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1.  Mutant IDH inhibits HNF4α to block hepatocyte differentiation and promote biliary cancer 
Nature  2014;513(7516):110-114.
Mutations in Isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) and IDH2 are among the most common genetic alterations in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (IHCC), a deadly liver cancer1–5. Mutant IDH proteins in IHCC and other malignancies acquire an abnormal enzymatic activity allowing them to convert alpha-ketoglutarate (αKG) to 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG), which inhibits the activity of multiple αKG-dependent dioxygenases, and results in alterations in cell differentiation, survival, and extracellular matrix maturation6–10. However, the molecular pathways by which IDH mutations lead to tumour formation remain unclear. Here we show that mutant IDH blocks liver progenitor cells from undergoing hepatocyte differentiation through the production of 2HG and suppression of HNF4α, a master regulator of hepatocyte identity and quiescence. Correspondingly, genetically engineered mouse models (GEMMs) expressing mutant IDH in the adult liver show aberrant response to hepatic injury, characterized by HNF4α silencing, impaired hepatocyte differentiation and markedly elevated levels of cell proliferation. Moreover, mutant IDH and activated Kras, genetic alterations that co-exist in a subset of human IHCCs4,5, cooperate to drive the expansion of liver progenitor cells, development of premalignant biliary lesions, and progression to metastatic IHCC. These studies provide a functional link between IDH mutations, hepatic cell fate, and IHCC pathogenesis, and present a novel GEMM of IDH-driven malignancy.
doi:10.1038/nature13441
PMCID: PMC4499230  PMID: 25043045
2.  The intersection of genetic and chemical genomic screens identifies GSK-3α as a target in human acute myeloid leukemia 
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common form of acute leukemia in adults. Long-term survival of patients with AML has changed little over the past decade, necessitating the identification and validation of new AML targets. Integration of genomic approaches with small-molecule and genetically based high-throughput screening holds the promise of improved discovery of candidate targets for cancer therapy. Here, we identified a role for glycogen synthase kinase 3α (GSK-3α) in AML by performing 2 independent small-molecule library screens and an shRNA screen for perturbations that induced a differentiation expression signature in AML cells. GSK-3 is a serine-threonine kinase involved in diverse cellular processes, including differentiation, signal transduction, cell cycle regulation, and proliferation. We demonstrated that specific loss of GSK-3α induced differentiation in AML by multiple measurements, including induction of gene expression signatures, morphological changes, and cell surface markers consistent with myeloid maturation. GSK-3α–specific suppression also led to impaired growth and proliferation in vitro, induction of apoptosis, loss of colony formation in methylcellulose, and anti-AML activity in vivo. Although the role of GSK-3β has been well studied in cancer development, these studies support a role for GSK-3α in AML.
doi:10.1172/JCI46465
PMCID: PMC3287215  PMID: 22326953
3.  RB loss in resistant EGFR mutant lung adenocarcinomas that transform to small-cell lung cancer 
Nature Communications  2015;6:6377.
Tyrosine kinase inhibitors are effective treatments for non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations. However, relapse typically occurs after an average of 1 year of continuous treatment. A fundamental histological transformation from NSCLC to small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is observed in a subset of the resistant cancers, but the molecular changes associated with this transformation remain unknown. Analysis of tumour samples and cell lines derived from resistant EGFR mutant patients revealed that Retinoblastoma (RB) is lost in 100% of these SCLC transformed cases, but rarely in those that remain NSCLC. Further, increased neuroendocrine marker and decreased EGFR expression as well as greater sensitivity to BCL2 family inhibition are observed in resistant SCLC transformed cancers compared with resistant NSCLCs. Together, these findings suggest that this subset of resistant cancers ultimately adopt many of the molecular and phenotypic characteristics of classical SCLC.
Resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors occurs in treatments of non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) with EGFR mutations but the mechanisms underlying this acquired resistance are unknown. Here the authors examine the molecular changes that occur in resistant cancers that transition from NSCLC to small-cell lung cancer phenotype and implicate loss of retinoblastoma in this process.
doi:10.1038/ncomms7377
PMCID: PMC4357281  PMID: 25758528
4.  Molecular rationale for the use of PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway inhibitors in combination with crizotinib in ALK-mutated neuroblastoma 
Oncotarget  2014;5(18):8737-8749.
