90α, cyclin B1 protein is associated with tumor malignancy and prognosis for patients with human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, and Hsp90α might be involved in cyclin B1 expression regulation and cell cycle regulation in keratin peal formation of ESCC.
PMCID: PMC4014234  PMID: 24817950
Hsp90α; cyclin B1; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; keratin pearl; prognosis; immunohistochemistry
11.  An EGFR/HER2-Bispecific and Enediyne-Energized Fusion Protein Shows High Efficacy against Esophageal Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92986.
Esophageal cancer is one of the most common cancers, and the 5-year survival rate is less than 10% due to lack of effective therapeutic agents. This study was to evaluate antitumor activity of Ec-LDP-Hr-AE, a recently developed bispecific enediyne-energized fusion protein targeting both epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), on esophageal cancer. The fusion protein Ec-LDP-Hr-AE consists of two oligopeptide ligands and an enediyne antibiotic lidamycin (LDM) for receptor binding and cell killing, respectively. The current study demonstrated that Ec-LDP-Hr had high affinity to bind to esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cells, and enediyne-energized fusion protein Ec-LDP-Hr-AE showed potent cytotoxicity to ESCC cells with differential expression of EGFR and HER2. Ec-LDP-Hr-AE could cause significant G2-M arrest in EC9706 and KYSE150 cells, and it also induced apoptosis in ESCC cells in a dosage-dependent manner. Western blot assays showed that Ec-LDP-Hr-AE promoted caspase-3 and caspase-7 activities as well as PARP cleavage. Moreover, Ec-LDP-Hr-AE inhibited cell proliferation via decreasing phosphorylation of EGFR and HER2, and further exerted inhibition of the activation of their downstream signaling molecules. In vivo, at a tolerated dose, Ec-LDP-Hr-AE inhibited tumor growth by 88% when it was administered to nude mice bearing human ESCC cell KYSE150 xenografts. These results indicated that Ec-LDP-Hr-AE exhibited potent anti-caner efficacy on ESCC, suggesting it could be a promising candidate for targeted therapy of esophageal cancer.
PMCID: PMC3963964  PMID: 24664246
12.  Using Proteomic Approach to Identify Tumor-Associated Proteins as Biomarkers in Human Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
Journal of proteome research  2011;10(6):2863-2872.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of the most common cancers in China. The lower survival rate of ESCC is attributed to late diagnosis and poor therapeutic efficacy; therefore, the identification of tumor-associated proteins as biomarkers for early diagnosis, and the discovery of novel targets for therapeutic intervention, seems very important for increasing the survival rate of ESCC. To identify tumor-associated proteins as biomarkers in ESCC, we have analyzed ESCC tissues and adjacent normal tissues by two-dimensional electrophoresis (2DE) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) analysis. The results showed that a total of 104 protein spots with different expression levels were found on 2DE, and 47 proteins were eventually identified by MALDI-TOF MS. Among these identified proteins, 33 proteins including keratin 17 (KRT17), biliverdin reductase B (BLVRB), proteasome activatorsubunit 1 (PSME1), manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), high-mobility group box-1(HMGB1), heat shock protein 70 (HSP70), peroxiredoxin (PRDX1), keratin 13 (KRT13), and so on were overexpressed, and 14 proteins including cystatin B (CSTB), tropomyosin 2 (TPM2), annexin 1 (ANX1), transgelin (TAGLN), keratin 19 (KRT19), stratifin (SFN), and so on were down-expressed in ESCC. Biological functions of these proteins are associated with cell proliferation, cell motility, protein folding, oxidative stress, and signal transduction. In the subsequent study using immunoassay on ESCC serum samples and tissue-array slides, two representative proteins, HSP70 and HMGB1, were selected as examples for the purpose of validation. The results showed that both HSP70 and HMGB1 can induce autoantibody response in ESCC sera and have higher expression in ESCC tissues. Especially, the frequency of antibodies to HSP70 in ESCC sera was significantly higher than that in normal human sera. The preliminary results suggest that some of these identified proteins might contribute to esophageal cell differentiation and carcinogenesis, certain proteins could be used as tumor-associated antigen (TAA) biomarkers in cancer diagnosis, and further studies on these identified proteins should provide more evidence of how these proteins are involved in carcinogenesis of ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3119842  PMID: 21517111
esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC); tumor-associated proteins; biomarkers; proteomic approach; cancer autoantibody; cancer diagnosis
13.  Analysis of EHMT1 expression and its correlations with clinical significance in esophageal squamous cell cancer 
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is a highly aggressive malignancy, requiring effective biomarkers for prognosis and therapeutic responsiveness. Histone H3K9 methyltransferases (EHMT1 and EHMT2) are global genome organizers, which are crucial for maintaining the balance state of cells in a tissue-specific manner. It was previously suggested that EHMT1 expression is a predictor of prognosis in several malignant tumors; however, the prognostic significance of EHMT1 expression in ESCC has not been determined. A cohort of 50 ESCC cases and 46 paired normal esophageal tissue samples were evaluated to assess the levels of EHMT1 expression by immunohistochemistry and reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. The SPSS software package was used for statistical data analysis. A significantly upregulated EHMT1 expression was observed in squamous preinvasive lesions and ESCC compared to the matched normal esophageal epithelia (52.0 vs. 21.7%, respectively). The expression of EHMT1 was correlated with tumor grade (G), depth of invasion (T) and lymph node metastasis (N) in ESCC. EHMT1 overexpression was found to be associated with poor cancer-specific survival in squamous cell carcinomas (χ2=3.922, P=0.048). The expression of EHMT1 was identified as an independent prognostic factor for overall survival in ESCC patients. In conclusion, EHMT1 expression is upregulated in ESCC and early preinvasive esophageal squamous lesions and the overexpression of EHMT1 is associated with poor prognosis in ESCC. Therefore, the expression of EHMT1 may be an effective prognostic biomarker for ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3916188  PMID: 24649311
histone methyltransferase; EHMT1; esophageal squamous cell cancer; prognosis
14.  Notch signaling contributes to lung cancer clonogenic capacity in vitro but may be circumvented in tumorigenesis in vivo 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2011;9(12):1746-1754.
The Notch signaling pathway is a critical embryonic developmental regulatory pathway that has been implicated in oncogenesis. In non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), recent evidence suggests that Notch signaling may contribute to maintenance of a cancer stem or progenitor cell compartment required for tumorigenesis. We explored whether intact Notch signaling is required for NSCLC clonogenic and tumorigenic potential in vitro and in vivo using a series of genetically modified model systems. In keeping with previous observations, we find that Notch3 in particular is upregulated in human lung cancer lines, and that down regulation of Notch signaling using a selective γ-secretase inhibitor (MRK-003) is associated with decreased proliferation and clonogenic capacity in vitro. We demonstrate that this phenotype is rescued with the expression of NICD3, a constitutively active cleaved form of Notch3 not affected by γ-secretase inhibition. Using an inducible LSL-KRASG12D model of lung cancer in vivo, we demonstrate a transient upregulation of Notch pathway activity in early tumor precursor lesions. However, a more rigorous test of the requirement for Notch signaling in lung oncogenesis, crossing the LSL-KRASG12D mouse model with a transgenic with a similarly inducible global dominant negative suppressor of Notch activity, LSL-DNMAML (dominant negative mastermind-like), reveals no evidence of Notch pathway requirement for lung tumor initiation or growth in vivo. Distinct Notch family members may have different, and potentially opposing, activities in oncogenesis, and targeted inhibition of individual Notch family members may be a more effective anti-cancer strategy than global pathway suppression.
PMCID: PMC3243765  PMID: 21994468
15.  Pituitary Tumor-Transforming 1 Increases Cell Motility and Promotes Lymph Node Metastasis in Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
Cancer research  2008;68(9):3214-3224.
