Deregulated developmental processes in the cerebellum cause medulloblastoma, the most common pediatric brain malignancy. About 25 to 30% of cases are caused by mutations increasing the activity of the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) pathway, a critical mitogen in cerebellar development. The proto-oncogene Smoothened (Smo) is a key transducer of the Shh pathway. Activating mutations in Smo that lead to constitutive activity of the Shh pathway have been identified in human medulloblastoma. To understand the developmental and oncogenic effects of two closely positioned point mutations in Smo, we characterized NeuroD2-SmoA2 mice and compared them to NeuroD2-SmoA1 mice. While both SmoA1 and SmoA2 transgenes cause medulloblastoma with similar frequencies and timing, SmoA2 mice have severe aberrations in cerebellar development, whereas SmoA1 mice are largely normal during development. Intriguingly, neurologic function, as measured by specific tests, is normal in the SmoA2 mice despite extensive cerebellar dysplasia. We demonstrate how two nearly contiguous point mutations in the same domain of the encoded Smo protein can produce striking phenotypic differences in cerebellar development and organization in mice.
Thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1) is an endogenous inhibitor of angiogenesis encoded by the THBS1 gene, whose promoter is activated by p53. In advanced colorectal cancers (CRC), its expression is sustained or even slightly increased despite frequent loss of p53. Here, we determined that in HCT116 CRC cells, p53 activates the THBS1 primary transcript, but fails to boost THBS1 mRNA or protein levels, implying post-transcriptional regulation by microRNAs. In a global microRNA gain-of-function screen performed in the Dicer-deficient HCT116 variant, several microRNAs negatively regulated THBS1 mRNA and protein levels, one of them being miR-194. Notably, in agreement with published data, p53 upregulated miR-194 expression in THBS1 retrovirus-transduced HCT116 cells, leading to decreased TSP-1 levels. This negative effect was mediated by a single miR-194-complementary site in the THBS1 3′UTR, and its elimination resulted in TSP-1 reactivation, impaired angiogenesis in Matrigel plugs, and reduced growth of HCT116 xenografts. Conversely, transient overexpression of miR-194 in HCT116/THBS1 cells boosted Matrigel angiogenesis, and its stable overexpression in Ras-induced murine colon carcinomas yielded increased microvascular densities and vessel sizes. While the overall contribution of miR-194 to neoplastic growth is context-dependent, p53-induced activation of this GI tract-specific microRNA during ischemia could promote angiogenesis and facilitate tissue repair.
microRNA; thrombospondin-1; angiogenesis; colorectal cancer; p53
Cancer cells exhibit the ability to proliferate indefinitely, but paradoxically, overexpression of cellular oncogenes in primary cells can result in a rapid and irreversible cell cycle arrest known as oncogene-induced senescence (OIS). However, we have shown that constitutive overexpression of the oncogene c-MYC in primary human foreskin fibroblasts results in a population of cells with unlimited lifespan; these immortalized cells are henceforth referred to as iMYC. Here, in order to further elucidate the mechanisms underlying the immortalization process, a gene expression signature of three independently established iMYC cell lines compared with matched early passage c-MYC overexpressing cells was derived. Network analysis of this “iMYC signature” indicated that a large fraction of the downregulated genes were functionally connected and major nodes centered around the TGFβ, IL-6 and IGF-1 signaling pathways. Here, we focused on the functional validation of the alteration of TGFβ response during c-MYC-mediated immortalization. The results demonstrate loss of sensitivity of iMYC cells to activation of TGFβ signaling upon ligand addition. Furthermore, we show that aberrant regulation of the p27 tumor suppressor protein in iMYC cells is a key event that contributes to loss of response to TGFβ. These findings highlight the potential to reveal key pathways contributing to the self-renewal of cancer cells through functional mining of the unique gene expression signature of cells immortalized by c-MYC.
c-MYC; gene expression signature; immortalization; TGFβ; p27
Low oxygen levels have shown to promote self-renewal in many stem cells. In tumors, hypoxia is associated with aggressive disease course and poor clinical outcomes. Furthermore, many aggressive tumors have shown to display gene expression signatures characteristic of human embryonic stem cells (hESC). We now tested whether hypoxia might be responsible for the hESC signature observed in aggressive tumors. We show that hypoxia, through hypoxia inducible factor (HIF), can induce a hESC-like transcriptional program, including the iPSC inducers, OCT4, NANOG, SOX2, KLF4, cMYC and miRNA-302 in eleven cancer cell lines (from prostate, brain, kidney, cervix, lung, colon, liver and breast tumors). Further, non-degradable forms of HIFα, combined with the traditional iPSC inducers are highly efficient in generating A549 iPSC-like colonies that have high tumorigenic capacity. To test potential correlation between iPSC inducers and HIF expression in primary tumors, we analyzed primary prostate tumors and found a significant correlation between NANOG-, OCT4- and HIF1α-positive regions. Further, NANOG and OCT4 expression positively correlated with increased prostate tumor Gleason score. In primary glioma-derived CD133 negative cells neurospheres and hESC markers were induced in hypoxia but not in normoxia. Together, these findings suggest that HIF targets may act as key inducers of a dynamic state of stemness in pathological conditions.
cancer; hESC; HIF; hypoxia; stemness
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a polyomavirus-associated skin cancer that is frequently lethal and lacks established prognostic biomarkers. This study sought to identify biomarkers that improve prognostic accuracy and provide insight into MCC biology.