Mutations in the ALK tyrosine kinase receptor gene represent important therapeutic targets in neuroblastoma, yet their clinical translation has been challenging. The ALKF1174L mutation is sensitive to the ALK inhibitor crizotinib only at high doses and mediates acquired resistance to crizotinib in ALK-translocated cancers. We have shown that the combination of crizotinib and an inhibitor of downstream signaling induces a favorable response in transgenic mice bearing ALKF1174L/MYCN-positive neuroblastoma. Here, we investigated the molecular basis of this effect and assessed whether a similar strategy would be effective in ALK-mutated tumors lacking MYCN overexpression. We show that in ALK-mutated, MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma cells, crizotinib alone does not affect mTORC1 activity as indicated by persistent RPS6 phosphorylation. Combined treatment with crizotinib and an ATP-competitive mTOR inhibitor abrogated RPS6 phosphorylation, leading to reduced tumor growth and prolonged survival in ALKF1174L/MYCN-positive models compared to single agent treatment. By contrast, this combination, while inducing mTORC1 downregulation, caused reciprocal upregulation of PI3K activity in ALK-mutated cells expressing wild-type MYCN. Here, an inhibitor with potency against both mTOR and PI3K was more effective in promoting cytotoxicity when combined with crizotinib. Our findings should enable a more precise selection of molecularly targeted agents for patients with ALK-mutated tumors.
PMCID: PMC4226718  PMID: 25228590
ALK; neuroblastoma; crizotinib; mTOR inhibitor; MYCN
5.  Selective HDAC1/HDAC2 Inhibitors Induce Neuroblastoma Differentiation 
Chemistry & biology  2013;20(5):713-725.
Summary
While cytotoxic chemotherapy remains the hallmark of cancer treatment, intensive regimens fall short in many malignancies, including high-risk neuroblastoma. One alternative strategy is to therapeutically promote tumor differentiation. We created a gene expression signature to measure neuroblast maturation, adapted it to a high-throughput platform, and screened a diversity oriented synthesis-generated small-molecule library for differentiation inducers. We identified BRD8430, containing a nine-membered lactam, an ortho-amino anilide functionality, and three chiral centers, as a selective Class I histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor (HDAC1>2>3). Further investigation demonstrated that selective HDAC1/HDAC2 inhibition using compounds or RNA interference induced differentiation and decreased viability in neuroblastoma cell lines. Combined treatment with 13-cis retinoic acid augmented these effects and enhanced activation of retinoic acid signaling. Therefore, by applying a chemical genomic screening approach we identified selective HDAC1/HDAC2 inhibition as a strategy to induce neuroblastoma differentiation.
doi:10.1016/j.chembiol.2013.03.020
PMCID: PMC3919449  PMID: 23706636
6.  SYK Regulates mTOR Signaling in AML 
Leukemia  2013;27(11):2118-2128.
Spleen Tyrosine Kinase (SYK) was recently identified as a new target in acute myeloid leukemia (AML); however, its mechanistic role in this disease is poorly understood. Based on the known interaction between SYK and mTOR signaling in lymphoma, we hypothesized that SYK may regulate mTOR signaling in AML. Both small-molecule inhibition of SYK and SYK-directed shRNA suppressed mTOR and its downstream signaling effectors, as well as its upstream activator, AKT. Moreover, the inhibition of multiple nodes of the PI3K signaling pathway enhanced the effects of SYK suppression on AML cell viability and differentiation. Evaluation of the collateral MAPK pathway revealed a heterogeneous response to SYK inhibition in AML with down-regulation of MEK and ERK phosphorylation in some AML cell lines but a paradoxical increase in MEK/ERK phosphorylation in RAS-mutated AML. These studies reveal SYK as a regulator of mTOR and MAPK signaling in AML and demonstrate that inhibition of PI3K pathway activity enhances the effects of SYK inhibition on AML cell viability and differentiation.
doi:10.1038/leu.2013.89
PMCID: PMC4028963  PMID: 23535559
AML; SYK; mTOR; differentiation therapy; RPS6; 4E-BP1; MAPK
7.  Complementary Genomic Screens Identify SERCA as a Therapeutic Target in NOTCH1 Mutated Cancer 
Cancer cell  2013;23(3):390-405.
