There exists a highly tumorigenic subset of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cells defined by high expression of CD44. A novel therapy targeting these cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) is needed to improve prognosis of ESCC. CSCs of ESCC have a mesenchymal phenotype and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is critical to enrich and maintain CSCs. EGFR, frequently overexpressed in ESCC, has pivotal roles in EMT induced by TGF-β in invasive fronts. Thus, EMT in invasive fronts of ESCC might be important for CSCs and EGFR could be a target of a novel therapy eliminating CSCs. However, effects of EGFR inhibitors on CSCs in ESCC have not been fully examined. EGFR inhibitors, erlotinib and cetuximab, significantly suppressed enrichment of CSCs via TGF-β1-mediated EMT. Importantly, EGFR inhibitors sharply suppressed ZEB1 that is essential for EMT in ESCC. Further, EGFR inhibitors activated Notch1 and Notch3, leading to squamous cell differentiation. EGFR inhibition may suppress expression of ZEB1 and induce differentiation, thereby blocking EMT-mediated enrichment of CSCs. In organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering, tumor cells in invasive nests showed high expression of CD44. Erlotinib significantly blocked invasion into the matrix and CD44 high expressing CSCs were markedly suppressed by erlotinib in organotypic 3D culture. In conclusion, EMT is a critical process for generation of CSCs and the invasive front of ESCC, where EMT occurs, might form a CSC niche in ESCC. EGFR inhibitors could suppress EMT in invasive fronts and be one therapeutic option targeting against generation of CSCs in ESCC.
cancer stem cell; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; EGFR inhibitor; organotypic 3D culture; ZEB1
A polymorphic mutation in the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene has been epidemiologically linked to the high susceptibility to esophageal carcinogenesis for individuals with alcohol use disorders. Mice subjected to alcohol drinking show increased oxidative stress and DNA adduct formation in esophageal epithelia where Aldh2 loss augments alcohol-induced genotoxic effects; however, it remains elusive as to how esophageal epithelial cells with dysfunctional Aldh2 cope with oxidative stress related to alcohol metabolism. Here, we investigated the role of autophagy in murine esophageal epithelial cells (keratinocytes) exposed to ethanol and acetaldehyde. We find that ethanol and acetaldehyde trigger oxidative stress via mitochondrial superoxide in esophageal keratinocytes. Aldh2-deficient cells appeared to be highly susceptible to ethanol- or acetaldehyde-mediated toxicity. Alcohol dehydrogenase-mediated acetaldehyde production was implicated in ethanol-induced cell injury in Aldh2 deficient cells as ethanol-induced oxidative stress and cell death was partially inhibited by 4-methylpyrazole. Acetaldehyde activated autophagy flux in esophageal keratinocytes where Aldh2 deficiency increased dependence on autophagy to cope with ethanol-induced acetaldehyde-mediated oxidative stress. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagy flux by chloroquine stabilized p62/SQSTM1, and increased basal and acetaldehyde-mediate oxidative stress in Aldh2 deficient cells as documented in monolayer culture as well as single-cell derived three-dimensional esophageal organoids, recapitulating a physiological esophageal epithelial proliferation-differentiation gradient. Our innovative approach indicates, for the first time, that autophagy may provide cytoprotection to esophageal epithelial cells responding to oxidative stress that is induced by ethanol and its major metabolite acetaldehyde. Defining autophagymediated cytoprotection against alcohol-induced genotoxicity in the context of Aldh2 deficiency, our study provides mechanistic insights into the tumor suppressor functions of ALDH2 and autophagy in alcohol-related esophageal carcinogenesis.
Autophagy; ALDH2; acetaldehyde; alcohol; tobacco; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; reactive oxygen species
Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a key molecule in the pathophysiology of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). However, EGFR-targeted agents such as anti-EGFR antibody or tyrosine kinase inhibitors for OSCC have not demonstrated any clinical benefits. Recently, a novel chemotherapeutic agent, EGFR(2R)-lytic hybrid peptide, a composite of EGFR-binding peptide and lytic peptide fragments, has been shown to exhibit a potent anti-tumour effect against cancers that express high EGFR levels. In this study, we investigated the validity of employing EGFR(2R)-lytic hybrid peptide against OSCC cells both in vitro and in vivo. Additionally, the toxicity of this peptide was assessed in mice. We found high EGFR expression levels on the cell surface of OSCC cells, and the EGFR-binding peptide fragment showed high affinity for OSCC cells. A potent cytotoxic effect was induced within 30 minutes by the exposure of OSCC cells to EGFR(2R)-lytic hybrid peptide. Furthermore, EGFR(2R)-lytic hybrid peptide markedly suppressed the tumour growth of OSCC cells in a xenograft model. Moreover, it did not cause any identifiable adverse effects in mice. Taken together, EGFR(2R)-lytic hybrid peptide was shown to be a valid therapeutic agent against OSCC, providing a crucial rationale regarding novel EGFR-targeted therapies against OSCC.