Human pituitary tumor-transforming 1 (PTTG1)/securin is a putative oncoprotein that is overexpressed in various tumor types. However, the involvement of PTTG1 in gastrointestinal cancer development and progression remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the clinical significance and biological effects of PTTG1 in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Immunohistochemical studies performed on 113 primary ESCC specimens revealed a high prevalence of PTTG1 overexpression (60.2%), which was significantly associated with lymph node metastasis (regional, P = 0.042; distant, P = 0.005), advanced tumor stage (P = 0.028), and poorer overall survival (P = 0.017, log-rank test; P = 0.044, Cox proportional hazard model). Eleven ESCC cell lines expressed PTTG1 protein at levels 2.4 to 6.6 times higher than those in normal esophageal epithelial cells (HEEpiC). PTTG1 protein expression was confined to the nucleus in HEEpiC cells but present in both the cytoplasm and nucleus in ESCC cells. Two small interfering RNAs (siRNA) inhibited PTTG1 mRNA and protein expression in three ESCC cell lines by 77% to 97%. In addition, PTTG1 down-regulation by these siRNAs significantly reduced cell motility in all three ESCC cell lines (P < 0.01) in vitro, as well as popliteal lymph node metastases of ESCC cells in nude mice (P = 0.020). Global gene expression profiling suggested that several members of the Ras and Rho gene families, including RRAS, RHOG, ARHGAP1, and ARHGADIA, represented potential downstream genes in the PTTG1 pathway. Taken together, these findings suggest that PTTG1 overexpression promotes cell motility and lymph node metastasis in ESCC patients, leading to poorer survival. Thus, PTTG1 constitutes a potential biomarker and therapeutic target in ESCCs with lymph node metastases.
PMCID: PMC2988648  PMID: 18451147
16.  Genetic Variants in Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Pathway Genes and Risk of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Gastric Cancer in a Chinese Population 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68999.
The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling pathway regulates cell proliferation, differentiation, and survival, and is frequently dysregulated in esophageal and gastric cancers. Few studies have comprehensively examined the association between germline genetic variants in the EGFR pathway and risk of esophageal and gastric cancers. Based on a genome-wide association study in a Han Chinese population, we examined 3443 SNPs in 127 genes in the EGFR pathway for 1942 esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCCs), 1758 gastric cancers (GCs), and 2111 controls. SNP-level analyses were conducted using logistic regression models. We applied the resampling-based adaptive rank truncated product approach to determine the gene- and pathway-level associations. The EGFR pathway was significantly associated with GC risk (P = 2.16×10−3). Gene-level analyses found 10 genes to be associated with GC, including FYN, MAPK8, MAP2K4, GNAI3, MAP2K1, TLN1, PRLR, PLCG2, RPS6KB2, and PIK3R3 (P<0.05). For ESCC, we did not observe a significant pathway-level association (P = 0.72), but gene-level analyses suggested associations between GNAI3, CHRNE, PAK4, WASL, and ITCH, and ESCC (P<0.05). Our data suggest an association between specific genes in the EGFR signaling pathway and risk of GC and ESCC. Further studies are warranted to validate these associations and to investigate underlying mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3715462  PMID: 23874846
17.  An novel role of sphingosine kinase-1 (SPHK1) in the invasion and metastasis of esophageal carcinoma 
Treatment failure for esophageal carcinoma is frequently due to lymph node metastasis and invasion to neighboring organs. The aim of the present study was to investigate invasion- and metastasis-related genes in esophageal carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo.
A metastasis model using a Matrigel invasion clonal selection approach was employed to establish a highly invasive subline EC9706-P4 from the esophageal carcinoma cell (ESCC) line EC9706. The differentially expressed genes of the subline and the parental cells determined by gene microarrays were further analyzed by RT-PCR and Western blotting.