Patients and Methods
Gene expression profiles of 35 MCC tumors were clustered based on prognosis. The cluster of genes overexpressed in good-prognosis tumors was tested for biologic process enrichment. Relevant mRNA expression differences were confirmed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry. An independent set of 146 nonoverlapping MCC tumors (median follow-up, 25 months among 116 living patients) was employed for biomarker validation. Univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses were performed.
Immune response gene signatures were prominent in patients with good prognoses. In particular, genes associated with cytotoxic CD8+ lymphocytes were overexpressed in tumors from patients with favorable prognoses. In the independent validation set, cases with robust intratumoral CD8+ lymphocyte infiltration had improved outcomes (100% MCC-specific survival, n = 26) compared with instances characterized by sparse infiltration (60% survival, n = 120). Only stage and intratumoral CD8 infiltration (but not age, sex, or CD8+ lymphocytes localized to the tumor-stroma interface) were significant in both univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses. Notably, traditional histologic identification of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes was not a significant independent predictor of survival.
Intratumoral CD8+ lymphocyte infiltration can be readily assessed on paraffin-embedded tissue, is independently associated with improved MCC-specific survival, and therefore, may provide prognostic information that enhances established MCC staging protocols.
c-Myc stimulates angiogenesis in tumors through mechanisms that remain incompletely understood. Recent work indicates that c-Myc upregulates the miR-17~92 microRNA cluster and downregulates the angiogenesis inhibitor thrombospondin-1, along with other members of the thrombospondin type I repeat (TSR) superfamily. Here we demonstrate that downregulation of the TSR protein clusterin in cells overexpressing c-Myc and miR-17~92 promotes angiogenesis and tumor growth. However, clusterin downregulation by miR-17~92 is indirect. It occurs as a result of reduced TGFβ signaling caused by targeting of several regulatory components in this signaling pathway. Specifically, miR-17-5p and miR-20 reduce expression of the type II TGFβ receptor and miR-18 limits expression of Smad4. Supporting these results, in human cancer cell lines levels of the miR-17~92 primary transcript MIR17HG negatively correlate with those of many TGFβ-induced genes that are not direct targets of miR-17~92 (e.g., clusterin and angiopoietin-like 4). Furthermore, enforced expression of miR-17~92 in MIR17HGlow cell lines (e.g., glioblastoma) results in impaired gene activation by TGFβ. Together, our results define a pathway in which c-Myc activation of miR-17~92 attenuates the TGFβ signaling pathway to shut down clusterin expression, thereby stimulating angiogenesis and tumor cell growth.
Myc; TGFβ; miR-17~92 cluster; thrombospondin-1; clusterin; angiogenesis
Biomarkers derived from gene expression profiling data may have a high false-positive rate and must be rigorously validated using independent clinical data sets, which are not always available. Although animal model systems could provide alternative data sets to formulate hypotheses and limit the number of signatures to be tested in clinical samples, the predictive power of such an approach is not yet proven. The present study aims to analyze the molecular signatures of liver cancer in a c-MET-transgenic mouse model and investigate its prognostic relevance to human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Tissue samples were obtained from tumor (TU), adjacent non-tumor (AN) and distant normal (DN) liver in Tet-operator regulated (TRE) human c-MET transgenic mice (n = 21) as well as from a Chinese cohort of 272 HBV- and 9 HCV-associated HCC patients. Whole genome microarray expression profiling was conducted in Affymetrix gene expression chips, and prognostic significances of gene expression signatures were evaluated across the two species. Our data revealed parallels between mouse and human liver tumors, including down-regulation of metabolic pathways and up-regulation of cell cycle processes. The mouse tumors were most similar to a subset of patient samples characterized by activation of the Wnt pathway, but distinctive in the p53 pathway signals. Of potential clinical utility, we identified a set of genes that were down regulated in both mouse tumors and human HCC having significant predictive power on overall and disease-free survival, which were highly enriched for metabolic functions. In conclusions, this study provides evidence that a disease model can serve as a possible platform for generating hypotheses to be tested in human tissues and highlights an efficient method for generating biomarker signatures before extensive clinical trials have been initiated.