Notch activity regulates tumor biology in a context-dependent and complex manner. Notch may act as an oncogene or a tumor suppressor gene even within the same tumor type. Recently, Notch signaling has been implicated in cellular senescence. Yet, it remains unclear as to how cellular senescence checkpoint functions may interact with Notch-mediated oncogenic and tumor suppressor activities. Herein, we used genetically engineered human esophageal keratinocytes and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cells to delineate the functional consequences of Notch activation and inhibition along with pharmacological intervention and RNA interference (RNAi) experiments. When expressed in a tetracycline-inducible manner, the ectopically expressed activated form of Notch1 (ICN1) displayed oncogene-like characteristics inducing cellular senescence corroborated by the induction of G0/G1 cell-cycle arrest, Rb dephosphorylation, flat and enlarged cell morphology and senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity. Notch-induced senescence involves canonical CSL/RBPJ-dependent transcriptional activity and the p16INK4A-Rb pathway. Loss of p16INK4A or the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV) E6/E7 oncogene products not only prevented ICN1 from inducing senescence, but permitted ICN1 to facilitate anchorage-independent colony formation and xenograft tumor growth with increased cell proliferation and reduced squamous-cell differentiation. Moreover, Notch1 appears to mediate replicative senescence as well as TGF-β-induced cellular senescence in non-transformed cells and that HPV E6/E7 targets Notch1 for inactivation to prevent senescence, revealing a tumor suppressor attribute of endogenous Notch1. In aggregate, cellular senescence checkpoint functions may influence dichotomous Notch activities in the neoplastic context.
Notch; Rb; p16; HPV; E7; senescence; squamous cell carcinoma
Acetaldehyde is an ethanol-derived definite carcinogen that causes oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is a key enzyme that eliminates acetaldehyde, and impairment of ALDH2 increases the risk of ESCC. ALDH2 is produced in various tissues including the liver, heart, and kidney, but the generation and functional roles of ALDH2 in the oesophagus remain elusive. Here, we report that ethanol drinking increased ALDH2 production in the oesophagus of wild-type mice. Notably, levels of acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage represented by N2-ethylidene-2′-deoxyguanosine were higher in the oesophagus of Aldh2-knockout mice than in wild-type mice upon ethanol consumption. In vitro experiments revealed that acetaldehyde induced ALDH2 production in both mouse and human oesophageal keratinocytes. Furthermore, the N2-ethylidene-2′-deoxyguanosine levels increased in both Aldh2-knockout mouse keratinocytes and ALDH2-knockdown human keratinocytes treated with acetaldehyde. Conversely, forced production of ALDH2 sharply diminished the N2-ethylidene-2′-deoxyguanosine levels. Our findings provide new insight into the preventive role of oesophageal ALDH2 against acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage.
5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is a key drug for the treatment of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC); however, resistance to it remains a critical limitation to its clinical use. To clarify the mechanisms of 5-FU resistance of ESCC, we originally established 5-FU-resistant ESCC cells, TE-5R, by step-wise treatment with continuously increasing concentrations of 5-FU. The half maximal inhibitory concentration of 5-FU showed that TE-5R cells were 15.6-fold more resistant to 5-FU in comparison with parental TE-5 cells. TE-5R cells showed regional copy number amplification of chromosome 1p including the DPYD gene, as well as high mRNA and protein expressions of dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD), an enzyme involved in 5-FU degradation. 5-FU treatment resulted in a significant decrease of the intracellular 5-FU concentration and increase of the concentration of α-fluoro-ureidopropionic acid (FUPA), a metabolite of 5-FU, in TE-5R compared with TE-5 cells in vitro. Conversely, gimeracil, a DPD inhibitor, markedly increased the intracellular 5-FU concentration, decreased the intracellular FUPA concentration, and attenuated 5-FU resistance of TE-5R cells. These results indicate that 5-FU resistance of TE-5R cells is due to the rapid degradation of 5-FU by DPD overexpression. The investigation of 5-FU-resistant ESCC with DPYD gene copy number amplification and consequent DPD overexpression may generate novel biological evidence to explore strategies against ESCC with 5-FU resistance.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; chemotherapy; 5-fluorouracil; drug resistance; dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) kills cancer cells via a photochemical reaction mediated by an oncotropic photosensitizer. Herein, we performed an experimental preclinical study to validate the anti-tumour effect of talaporfin sodium-mediated PDT (t-PDT) for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) cells. We used human ESCC cells derived from various differentiation grades or resistant to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). The cytotoxic effect of t-PDT was determined by evaluating cell viability, apoptosis and generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and DNA double-strand breaks. Furthermore, the anti-tumour effect of t-PDT was assessed using an anchorage-independent cell-growth assay and xenograft transplantation models. t-PDT induced potent cytotoxicity in ESCC cells independent of their differentiation grade or 5-FU resistance. Moreover, t-PDT induced robust apoptosis, as indicated by cell shrinkage, perinuclear vacuolization, nuclear fragmentation and induction of annexin V-positive cells. This apoptotic response was accompanied by concurrent activation of ROS, and induction of DNA double-strand breakage. Importantly, t-PDT suppressed efficiently anchorage-independent cell growth as well as ESCC-xenografted tumor formation. In aggregate, t-PDT showed anti-tumor potential for ESCC cells with various histological grades or chemoresistance, providing a novel translational rationale of t-PDT for the treatment of ESCC.
