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1.  Synergistic Anti-Cancer Effect of Phenformin and Oxamate 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85576.
Phenformin (phenethylbiguanide; an anti-diabetic agent) plus oxamate [lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) inhibitor] was tested as a potential anti-cancer therapeutic combination. In in vitro studies, phenformin was more potent than metformin, another biguanide, recently recognized to have anti-cancer effects, in promoting cancer cell death in the range of 25 times to 15 million times in various cancer cell lines. The anti-cancer effect of phenformin was related to complex I inhibition in the mitochondria and subsequent overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Addition of oxamate inhibited LDH activity and lactate production by cells, which is a major side effect of biguanides, and induced more rapid cancer cell death by decreasing ATP production and accelerating ROS production. Phenformin plus oxamate was more effective than phenformin combined with LDH knockdown. In a syngeneic mouse model, phenformin with oxamate increased tumor apoptosis, reduced tumor size and 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake on positron emission tomography/computed tomography compared to control. We conclude that phenformin is more cytotoxic towards cancer cells than metformin. Furthermore, phenformin and oxamate have synergistic anti-cancer effects through simultaneous inhibition of complex I in the mitochondria and LDH in the cytosol, respectively.
PMCID: PMC3897486  PMID: 24465604
2.  CUG-binding protein represses translation of p27Kip1 mRNA through its internal ribosomal entry site 
RNA Biology  2011;8(3):365-371.
The cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p27Kip1 plays an important role in controlling the eukaryotic cell cycle. The 5′-untranslated region of the p27 mRNA harbors an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) which may facilitate synthesis of p27 in certain conditions. In this study, the RNA-associated protein CUGBP1 was shown to interact with the human p27 5′-untranslated region. Overexpression of CUGBP1 inhibited endogenous p27 expression and reduced translation initiation through the p27 IRES. In contrast, repression of CUGBP1 by siRNA transfection enhanced p27 protein levels and stimulated p27 IRES activity. Addition of recombinant CUGBP1 repressed p27 IRES reporter mRNA translation in vitro. At last, our finding showed that cytosolic form of CUGBP1 binds efficiently to the p27 5′-untranslated region.
PMCID: PMC3218506  PMID: 21508681
p27Kip1; cell cycle; IRES; CUGBP1; 5′-untranslated region
3.  Improved Clearance during Treatment of HPV-Positive Head and Neck Cancer through mTOR Inhibition12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2013;15(6):620-630.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)-related head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) incidence is increasing at a near epidemic rate. We investigated whether the mammalian (or mechanistic) target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor, rapamycin, can be used as a concurrent agent to standard-of-care cisplatin/radiation therapy (CRT) to attenuate tumor lactate production, thus enhancing CRT-induced immune-mediated clearance of this antigenic tumor type. A C57Bl/6-derived mouse oropharyngeal epithelial cell line retrovirally transduced with HPV type 16 E6/E7 and human squamous cell carcinoma cell lines were evaluated for their response to rapamycin in vitro with proliferation assays, Western blots, and lactate assays. Clonogenic assays and a preclinical mouse model were used to assess rapamycin as a concurrent agent to CRT. The potential of rapamycin to enhance immune response through lactate attenuation was assessed using quantitative tumor lactate bioluminescence and assessment of cell-mediated immunity using E6/E7-vaccinated mouse splenocytes. Rapamycin alone inhibited mTOR signaling of all cancer cell lines tested in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, rapamycin administered alone significantly prolonged survival in vivo but did not result in any long-term cures. Given concurrently, CRT/rapamycin significantly enhanced direct cell killing in clonogenic assays and prolonged survival in immunocompromised mice. However, in immunocompetent mice, concurrent CRT/rapamycin increased long-term cures by 21%. Preliminary findings suggest that improved survival involves increased cell killing and enhanced immune-mediated clearance in part due to decreased lactate production. The results may provide rationale for the clinical evaluation of mTOR inhibitors concurrent with standard-of-care CRT for treatment of HPV-positive HNSCC.