In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) genes predictive of survival have been found in both adjacent normal (AN) and tumor (TU) tissues. The relationships between these two sets of predictive genes and the general process of tumorigenesis and disease progression remains unclear.
Here we have investigated HCC tumorigenesis by comparing gene expression, DNA copy number variation and survival using ∼250 AN and TU samples representing, respectively, the pre-cancer state, and the result of tumorigenesis. Genes that participate in tumorigenesis were defined using a gene-gene correlation meta-analysis procedure that compared AN versus TU tissues. Genes predictive of survival in AN (AN-survival genes) were found to be enriched in the differential gene-gene correlation gene set indicating that they directly participate in the process of tumorigenesis. Additionally the AN-survival genes were mostly not predictive after tumorigenesis in TU tissue and this transition was associated with and could largely be explained by the effect of somatic DNA copy number variation (sCNV) in cis and in trans. The data was consistent with the variance of AN-survival genes being rate-limiting steps in tumorigenesis and this was confirmed using a treatment that promotes HCC tumorigenesis that selectively altered AN-survival genes and genes differentially correlated between AN and TU.
This suggests that the process of tumor evolution involves rate-limiting steps related to the background from which the tumor evolved where these were frequently predictive of clinical outcome. Additionally treatments that alter the likelihood of tumorigenesis occurring may act by altering AN-survival genes, suggesting that the process can be manipulated. Further sCNV explains a substantial fraction of tumor specific expression and may therefore be a causal driver of tumor evolution in HCC and perhaps many solid tumor types.
Studies of embryonic stem cells (ESCs) reveal that these cell lines can be derived from differing stages of embryonic development. We analyzed common changes in the expression of microRNAs (miRNAs) and mRNAs in 9 different human ESC (hESC) lines during early commitment and further examined the expression of key ESC-enriched miRNAs in earlier developmental states in several species. We show that several previously defined hESC-enriched miRNA groups (the miR-302, −17, and −515 families, and the miR-371–373 cluster) and several other hESC-enriched miRNAs are down-regulated rapidly in response to differentiation. We further found that mRNAs up-regulated upon differentiation are enriched in potential target sites for these hESC-enriched miRNAs. Interestingly, we also observed that the expression of ESC-enriched miRNAs bearing identical seed sequences changed dynamically while the cells transitioned through early embryonic states. In human and monkey ESCs, as well as human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the miR-371–373 cluster was consistently up-regulated, while the miR-302 family was mildly down-regulated when the cells were chemically treated to regress to an earlier developmental state. Similarly, miR-302b, but not mmu-miR-295, was expressed at higher levels in murine epiblast stem cells (mEpiSC) as compared with an earlier developmental state, mouse ESCs. These results raise the possibility that the relative expression of related miRNAs might serve as diagnostic indicators in defining the developmental state of embryonic cells and other stem cell lines, such as iPSCs. These data also raise the possibility that miRNAs bearing identical seed sequences could have specific functions during separable stages of early embryonic development.
microRNAs (miRNAs) regulate numerous physiological processes such as cell division and differentiation in many tissue types including stem cells. To probe the role that miRNAs play in regulating processes relevant to embryonic stem cell biology, we used RNA interference to silence DICER and DROSHA, the two main miRNA processing enzymes. Consistent with a role for miRNAs in maintaining normal stem cell division and renewal, we found that perturbation of miRNA pathway function in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) attenuates cell proliferation. Normal cell growth can be partially restored by introduction of the mature miRNAs miR-195 and miR-372. These miRNAs regulate two tumor suppressor genes, respectively: WEE1, which encodes a negative G2/M kinase modulator of the CycB/CDK complex and CDKN1A, which encodes p21, a CycE/CDK cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor that regulates the G1/S transition. We show that in wild-type hESCs, WEE1 levels control the rate of heSC division, whereas p21 levels must be maintained at a low level for hESC division to proceed. These data support a model for hESC cell cycle control in which miRNAs regulate negative cell cycle modulators at two phases of the cell cycle to ensure proper replenishment of the stem cell population.
microRNAs; cell cycle; human embryonic stem cells; cell division; CDKN1A/p21; WEE1
The dleu2 tumor suppressor locus encodes two microRNAs, miR-15a and miR-16, which are thought to play an important role in B-cell neoplasms. However, relatively little is known about proteins that regulate or are regulated by this microRNA cluster. Here we demonstrate that the Pax5 oncoprotein downregulates the dleu2 gene and at the same time boosts expression of its own heterodimeric partner c-Myb. Interestingly, c-Myb upregulation occurs primarily at a post-transcriptional level, suggesting that it might be a target for microRNAs such as miR-15a/16. Indeed, miR-15a/16 have predicted binding sites in the c-Myb 3′-UTR and through them diminish protein output in luciferase sensor assays. Moreover, forced overexpression of miR-15a/16 reduces endogenous c-Myb levels and compromises Pax5 function. Conversely, restoration of c-Myb levels partly alleviates tumors suppressive effects of miR-15a/16, suggesting that c-Myb is a key downstream target of this microRNA cluster.