We identified sphingosine kinase 1 (SPHK1) as an invasion and metastasis-related gene of esophageal cancer. SPHK1 was overexpressed in the EC9706-P4 subline with high invasive capacity. Among six ESCC lines tested, KYSE2 and KYSE30 cells showed the highest SPHK1 mRNA and protein expressions as well as the most invasive phenotype. By Western blotting, in 7/12 cases (58%), SPHK1 expression was higher in esophageal carcinomas than in the companion normal tissue. In 23/30 cases (76%), SPHK1 protein expression was upregulated in the tumors compared to matched normal tissue by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Esophageal carcinoma tissue microarray analysis indicated that SPHK1 expression correlated with the depth of tumor invasion (P < 0.0001) and lymph node metastasis (P = 0.016). By Kaplan-Meier analysis, strong SPHK1 expression was significantly associated with clinical failure (P < 0.01), suggesting the involvement of SPHK1 in aggressiveness of human esophageal carcinoma. SPHK1 overexpression significantly increased the invasiveness of EC9706 cells in vitro and also increased EC9706 cell growth and spontaneous metastasis in vivo, promoting significant increases in tumor growth, tumor burden and spontaneous lung metastasis in nude mice. SPHK1 expression significantly correlated with the expression of many EGFR pathway genes associated with invasion of cancer cells. SPHK1 protein expression also significantly correlated with the phosphorylation of EGFR.
In summary, our data implicate SPHK1 in the metastasis of esophageal cancer. Our study also identified downstream mediators of SPHK1 in esophageal cancer cells that may mediate enhanced malignant behavior, and several of these mediators may be useful as therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC3186754  PMID: 21936950
18.  Targeted Knockdown of IQGAP1 Inhibits the Progression of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma In Vitro and In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96501.
IQGAP1 is a scaffolding protein that can regulate several distinct signaling pathways. The accumulating evidence has demonstrated that IQGAP1 plays an important role in tumorigenesis and tumor progression. However, the function of IQGAP1 in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) has not been thoroughly investigated. In the present study, we showed that IQGAP1 was overexpressed in ESCC tumor tissues, and its overexpression was correlated with the invasion depth of ESCC. Importantly, by using RNA interference (RNAi) technology we successfully silenced IQGAP1 gene in two ESCC cell lines, EC9706 and KYSE150, and for the first time found that suppressing IQGAP1 expression not only obviously reduced the tumor cell growth, migration and invasion in vitro but also markedly inhibited the tumor growth, invasion, lymph node and lung metastasis in xenograft mice. Furthermore, Knockdown of IQGAP1 expression in ESCC cell lines led to a reversion of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) progress. These results suggest that IQGAP1 plays crucial roles in regulating ESCC occurrence and progression. IQGAP1 silencing may therefore develop into a promising novel anticancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC4011758  PMID: 24800852
19.  Notch1 Is a 5-Fluorouracil Resistant and Poor Survival Marker in Human Esophagus Squamous Cell Carcinomas 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56141.
Notch signaling involves the processes that govern cell proliferation, cell fate decision, cell differentiation and stem cell maintenance. Due to its fundamental role in stem cells, it has been speculated during the recent years that Notch family may have critical functions in cancer stem cells or cancer cells with a stem cell phenotype, therefore playing an important role in the process of oncogenesis. In this study, expression of Notch family in KYSE70, KYSE140 and KYSE450 squamous esophageal cancer cell lines and virus transformed squamous esophageal epithelial cell line Het-1A was examined by quantitative RT-PCR. Compared to the Het-1A cells, higher levels of Nocth1 and Notch3 expression in the cancer cell lines were identified. Due to the finding that NOTCH3 mainly mediates squamous cell differentiation, NOTCH1 expression was further studied in these cell lines. By Western blot analyses, the KYSE70 cell line which derived from a poorly differentiated tumor highly expressed Notch1, and the Notch1 expression in this cell line was hypoxia inducible, while the KYSE450 cell line which derived from a well differentiated tumor was always negative for Notch1, even in hypoxia. Additional studies demonstrated that the KYSE70 cell line was more 5-FU resistant than the KYSE450 cell line and such 5-FU resistance is correlated to Notch1 expression verified by Notch1 knockdown experiments. In clinical samples, Notch1 protein expression was detected in the basal cells of human esophagus epithelia, and its expression in squamous cell carcinomas was significantly associated with higher pathological grade and shorter overall survival. We conclude that Notch1 expression is associated with cell aggressiveness and 5-FU drug resistance in human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cell lines in vitro and is significantly associated with a poor survival in human esophageal squamous cell carcinomas.