SUMMARY
Notch1 is a rational therapeutic target in several human cancers, but as a transcriptional regulator, it poses a drug discovery challenge. To identify Notch1 modulators, we performed two cell-based, high-throughput screens for small-molecule inhibitors and cDNA enhancers of a NOTCH1 allele bearing a leukemia-associated mutation. SERCA calcium channels emerged at the intersection of these complementary screens. SERCA inhibition preferentially impairs the maturation and activity of mutated Notch1 receptors and induces a G0/G1 arrest in NOTCH1-mutated human leukemia cells. A small-molecule SERCA inhibitor has on-target activity in two mouse models of human leukemia and interferes with Notch signaling in Drosophila. These studies “credential” SERCA as a therapeutic target in cancers associated with NOTCH1 mutations.
doi:10.1016/j.ccr.2013.01.015
PMCID: PMC3709972  PMID: 23434461
8.  HSP90 is a therapeutic target in JAK2-dependent myeloproliferative neoplasms in mice and humans 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(10):3578-3593.
JAK2 kinase inhibitors were developed for the treatment of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), following the discovery of activating JAK2 mutations in the majority of patients with MPN. However, to date JAK2 inhibitor treatment has shown limited efficacy and apparent toxicities in clinical trials. We report here that an HSP90 inhibitor, PU-H71, demonstrated efficacy in cell line and mouse models of the MPN polycythemia vera (PV) and essential thrombocytosis (ET) by disrupting JAK2 protein stability. JAK2 physically associated with both HSP90 and PU-H71 and was degraded by PU-H71 treatment in vitro and in vivo, demonstrating that JAK2 is an HSP90 chaperone client. PU-H71 treatment caused potent, dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth and signaling in JAK2 mutant cell lines and in primary MPN patient samples. PU-H71 treatment of mice resulted in JAK2 degradation, inhibition of JAK-STAT signaling, normalization of peripheral blood counts, and improved survival in MPN models at doses that did not degrade JAK2 in normal tissues or cause substantial toxicity. Importantly, PU-H71 treatment also reduced the mutant allele burden in mice. These data establish what we believe to be a novel therapeutic rationale for HSP90 inhibition in the treatment of JAK2-dependent MPN.
doi:10.1172/JCI42442
PMCID: PMC2947224  PMID: 20852385
9.  Proteomic and Genetic Approaches Identify Syk as an AML Target 
Cancer cell  2009;16(4):281-294.
SUMMARY
Cell-based screening can facilitate rapid identification of compounds inducing complex cellular phenotypes. Advancing a compound toward the clinic, however, generally requires identification of precise mechanisms of action. We previously found that epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors induce acute myeloid leukemia (AML) differentiation via a non-EGFR mechanism. In this report, we integrated proteomic and RNAi-based strategies to identify their off-target anti-AML mechanism. These orthogonal approaches identified Syk as a target in AML. Genetic and pharmacological inactivation of Syk with a drug in clinical trial for other indications promoted differentiation of AML cells and attenuated leukemia growth in vivo. These results demonstrate the power of integrating diverse chemical, proteomic, and genomic screening approaches to identify therapeutic strategies for cancer.
doi:10.1016/j.ccr.2009.08.018
PMCID: PMC2803063  PMID: 19800574
10.  Characterization of Notch1 Antibodies That Inhibit Signaling of Both Normal and Mutated Notch1 Receptors 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9094.
Background
Notch receptors normally play a key role in guiding a variety of cell fate decisions during development and differentiation of metazoan organisms. On the other hand, dysregulation of Notch1 signaling is associated with many different types of cancer as well as tumor angiogenesis, making Notch1 a potential therapeutic target.