Myb; Pax5; microRNAs; lymphoma; leukemia; tumor suppressors; oncogenes
The multi-protein β-catenin destruction complex tightly regulates β-catenin protein levels by shuttling β-catenin to the proteasome. Glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β), a key serine/threonine kinase in the destruction complex, is responsible for several phosphorylation events that mark β-catenin for ubiquitination and subsequent degradation. Because modulation of both β-catenin and GSK3β activity may have important implications for treating disease, a complete understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the β-catenin/GSK3β interaction is warranted. We screened an arrayed lentivirus library expressing small hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) targeting 5,201 human druggable genes for silencing events that activate a β-catenin pathway reporter (BAR) in synergy with 6-bromoindirubin-3′oxime (BIO), a specific inhibitor of GSK3β. Top screen hits included shRNAs targeting dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), the target of the anti-inflammatory compound methotrexate. Exposure of cells to BIO plus methotrexate resulted in potent synergistic activation of BAR activity, reduction of β-catenin phosphorylation at GSK3-specific sites, and accumulation of nuclear β-catenin. Furthermore, the observed synergy correlated with inhibitory phosphorylation of GSK3β and was neutralized upon inhibition of phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase (PI3K). Linking these observations to inflammation, we also observed synergistic inhibition of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNFα, IL-6, and IL-12), and increased production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 in peripheral blood mononuclear cells exposed to GSK3 inhibitors and methotrexate. Our data establish DHFR as a novel modulator of β-catenin and GSK3 signaling and raise several implications for clinical use of combined methotrexate and GSK3 inhibitors as treatment for inflammatory disease.
microRNAs in the miR-106b family are overexpressed in multiple tumor types and are correlated with the expression of genes that regulate the cell cycle. Consistent with these observations, miR-106b family gain of function promotes cell cycle progression, whereas loss of function reverses this phenotype. Microarray profiling uncovers multiple targets of the family, including the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21/CDKN1A. We show that p21 is a direct target of miR-106b and that its silencing plays a key role in miR-106b-induced cell cycle phenotypes. We also show that miR-106b overrides a doxorubicin-induced DNA damage checkpoint. Thus, miR-106b family members contribute to tumor cell proliferation in part by regulating cell cycle progression and by modulating checkpoint functions.
microRNAs (miRNAs) are abundant, ∼21-nucleotide, noncoding regulatory RNAs. Each miRNA may regulate hundreds of mRNA targets, but the identities of these targets and the processes they regulate are poorly understood. Here we have explored the use of microarray profiling and functional screening to identify targets and biological processes triggered by the transfection of human cells with miRNAs. We demonstrate that a family of miRNAs sharing sequence identity with miRNA-16 (miR-16) negatively regulates cellular growth and cell cycle progression. miR-16-down-regulated transcripts were enriched with genes whose silencing by small interfering RNAs causes an accumulation of cells in G0/G1. Simultaneous silencing of these genes was more effective at blocking cell cycle progression than disruption of the individual genes. Thus, miR-16 coordinately regulates targets that may act in concert to control cell cycle progression.
Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic process that results in the preferential silencing of one of the two parental copies of a gene. Although the precise mechanisms by which genomic imprinting occurs are unknown, the tendency of imprinted genes to exist in chromosomal clusters suggests long-range regulation through shared regulatory elements. We characterize a 800-kb region on the distal end of mouse chromosome 7 that contains a cluster of four maternally expressed genes, H19, Mash2, Kvlqt1, and p57Kip2, as well as two paternally expressed genes, Igf2 and Ins2, and assess the expression and imprinting of Mash2, Kvlqt1, and p57Kip2 during development in embryonic and extraembryonic tissues. Unlike Igf2 and Ins2, which depend on H19 for their imprinting, Mash2, p57Kip2, and Kvlqt1 are unaffected by a deletion of the H19 gene region, suggesting that these more telomeric genes are not regulated by the mechanism that controls H19, Igf2, and Ins2. Mutations in human p57Kip2 have been implicated in Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a disease that has also been associated with loss of imprinting of IGF2. We find, however, that a deletion of the gene has no effect on imprinting within the cluster. Surprisingly, the three maternally expressed genes are regulated very differently by DNA methylation; p57Kip2 is activated, Kvlqt1 is silenced, and Mash2 is unaffected in mice lacking DNA methyltransferase. We conclude that H19 is not a global regulator of imprinting on distal chromosome 7 and that the telomeric genes are imprinted by a separate mechanism(s).