PMCID: PMC3567068  PMID: 23409141
20.  Genome-Wide Gene Expression Profile Analyses Identify CTTN as a Potential Prognostic Marker in Esophageal Cancer 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88918.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of the most common fatal malignances of the digestive tract. Its prognosis is poor mainly due to the lack of reliable markers for early detection and prognostic prediction. Here we aim to identify the molecules involved in ESCC carcinogenesis and those as potential markers for prognosis and as new molecular therapeutic targets.
We performed genome-wide gene expression profile analyses of 10 primary ESCCs and their adjacent normal tissues by cDNA microarrays representing 47,000 transcripts and variants. Candidate genes were then validated by semi quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR), tissue microarrays (TMAs) and immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining.
Using an arbitrary cutoff line of signal log ratio of ≥1.5 or ≤−1.5, we observed 549 up-regulated genes and 766 down-regulated genes in ESCCs compared with normal esophageal tissues. The functions of 302 differentially expressed genes were associated with cell metabolism, cell adhesion and immune response. Several candidate deregulated genes including four overexpressed (CTTN, DMRT2, MCM10 and SCYA26) and two underexpressed (HMGCS2 and SORBS2) were subsequently verified, which can be served as biomarkers for ESCC. Moreover, overexpression of cortactin (CTTN) was observed in 126/198 (63.6%) of ESCC cases and was significantly associated with lymph node metastasis (P = 0.000), pathologic stage (P = 0.000) and poor survival (P<0.001) of ESCC patients. Furthermore, a significant correlation between CTTN overexpression and shorter disease-specific survival rate was found in different subgroups of ESCC patient stratified by the pathologic stage (P<0.05).
Our data provide valuable information for establishing molecules as candidates for prognostic and/or as therapeutic targets.
PMCID: PMC3925182  PMID: 24551190
21.  Tumor-Suppressive Function of miR-139-5p in Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77068.
Recent studies have demonstrated the possible function of miR-139-5p in tumorigenesis. However, the exact mechanism of miR-139-5p in cancer remains unclear. In this study, the association of miR-139-5p expression with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) was evaluated in 106 pairs of esophageal cancer and adjacent non-cancerous tissue from ESCC patients. The tumor suppressive features of miR-139-5p were measured by evaluating cell proliferation and cell cycle state, migratory activity and invasion capability, as well as apoptosis. Luciferase reporter assay and Western blot analysis were performed to determine the target gene regulated by miR-139-5p. The mRNA level of NR5A2, the target gene of miR-139-5p, was determined in ESCC patients. Results showed that reduced miR-139-5p level was associated with lymph node metastases of ESCC. MiR-139-5p was investigated to induce cell cycle arrest in the G0/G1 phase and to suppress the invasive capability of esophageal carcinoma cells by targeting the 3′UTR of oncogenic NR5A2. Cyclin E1 and MMP9 were confirmed to participate in cell cycle arrest and invasive suppression induced by NR5A2, respectively. Pearson correlation analysis further confirmed the significantly negative correlation between miR-139-5p and NR5A2 expression. The results suggest that miR-139-5p exerts a growth- and invasiveness-suppressing function in human ESCCs, which demonstrates that miR-139-5p is a potential biomarker for early diagnosis and prognosis and is a therapeutic target for ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3799985  PMID: 24204738
22.  Tissue microarray analysis reveals a tight correlation between protein expression pattern and progression of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2006;6:296.