Principal Findings
Here we report the in vitro activities of inhibitory Notch1 monoclonal antibodies derived from cell-based and solid-phase screening of a phage display library. Two classes of antibodies were found, one directed against the EGF-repeat region that encompasses the ligand-binding domain (LBD), and the second directed against the activation switch of the receptor, the Notch negative regulatory region (NRR). The antibodies are selective for Notch1, inhibiting Jag2-dependent signaling by Notch1 but not by Notch 2 and 3 in reporter gene assays, with EC50 values as low as 5±3 nM and 0.13±0.09 nM for the LBD and NRR antibodies, respectively, and fail to recognize Notch4. While more potent, NRR antibodies are incomplete antagonists of Notch1 signaling. The antagonistic activity of LBD, but not NRR, antibodies is strongly dependent on the activating ligand. Both LBD and NRR antibodies bind to Notch1 on human tumor cell lines and inhibit the expression of sentinel Notch target genes, including HES1, HES5, and DTX1. NRR antibodies also strongly inhibit ligand-independent signaling in heterologous cells transiently expressing Notch1 receptors with diverse NRR “class I” point mutations, the most common type of mutation found in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). In contrast, NRR antibodies failed to antagonize Notch1 receptors bearing rare “class II” or “class III” mutations, in which amino acid insertions generate a duplicated or constitutively sensitive metalloprotease cleavage site. Signaling in T-ALL cell lines bearing class I mutations is partially refractory to inhibitory antibodies as compared to cell-penetrating gamma-secretase inhibitors.
Conclusions/Significance
Antibodies that compete with Notch1 ligand binding or that bind to the negative regulatory region can act as potent inhibitors of Notch1 signaling. These antibodies may have clinical utility for conditions in which inhibition of signaling by wild-type Notch1 is desired, but are likely to be of limited value for treatment of T-ALLs associated with aberrant Notch1 activation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009094
PMCID: PMC2817004  PMID: 20161710
11.  Signature-Based Small Molecule Screening Identifies Cytosine Arabinoside as an EWS/FLI Modulator in Ewing Sarcoma 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(4):e122.
Background
The presence of tumor-specific mutations in the cancer genome represents a potential opportunity for pharmacologic intervention to therapeutic benefit. Unfortunately, many classes of oncoproteins (e.g., transcription factors) are not amenable to conventional small-molecule screening. Despite the identification of tumor-specific somatic mutations, most cancer therapy still utilizes nonspecific, cytotoxic drugs. One illustrative example is the treatment of Ewing sarcoma. Although the EWS/FLI oncoprotein, present in the vast majority of Ewing tumors, was characterized over ten years ago, it has never been exploited as a target of therapy. Previously, this target has been intractable to modulation with traditional small-molecule library screening approaches. Here we describe a gene expression–based approach to identify compounds that induce a signature of EWS/FLI attenuation. We hypothesize that screening small-molecule libraries highly enriched for FDA-approved drugs will provide a more rapid path to clinical application.
Methods and Findings
A gene expression signature for the EWS/FLI off state was determined with microarray expression profiling of Ewing sarcoma cell lines with EWS/FLI-directed RNA interference. A small-molecule library enriched for FDA-approved drugs was screened with a high-throughput, ligation-mediated amplification assay with a fluorescent, bead-based detection. Screening identified cytosine arabinoside (ARA-C) as a modulator of EWS/FLI. ARA-C reduced EWS/FLI protein abundance and accordingly diminished cell viability and transformation and abrogated tumor growth in a xenograft model. Given the poor outcomes of many patients with Ewing sarcoma and the well-established ARA-C safety profile, clinical trials testing ARA-C are warranted.
Conclusions
We demonstrate that a gene expression–based approach to small-molecule library screening can identify, for rapid clinical testing, candidate drugs that modulate previously intractable targets. Furthermore, this is a generic approach that can, in principle, be applied to the identification of modulators of any tumor-associated oncoprotein in the rare pediatric malignancies, but also in the more common adult cancers.