PMCID: PMC3664994  PMID: 23730210
4.  Far Upstream Element Binding Protein 1 Activates Translation of p27Kip1 mRNA Through Its Internal Ribosomal Entry Site 
The cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p27 plays an important role in controlling the eukaryotic cell cycle by regulating progression through G1 and entry into S phase. It is often elevated during differentiation and under conditions of cellular stress. In contrast, it is commonly downregulated in cancer cells and its levels are generally inversely correlated with favorable prognosis. The cellular levels of p27 are regulated, in part, by translational control mechanisms. The 5′-untranslated region (5′-UTR) of the p27 mRNA harbors an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) which may facilitate synthesis of p27 in certain conditions. In this study, Far Upstream Element (FUSE) Binding Protein 1 (FBP1) was shown to directly bind to the human p27 5′-UTR and to promote IRES activity. An eight-nucleotide element downstream of a U-rich region within the 5′-UTR was important for FBP1 binding and p27 IRES activity. Overexpression of FBP1 enhanced endogenous p27 levels and stimulated translation initiation. In contrast, repression of FBP1 by siRNA transfection downregulated endogenous p27 protein levels. Using rabbit reticulocyte lysates, FBP1 stimulated p27 mRNA translation in vitro. The central domain of FBP1, containing four K homology motifs, was required for p27 5′-UTR RNA binding and the N terminal domain was important for translational activation. These findings indicate that FBP1 is a novel activator of p27 translation upon binding to the 5′-UTR.
PMCID: PMC3206725  PMID: 21855647
p27Kip1; cell cycle; IRES; FBP; 5′-untranslated region
5.  Metformin and phenethyl isothiocyanate combined treatment in vitro is cytotoxic to ovarian cancer cultures 
High mortality rates in ovarian cancer are largely a result of resistance to currently used chemotherapies. Expanding therapies with a variety of drugs has the potential to reduce this high mortality rate. Metformin and phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) are both potentially useful in ovarian cancer, and they are particularly attractive because of their safety.
Cell proliferation of each drug and drug combination was evaluated by hemacytometry with Trypan blue exclusion or Sytox green staining for cell death. Levels of total and cleaved PARP were measured by Western blot. General cellular and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species were measured by flow cytometry and live cell confocal microscopy with the fluorescent dyes dihydroethidine and MitoSOX.
Individually, metformin and PEITC each show inhibition of cell growth in multiple ovarian cancer cell lines. Alone, PEITC was also able to induce apoptosis, whereas metformin was primarily growth inhibitory. Both total cellular and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species were increased when treated with either metformin or PEITC. The growth inhibitory effects of metformin were reversed by methyl succinate supplementation, suggesting complex I plays a role in metformin's anti-cancer mechanism. PEITC's anti-cancer effect was reversed by N-acetyl-cysteine supplementation, suggesting PEITC relies on reactive oxygen species generation to induce apoptosis. Metformin and PEITC together showed a synergistic effect on ovarian cancer cell lines, including the cisplatin resistant A2780cis.
Here we show that when used in combination, these drugs are effective in both slowing cancer cell growth and killing ovarian cancer cells in vitro. Furthermore, the combination of these drugs remains effective in cisplatin resistant cell lines. Novel combinations such as metformin and PEITC show promise in expanding ovarian cancer therapies and overcoming the high incidence of cisplatin resistant cancers.
PMCID: PMC3439343  PMID: 22781119
Metformin; Phenethyl isothiocyanate; Ovarian cancer
6.  Metformin Induces Both Caspase-Dependent and Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase-Dependent Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2011;9(5):603-615.
There is substantial evidence that metformin, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetics, is potentially useful as a therapeutic agent for cancer. However, a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms through which metformin promotes cell cycle arrest and cell death of cancer cells is necessary. It will also be important to understand how the response of tumor cells differs from normal cells and why some tumor cells are resistant to the effects of metformin. We have found that exposure to metformin induces cell death in all but one line, MDA-MB-231, in a panel of breast cancer cell lines. MCF10A non-transformed breast epithelial cells were resistant to the cytotoxic effects of metformin, even after extended exposure to the drug. In sensitive lines, cell death was mediated by both apoptosis and a caspase-independent mechanism. The caspase-independent pathway involves activation of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) and correlates with enhanced synthesis of poly(ADP-ribose) and nuclear translocation of AIF, which plays an important role in mediating cell death. Metformin-induced PARP-dependent cell death is associated with a striking enlargement of mitochondria. Mitochondrial enlargement was observed in all sensitive breast cancer cell lines but not in non-transformed cells or resistant MDA-MB-231. Mitochondrial enlargement was prevented by inhibiting PARP activity or expression. A caspase inhibitor blocked metformin-induced apoptosis but did not affect PARP-dependent cell death or mitochondrial enlargement. Thus metformin has cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells through two independent pathways. These findings will be pertinent to efforts directed at using metformin or related compounds for cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3096726  PMID: 21422199
metformin; breast cancer; apoptosis; caspases; PARP; AIF
7.  Cell cycle arrest in Metformin treated breast cancer cells involves activation of AMPK, downregulation of cyclin D1, and requires p27Kip1 or p21Cip1 
The antihyperglycemic drug metformin may have beneficial effects on the prevention and treatment of cancer. Metformin is known to activate AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). It has also been shown to inhibit cyclin D1 expression and proliferation of some cultured cancer cells. However, the mechanisms of action by which metformin mediates cell cycle arrest are not completely understood.