The development of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) progresses a multistage process, collectively known as precursor lesions, also called dysplasia (DYS) and carcinoma in situ (CIS), subsequent invasive lesions and final metastasis. In this study, we are interested in investigating the expression of a variety of functional classes of proteins in ESCC and its precursor lesions and characterizing the correlation of these proteins with ESCC malignant progression.
Fas, FADD, caspase 8, CDC25B, fascin, CK14, CK4, annexin I, laminin-5γ2 and SPARC were analyzed using immunohistochemistry on tissue microarray containing 205 ESCC and 173 adjacent precursor lesions as well as corresponding normal mucosa. To confirm the immunohistochemical results, three proteins, fascin, CK14 and laminin-5γ2, which were overexpressed in ESCC on tissue microarray, were detected in 12 ESCC cell lines by Western blot assay.
In ESCC and its precursor lesions, FADD, CDC25B, fascin, CK14, laminin-5γ2 and SPARC were overexpressed, while Fas, caspase 8, CK4 and annexin I were underexpressed. The abnormalities of these proteins could be classified into different groups in relation to the stages of ESCC development. They were "early" corresponding to mild and moderate DYS with overexpression of fascin, FADD and CDC25B and underexpression of Fas, caspase 8, CK4 and annexin I, "intermediate" to severe DYS and CIS with overexpression of FADD and CK14, and "late" to invasive lesions (ESCC) and to advanced pTNM stage ESCC lesions with overexpression of CK14, laminin-5γ2 and SPARC.
Analyzing the protein expression patterns of Fas, FADD, caspase 8, CDC25B, fascin, CK14, CK4, annexin I, laminin-5γ2 and SPARC would be valuable to develop rational strategies for early detection of lesions at risk in advance as well as for prevention and treatment of ESCC.
PMCID: PMC1766359  PMID: 17187659
23.  Negative Regulation of Notch Signaling by Xylose 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003547.
The Notch signaling pathway controls a large number of processes during animal development and adult homeostasis. One of the conserved post-translational modifications of the Notch receptors is the addition of an O-linked glucose to epidermal growth factor-like (EGF) repeats with a C-X-S-X-(P/A)-C motif by Protein O-glucosyltransferase 1 (POGLUT1; Rumi in Drosophila). Genetic experiments in flies and mice, and in vivo structure-function analysis in flies indicate that O-glucose residues promote Notch signaling. The O-glucose residues on mammalian Notch1 and Notch2 proteins are efficiently extended by the addition of one or two xylose residues through the function of specific mammalian xylosyltransferases. However, the contribution of xylosylation to Notch signaling is not known. Here, we identify the Drosophila enzyme Shams responsible for the addition of xylose to O-glucose on EGF repeats. Surprisingly, loss- and gain-of-function experiments strongly suggest that xylose negatively regulates Notch signaling, opposite to the role played by glucose residues. Mass spectrometric analysis of Drosophila Notch indicates that addition of xylose to O-glucosylated Notch EGF repeats is limited to EGF14–20. A Notch transgene with mutations in the O-glucosylation sites of Notch EGF16–20 recapitulates the shams loss-of-function phenotypes, and suppresses the phenotypes caused by the overexpression of human xylosyltransferases. Antibody staining in animals with decreased Notch xylosylation indicates that xylose residues on EGF16–20 negatively regulate the surface expression of the Notch receptor. Our studies uncover a specific role for xylose in the regulation of the Drosophila Notch signaling, and suggest a previously unrecognized regulatory role for EGF16–20 of Notch.