Ethanol and its metabolite, acetaldehyde, are the definite carcinogens for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), and reduced catalytic activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), which detoxifies acetaldehyde, increases the risk for ESCC. However, it remains unknown whether the ALDH2 genotype influences the level of acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage in the esophagus after ethanol ingestion. In the present study, we administered ethanol orally or intraperitoneally to Aldh2-knockout and control mice, and we quantified the level of acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage, especially N2-ethylidene-2’-deoxyguanosine (N2-ethylidene-dG), in the esophagus. In the model of oral ethanol administration, the esophageal N2-ethylidene-dG level was significantly higher in Aldh2-knockout mice compared with control mice. Similarly, in the model of intraperitoneal ethanol administration, in which the esophagus is not exposed directly to the alcohol solution, the esophageal N2-ethylidene-dG level was also elevated in Aldh2-knockout mice. This result indicates that circulating ethanol-derived acetaldehyde causes esophageal DNA damage, and that the extent of damage is influenced by knockout of Aldh2. Taken together, our findings strongly suggest the importance of acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage which is induced in the esophagus of individuals with ALDH2 gene impairment. This provides a physiological basis for understanding alcohol-related esophageal carcinogenesis.
Carcinogenesis; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; acetaldehyde; acetaldehyde-derived DNA damage; DNA adduct
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.
Notch; EMT; squamous cell differentiation; ZEB1; miR-200
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of the most aggressive forms of squamous cell carcinomas. Common genetic lesions in ESCC include p53 mutations and EGFR overexpression, both of which have been implicated in negative regulation of Notch signaling. In addition, cyclin D1 is overexpressed in ESCC and can be activated via EGFR, Notch and Wnt signaling. To elucidate how these genetic lesions may interact during the development and progression of ESCC, we tested a panel of genetically engineered human esophageal cells (keratinocytes) in organotypic 3D culture (OTC), a form of human tissue engineering. Notch signaling was suppressed in culture and mice by dominant negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1), a genetic pan-Notch inhibitor. DNMAML1 mice were subjected to 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide-induced oral-esophageal carcinogenesis. Highly invasive characteristics of primary human ESCC were recapitulated in OTC as well as DNMAML1 mice. In OTC, cyclin D1 overexpression induced squamous hyperplasia. Concurrent EGFR overexpression and mutant p53 resulted in transformation and invasive growth. Interestingly, cell proliferation appeared to be regulated differentially between those committed to squamous-cell differentiation and those invading into the stroma. Invasive cells exhibited Notch-independent activation of cyclin D1 and Wnt signaling. Within the oral-esophageal squamous epithelia, Notch signaling regulated squamous-cell differentiation to maintain epithelial integrity, and thus may act as a tumor suppressor by preventing the development of a tumor-promoting inflammatory microenvironment.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; organotypic 3D culture; EGFR; P53; cyclin D1; Wnt; Notch; squamous-cell differentiation; invasion; 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide
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.
NOTCH1; NOTCH3; esophageal epithelium; squamous differentiation
Insulin-like growth factor-binding protein (IGFBP)-3 is overexpressed frequently in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Yet, the role of IGFBP3 in esophageal tumor biology remains to be elucidated. We find that IGFBP3 facilitates transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1-mediated epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in transformed human esophageal epithelial cells, EPC2–hTERT–EGFR–p53R175H. In organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering, laser-capture microdissection revealed concurrent upregulation of TGF-β target genes, IGFBP3 and EMT-related genes in the cells invading into the stromal compartment. IGFBP3 enhanced TGF-β1-mediated EMT as well as transcription factors essential in EMT by allowing persistent SMAD2 and SMAD3 phosphorylation. TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion were enhanced by ectopically expressed IGFBP3 and suppressed by RNA interference directed against IGFBP3. The IGFBP3 knockdown effect was rescued by IGFBP3I56G/L80G/L81G, a mutant IGFBP3 lacking an insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-binding capacity. Thus, IGFBP3 can regulate TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion in an IGF or insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor-independent manner. IGFBP3I56G/L80G/L81G also promoted EMT in vivo in a Ras-transformed human esophageal cell line T-TeRas upon xenograft transplantation in nude mice. In aggregate, IGFBP3 may have a novel IGF-binding independent biological function in regulation of TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion.
Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a potent inducer of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). However, it remains elusive as to which molecular mechanisms determine the cellular capacity to undergo EMT in response to TGF-β. We have found that both epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) overexpression and mutant p53 tumor suppressor genes contribute to enrichment of an EMT-competent cellular subpopulation amongst telomerase-immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells during malignant transformation. EGFR overexpression triggers oncogene-induced senescence, accompanied by induction of cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p15INK4B, p16INK4A and p21. Interestingly, a subpopulation of cells emerges by negating senescence without loss of EGFR overexpression. Such cell populations express increased levels of zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) transcription factors ZEB1 and ZEB2, and undergo EMT upon TGF-β stimulation. Enrichment of EMT-competent cells was more evident in the presence of p53 mutation, which diminished EGFR-induced senescence. RNA interference directed against ZEB resulted in induction of p15INK4B and p16INK4A, reactivating the EGFR-dependent senescence program. Importantly, TGF-β-mediated EMT did not take place when cellular senescence programs were activated by either ZEB knockdown or activation of wild-type p53 function. Thus, senescence checkpoint functions activated by EGFR and p53 may be evaded through the induction of ZEB, thereby allowing expansion of an EMT-competent unique cellular subpopulation, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of ZEB in esophageal carcinogenesis.
EGFR; EMT; senescence; ZEB1; ZEB2
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs), in particular HIF-1α, have been implicated in tumor biology. However, HIF target genes in the esophageal tumor microenvironment remain elusive. Gene expression profiling was performed upon hypoxia-exposed non-transformed immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells, EPC2-hTERT, and comparing with a gene signature of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). In addition to known HIF-1α target genes such as carbonic anhydrase 9, insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 (IGFBP3) and cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, prostaglandin E synthase (PTGES) was identified as a novel target gene among the commonly upregulated genes in ESCC as well as the cells exposed to hypoxia. The PTGES induction was augmented upon stabilization of HIF-1α by hypoxia or cobalt chloride under normoxic conditions and suppressed by dominant-negative HIF-1α. Whereas PTGES messenger RNA (mRNA) was negatively regulated by normoxia, PTGES protein remained stable upon reoxygenation. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) biosynthesis was documented in transformed human esophageal cells by ectopic expression of PTGES as well as RNA interference directed against PTGES. Moreover, hypoxia stimulated PGE2 production in a HIF-1α-dependent manner. In ESCC, PTGES was overexpressed frequently at the mRNA and protein levels. Finally, COX-2 and PTGES were colocalized in primary tumors along with HIF-1α and IGFBP3. Activation of the COX-2–PTGES axis in primary tumors was further corroborated by concomitant upregulation of interleukin-1β and downregulation of hydroxylprostaglandin dehydrogenase. Thus, PTGES is a novel HIF-1α target gene, involved in prostaglandin E biosynthesis in the esophageal tumor hypoxic microenvironment, and this has implications in diverse tumors types, especially of squamous origin.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a recently developed treatment involving the use of a
photosensitizer and low power light, usually from a laser, to selectively destroy tumor
cells. At present, we perform PDT for head and neck cancer using argon or excimer dye
lasers with hematoporphyrin derivative as a photosensitizer. This study attempted to
assess the utility and safety of PDT and to investigate the long-term outcome. All 24
patients had squamous cell carcinoma: 15 with laryngeal, 5 with lingual or oral, and 4
with pharyngeal cancer and were treated by PDT. Data were obtained from records
from February 1988 through April 1995. After PDT, 12 of 15 laryngeal cancer patients
were classified as having a complete remission (CR), as were 2 of the 5 lingual or oral and
one of the 4 pharyngeal cancer patients. The patients were followed for 8 to 153 months.
The longest duration of CR in patients treated by PDT alone was 148 months.
Photosensitivity was experienced by all patients, but required no treatment. Liver, kidneys,
and bone marrow showed no abnormal values. There were no clinically relevant
adverse reactions, and patients with severe complications due to other types of treatment
and elderly patients were also treated safely with this therapy.