In this study, metformin was found to inhibit proliferation of most cultured breast cancer cell lines. This was independent of estrogen receptor, HER2, or p53 status. Inhibition of cell proliferation was associated with arrest within G0/G1 phase of the cell cycle. As in previous studies, metformin treatment led to activation of (AMPK) and downregulation of cyclin D1. However, these events were not sufficient for cell cycle arrest because they were also observed in the MDA-MB-231 cell line, which is not sensitive to growth arrest by metformin. In sensitive breast cancer lines, the reduction in cyclin D1 led to release of sequestered CDK inhibitors, p27Kip1 and p21Cip1, and association of these inhibitors with cyclin E/CDK2 complexes. The metformin-resistant cell line MDA-MB-231 expresses significantly lower levels of p27Kip1 and p21Cip1 than the metformin-sensitive cell line, MCF7. When p27Kip1 or p21Cip1 were overexpressed in MDA-MB-231, the cells became sensitive to cell cycle arrest in response to metformin.
Cell cycle arrest in response to metformin requires CDK inhibitors in addition to AMPK activation and cyclin D1 downregulation. This is of interest because many cancers are associated with loss or downregulation of CDK inhibitors and the results may be relevant to the development of anti-tumor reagents that target the AMPK pathway.
PMCID: PMC2613390  PMID: 19046439
8.  Cap-independent translation through the p27 5′-UTR 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(14):4767-4778.
Several recent publications have explored cap-independent translation through an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) in the 5′-UTR of the mRNA encoding the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27. The major experimental tool used in these reports was the use of bicistronic reporter constructs in which the 5′-UTR was inserted between the upstream and downstream cistrons. None of these reports has completely ruled out the possibility that the 5′-UTR has either cryptic promoter activity or a cryptic splice acceptor site. Either of these possibilities could result in expression of a monocistronic mRNA encoding the downstream cistron and false identification of an IRES. Indeed, Liu et al. recently published data suggesting that the p27 5′-UTR harbors cryptic promoter activity which accounts for its putative IRES activity. In this report, we have explored this potential problem further using promoterless bicistronic constructs coupled with RNase protection assays, siRNA knockdown of individual cistrons, RT-PCR to detect mRNA encoded by the bicistronic reporter with high sensitivity, direct transfection of bicistronic mRNAs, and insertion of an iron response element into the bicistronic reporter. The results do not support the conclusion that the p27 5′-UTR has significant functional promoter activity or cryptic splice sites, but rather that it is able to support cap-independent initiation of translation.
PMCID: PMC1950543  PMID: 17617641
9.  The Sp1 Family of Transcription Factors Is Involved in p27Kip1-Mediated Activation of Myelin Basic Protein Gene Expression 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(12):4035-4045.
p27Kip1 levels increase in many cells as they leave the cell cycle and begin to differentiate. The increase in p27Kip1 levels generally precedes the expression of differentiation-specific genes. Previous studies from our laboratory showed that the overexpression of p27Kip1 enhances myelin basic protein (MBP) promoter activity. This activation is specific to p27Kip1. Additionally, inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinase activity alone is not sufficient to increase MBP expression. In this study, we focused on understanding how p27Kip1 can activate gene transcription by using the MBP gene in oligodendrocytes as a model. We show that the enhancement of MBP promoter activity by p27Kip1 is mediated by a proximal region of the MBP promoter that contains a conserved GC box binding sequence. This sequence binds transcription factors Sp1 and Sp3. Increased expression of p27Kip1 increases the level of Sp1 promoter binding to the GC box but does not change the level of Sp3 binding. The binding of Sp1 to this element activates the MBP promoter. p27Kip1 leads to increased Sp1 binding through a decrease in Sp1 protein turnover. Enhancement of MBP promoter activity by an increase in the level of p27Kip1 involves a novel mechanism that is mediated through the stabilization and binding of transcription factor Sp1.