Todd Golub and colleagues show that a gene expression-based screen of small-molecule libraries can identify candidate drugs that modulate cancer-associated oncoproteins.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Cancer occurs when cells accumulate genetic changes (mutations) that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to travel throughout the body (metastasize). Chemotherapy, a mainstay of cancer treatments, works by killing rapidly dividing cells. Because some normal tissues also contain dividing cells and are therefore sensitive to chemotherapy drugs, it is hard to treat cancer without causing serious side effects. In recent years, however, researchers have identified some of the mutations that drive the growth of cancer cells. This raises the possibility of designing drugs that kill only cancer cells by specifically targeting “oncoproteins” (the abnormal proteins generated by mutations that transform normal cells into cancer cells). Some “targeted” drugs have already reached the clinic, but unfortunately medicinal chemists do not know how to inhibit the function of many classes of oncoproteins with the small organic molecules that make the best medicines. One oncoprotein in this category is EWS/FLI. This contains part of a protein called EWS fused to part of a transcription factor (a protein that controls cell behavior by telling the cell which proteins to make) called FLI. About 80% of patients with Ewing sarcoma (the second commonest childhood cancer of bone and soft tissue) have the mutation responsible for EWS/FLI expression. Localized Ewing sarcoma can be treated with nontargeted chemotherapy (often in combination with surgery and radiotherapy), but treatment for recurrent or metastatic disease remains very poor.
Why Was This Study Done?
Researchers have known for years that EWS/FLI expression drives the development of Ewing sarcoma by activating the expression of target genes needed for tumor formation. However, EWS/FLI has never been exploited as a target for therapy of this cancer—mainly because traditional approaches used to screen libraries of small molecules do not identify compounds that modulate the activity of transcription factors. In this study, the researchers have used a new gene expression–based, high-throughput screening (GE-HTS) approach to identify compounds that modulate the activity of EWS/FLI.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a molecular biology technique called microarray expression profiling to define a 14-gene expression signature that differentiates between Ewing sarcoma cells in which the EWS/FLI fusion protein is active and those in which it is inactive. They then used this signature to screen a library of about 1,000 chemicals (many already approved for other clinical uses) in a “ligation-mediated amplification assay.” For this, the researchers grew Ewing sarcoma cells with the test chemicals, extracted RNA from the cells, and generated a DNA copy of the RNA. They then added two short pieces of DNA (probes) specific for each signature gene to the samples. In samples that expressed a given signature gene, both probes bound and were then ligated (joined together) and amplified. Because one of each probe pair also contained a unique “capture sequence,” the signature genes expressed in each sample were finally identified by adding colored fluorescent beads, each linked to DNA complementary to a different capture sequence. The most active modulator of EWS/FLI activity identified by this GE-HTS approach was cytosine arabinoside (ARA-C). At levels achievable in people, this compound reduced the abundance of EWS/FLI protein in and the viability and cancer-like behavior of Ewing sarcoma cells growing in test tubes. ARA-C treatment also slowed the growth of Ewing sarcoma cells transplanted into mice.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify ARA-C, which is already used to treat children with some forms of leukemia, as a potent modulator of EWS/FLI activity. More laboratory experiments are needed to discover how ARA-C changes the behavior of Ewing sarcoma cells. Nevertheless, given the poor outcomes currently seen in many patients with Ewing sarcoma and the historical reluctance to test new drugs in children, these findings strongly support the initiation of clinical trials of ARA-C in children with Ewing sarcoma. These results also show that the GE-HTS approach is a powerful way to identify candidate drugs able to modulate the activity of some of the oncoproteins (including transcription factors and other previously intractable targets) that drive cancer development.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040122.
Cancerquest from Emory University, provides information on cancer biology (also includes information in Spanish, Chinese and Russian)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on Ewing sarcoma
Information for patients and health professionals on Ewing sarcoma is available from the US National Cancer Institute
Cancerbackup offers information for patients and their parents on Ewing sarcoma
Wikipedia has pages on DNA microarrays and expression profiling (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040122
PMCID: PMC1851624  PMID: 17425403
12.  A method for high-throughput gene expression signature analysis 
Genome Biology  2006;7(7):R61.
A new method for cost-effective high-throughput gene expression signature analysis is described.
Genome-wide transcriptional profiling has shown that different biologic states (for instance, disease and response to pharmacologic manipulation) can be recognized by the expression pattern of relatively small numbers of genes. However, the lack of a practical and cost-effective technology for detection of these gene expression 'signatures' in large numbers of samples has severely limited their exploitation in important medical and pharmaceutical discovery applications. Here, we describe a solution based on the combination of ligation-mediated amplification with an optically addressed microsphere and flow cytometric detection system.
doi:10.1186/gb-2006-7-7-r61
PMCID: PMC1779561  PMID: 16859521

Results 1-12 (12)