Author Summary
In multi-cellular organisms, neighboring cells need to communicate with each other to ensure proper cell fate decisions and differentiation. Signaling through the Notch receptors is the primary means by which local cell-cell communication is accomplished in animals. Given the broad usage of Notch signaling in animals and the host of human disease caused by Notch pathway misregulation, sophisticated mechanisms are required to adjust the strength of Notch signaling in each context. We have previously shown that addition of glucose residues to the Notch receptor promotes Notch signaling. Since these glucose residues on Notch can be extended by addition of xylose residues, we sought to determine whether xylose also plays a role in the regulation of Notch signaling. In contrast to glucose, we determine that xylose residues decrease Notch signaling in certain contexts by controlling Notch surface levels. Moreover, the xylose residues reside in a specific domain of Notch, unlike the glucose residues which are distributed throughout the Notch extracellular domain. Our data provide an example of signaling pathway regulation by altering the distribution of the short or elongated forms of a saccharide on a receptor protein, and offer a potential avenue for modulating Notch signaling as both a therapeutic modality and a tool in regenerative medicine.
PMCID: PMC3675014  PMID: 23754965
24.  Overexpression of WRAP53 Is Associated with Development and Progression of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91670.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is a highly aggressive cancer whose underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. The natural antisense transcript (NAT) WRAP53 regulates p53 expression and WRAP53 protein is a component of telomerase. NATs play key roles in carcinogenesis, and although WRAP53 is known to increase cancer cell survival, its role in ESCC clinicopathology is unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate WRAP53 expression in ESCC and to correlate it with clinicopathological characteristics.
WRAP53 mRNA and protein expression was measured by quantitative PCR (qRT-PCR) and western blotting, respectively, in 4 ESSC cells lines and in 45 paired ESCC and non-neoplastic esophageal mucosa tissues. To correlate WRAP53 protein expression with clinicopathological characteristics, immunohistochemistry (IHC) was performed on 134 ESCC and 85 non-neoplastic esophageal mucosa tissues.
Expression of WRAP53 was detected in all ESCC cell lines and was upregulated in the ESCC tissues compared with the corresponding non-neoplastic tissues (P<0.01). More cells expressed WRAP53 protein in the ESCC tissues than in the non-neoplastic tissues (P<0.01). Overexpression of WRAP53 was significantly correlated with tumor infiltration depth (P = 0.000), clinical stage (P = 0.001), and lymph node metastasis (P = 0.025). Wrap53 expression was not correlated with age, gender, or tumor differentiation.
This report indicates increased expression of WRAP53 in ESCC and that WRAP53 overexpression is correlated with tumor progression. WRAP53 may play a significant role in ESCC; accordingly, WRAP53 could be a useful biomarker for ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3953598  PMID: 24626331
25.  PRAF3 induces apoptosis and inhibits migration and invasion in human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2012;12:97.
Prenylated Rab acceptor 1 domain family member 3 (PRAF3) is involved in the regulation of many cellular processes including apoptosis, migration and invasion. This study was conducted to investigate the effect of PRAF3 on apoptosis, migration and invasion in human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).
The expression of PRAF3 mRNA and protein in primary ESCC and the matched normal tissues (57cases) was determined by quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot. Immunohistochemical analysis of PRAF3 expression was carried out in paraffin-embedded sections of ESCC and correlated with clinical features. The role of PRAF3 in apoptosis, migration and invasion was studied in ESCC cell lines of Eca109 and TE-1 through the adenovirus mediated PRAF3 gene transfer. The effect of PRAF3 on apoptosis was analyzed by annexin V-FITC assay. The regulation of PRAF3 on migration was determined by transwell and wounding healing assay, while the cellular invasion was analyzed by matrigel-coated transwell assay.
We found that the expression of PRAF3 was significantly down-regulated in ESCC tissue compared with the matched normal tissue and was correlated with the clinical features of pathological grade, tumor stage and lymph node metastasis. Moreover, overexpression of PRAF3 induced cell apoptosis through both caspase-8 and caspase-9 dependent pathways, and inhibited cell migration and invasion by suppressing the activity of both MMP-2 and MMP-9 in human ESCC cell lines.
Our data suggest that PRAF3 plays an important role in the regulation of tumor progression and metastasis and serves as a tumor suppressor in human ESCC. We propose that PRAF3 might be used as a potential therapeutic agent for human ESCC.
PMCID: PMC3353225  PMID: 22433565

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