PMCID: PMC156141  PMID: 12773549
10.  Expression of constitutively active 4EBP-1 enhances p27Kip1 expression and inhibits proliferation of MCF7 breast cancer cells 
Eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) is essential for cap-dependent initiation of translation. Cell proliferation is associated with increased activity of eIF4E and elevated expression of eIF4E leads to tumorigenic transformation. Many tumors express very high levels of eIF4E and this may be a critical factor in progression of the disease. In contrast, overexpression of 4EBP, an inhibitor of eIF4E, leads to cell cycle arrest and phenotypic reversion of some transformed cells.
A constitutively active form of 4EBP-1 was inducibly expressed in the human breast cancer cell line MCF7. Induction of constitutively active 4EBP-1 led to cell cycle arrest. This was not associated with a general inhibition of protein synthesis but rather with changes in specific cell cycle regulatory proteins. Cyclin D1 was downregulated while levels of the CDK inhibitor p27Kip1 were increased. The levels of cyclin E and CDK2 were unaffected but the activity of CDK2 was significantly reduced due to increased association with p27Kip1. The increase in p27Kip1 did not reflect changes in p27Kip1 mRNA or degradation rates. Rather, it was associated with enhanced synthesis of the protein, even though 4EBP-1 is expected to inhibit translation. This could be explained, at least in part, by the ability of the p27Kip1 5'-UTR to mediate cap-independent translation, which was also enhanced by expression of constitutively active 4EBP-1.
Expression of active 4EBP-1 in MCF7 leads to cell cycle arrest which is associated with downregulation of cyclin D1 and upregulation of p27Kip1. Upregulation of p27Kip1reflects increased synthesis which corresponds to enhanced cap-independent translation through the 5'-UTR of the p27Kip1 mRNA.
PMCID: PMC151675  PMID: 12633504
11.  The major transcription initiation site of the p27Kip1 gene is conserved in human and mouse and produces a long 5'-UTR 
The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27Kip1 is essential for proper control of cell cycle progression. The levels of p27Kip1 are regulated by several mechanisms including transcriptional and translational controls. In order to delineate the molecular details of these regulatory mechanisms it is important to identify the transcription initiation site within the p27Kip1 gene, thereby defining the promoter region of the gene and the 5'-untranslated region of the p27Kip1 mRNA. Although several previous studies have attempted to map p27Kip1 transcription start sites, the results vary widely for both the mouse and human genes. In addition, even though the mouse and human p27Kip1 gene sequences are very highly conserved, the reported start sites are notably different.
In this report, using a method that identifies capped ends of mRNA molecules together with RNase protection assays, we demonstrate that p27Kip1 transcription is initiated predominantly from a single site which is conserved in the human and mouse genes. Initiation at this site produces a 5'-untranslated region of 472 nucleotides in the human p27Kip1 mRNA and 502 nucleotides in the mouse p27Kip1 mRNA. In addition, several minor transcription start sites were identified for both the mouse and human genes.
These results demonstrate that the major transcription initiation sites in the mouse and human p27Kip1 genes are conserved and that the 5'-UTR of the p27Kip1 mRNA is much longer than generally believed. It will be important to consider these findings when designing experiments to identify elements that are involved in regulating the cellular levels of p27Kip1.
PMCID: PMC59625  PMID: 11696240
12.  Control of Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p27 Expression by Cap-Independent Translation 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(15):4960-4967.
p27 is a key regulator of cell proliferation through inhibition of G1 cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) activity. Translation of the p27 mRNA is an important control mechanism for determining cellular levels of the inhibitor. Nearly all eukaryotic mRNAs are translated through a mechanism involving recognition of the 5′ cap by eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E). In quiescent cells eIF4E activity is repressed, leading to a global decline in translation rates. In contrast, p27 translation is highest during quiescence, suggesting that it escapes the general repression of translational initiation. We show that the 5′ untranslated region (5′-UTR) of the p27 mRNA mediates cap-independent translation. This activity is unaffected by conditions in which eIF4E is inhibited. In D6P2T cells, elevated cyclic AMP levels cause a rapid withdrawal from the cell cycle that is correlated with a striking increase in p27. Under these same conditions, cap-independent translation from the p27 5′-UTR is enhanced. These results indicate that regulation of internal initiation of translation is an important determinant of p27 protein levels.
PMCID: PMC87223  PMID: 11438653

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