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1.  New derivatives of the antimalarial drug Pyrimethamine in the control of melanoma tumor growth: an in vitro and in vivo study 
The antimalarial drug Pyrimethamine has been suggested to exert an antitumor activity by inducing apoptotic cell death in cancer cells, including metastatic melanoma cells. However, the dose of Pyrimethamine to be considered as an anticancer agent appears to be significantly higher than the maximum dose used as an antiprotozoal drug.
Hence, a series of Pyrimethamine analogs has been synthesized and screened for their apoptosis induction in two cultured metastatic melanoma cell lines. One of these analogs, the Methylbenzoprim, was further analyzed to evaluate cell-cycle and the mechanisms of cell death. The effects of Methylbenzoprim were also analyzed in a severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)-mouse xenotransplantation model.
Low dose of Methylbenzoprim was capable of inducing cytotoxic activity and a potent growth-inhibitory effect by arresting cell cycle in S-phase in melanoma cells. Methylbenzoprim was also detected as powerful antineoplastic agents in SCID-mouse although used at very low dose and as a single agent.
Our screening approach led to the identification of a “low cost” newly synthesized drug (methylbenzoprim), which is able to act as an antineoplastic agent in vitro and in vivo, inhibiting melanoma tumor growth at very low concentrations.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13046-016-0409-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC5013574  PMID: 27599543
Antimalarial Drugs; Chemotherapy; Antifolates; Apoptosis; Melanoma; Drug repurposing
2.  IFN-α potentiates the direct and immune-mediated antitumor effects of epigenetic drugs on both metastatic and stem cells of colorectal cancer 
Oncotarget  2016;7(18):26361-26373.
Epigenetic alterations, including dysregulated DNA methylation and histone modifications, govern the progression of colorectal cancer (CRC). Cancer cells exploit epigenetic regulation to control cellular pathways, including apoptotic and metastatic signals. Since aberrations in epigenome can be pharmacologically reversed by DNA methyltransferase and histone deacetylase inhibitors, epigenetics in combination with standard agents are currently envisaged as a new therapeutic frontier in cancer, expected to overcome drug resistance associated with current treatments. In this study, we challenged this idea and demonstrated that the combination of azacitidine and romidepsin with IFN-α owns a high therapeutic potential, targeting the most aggressive cellular components of CRC, such as metastatic cells and cancer stem cells (CSCs), via tight control of key survival and death pathways. Moreover, the antitumor efficacy of this novel pharmacological approach is associated with induction of signals of immunogenic cell death. Of note, a previously undisclosed key role of IFN-α in inducing both antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on CSCs of CRC was also found. Overall, these findings open a new frontier on the suitability of IFN-α in association with epigenetics as a novel and promising therapeutic approach for CRC management.
PMCID: PMC5041985  PMID: 27028869
colorectal cancer; cancer stem cell; interferon; epigenetics; immunogenic cell death
3.  Consensus guidelines for the detection of immunogenic cell death 
Kepp, Oliver | Senovilla, Laura | Vitale, Ilio | Vacchelli, Erika | Adjemian, Sandy | Agostinis, Patrizia | Apetoh, Lionel | Aranda, Fernando | Barnaba, Vincenzo | Bloy, Norma | Bracci, Laura | Breckpot, Karine | Brough, David | Buqué, Aitziber | Castro, Maria G. | Cirone, Mara | Colombo, Maria I. | Cremer, Isabelle | Demaria, Sandra | Dini, Luciana | Eliopoulos, Aristides G. | Faggioni, Alberto | Formenti, Silvia C. | Fučíková, Jitka | Gabriele, Lucia | Gaipl, Udo S. | Galon, Jérôme | Garg, Abhishek | Ghiringhelli, François | Giese, Nathalia A. | Guo, Zong Sheng | Hemminki, Akseli | Herrmann, Martin | Hodge, James W. | Holdenrieder, Stefan | Honeychurch, Jamie | Hu, Hong-Min | Huang, Xing | Illidge, Tim M. | Kono, Koji | Korbelik, Mladen | Krysko, Dmitri V. | Loi, Sherene | Lowenstein, Pedro R. | Lugli, Enrico | Ma, Yuting | Madeo, Frank | Manfredi, Angelo A. | Martins, Isabelle | Mavilio, Domenico | Menger, Laurie | Merendino, Nicolò | Michaud, Michael | Mignot, Gregoire | Mossman, Karen L. | Multhoff, Gabriele | Oehler, Rudolf | Palombo, Fabio | Panaretakis, Theocharis | Pol, Jonathan | Proietti, Enrico | Ricci, Jean-Ehrland | Riganti, Chiara | Rovere-Querini, Patrizia | Rubartelli, Anna | Sistigu, Antonella | Smyth, Mark J. | Sonnemann, Juergen | Spisek, Radek | Stagg, John | Sukkurwala, Abdul Qader | Tartour, Eric | Thorburn, Andrew | Thorne, Stephen H. | Vandenabeele, Peter | Velotti, Francesca | Workenhe, Samuel T. | Yang, Haining | Zong, Wei-Xing | Zitvogel, Laurence | Kroemer, Guido | Galluzzi, Lorenzo
Oncoimmunology  2014;3(9):e955691.
Apoptotic cells have long been considered as intrinsically tolerogenic or unable to elicit immune responses specific for dead cell-associated antigens. However, multiple stimuli can trigger a functionally peculiar type of apoptotic demise that does not go unnoticed by the adaptive arm of the immune system, which we named “immunogenic cell death” (ICD). ICD is preceded or accompanied by the emission of a series of immunostimulatory damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) in a precise spatiotemporal configuration. Several anticancer agents that have been successfully employed in the clinic for decades, including various chemotherapeutics and radiotherapy, can elicit ICD. Moreover, defects in the components that underlie the capacity of the immune system to perceive cell death as immunogenic negatively influence disease outcome among cancer patients treated with ICD inducers. Thus, ICD has profound clinical and therapeutic implications. Unfortunately, the gold-standard approach to detect ICD relies on vaccination experiments involving immunocompetent murine models and syngeneic cancer cells, an approach that is incompatible with large screening campaigns. Here, we outline strategies conceived to detect surrogate markers of ICD in vitro and to screen large chemical libraries for putative ICD inducers, based on a high-content, high-throughput platform that we recently developed. Such a platform allows for the detection of multiple DAMPs, like cell surface-exposed calreticulin, extracellular ATP and high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), and/or the processes that underlie their emission, such as endoplasmic reticulum stress, autophagy and necrotic plasma membrane permeabilization. We surmise that this technology will facilitate the development of next-generation anticancer regimens, which kill malignant cells and simultaneously convert them into a cancer-specific therapeutic vaccine.
PMCID: PMC4292729  PMID: 25941621
ATP release; autophagy; calreticulin; endoplasmic reticulum stress; HMGB1; immunotherapy; APC, antigen-presenting cell; ATF6, activating transcription factor 6; BAK1, BCL2-antagonist/killer 1; BAX, BCL2-associated X protein; BCL2, B-cell CLL/lymphoma 2 protein; CALR, calreticulin; CTL, cytotoxic T lymphocyte; Δψm, mitochondrial transmembrane potential; DAMP, damage-associated molecular pattern; DAPI, 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole; DiOC6(3), 3,3′-dihexyloxacarbocyanine iodide; EIF2A, eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2A; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; FLT3LG, fms-related tyrosine kinase 3 ligand; G3BP1, GTPase activating protein (SH3 domain) binding protein 1; GFP, green fluorescent protein; H2B, histone 2B; HMGB1, high mobility group box 1; HSP, heat shock protein; HSV-1, herpes simplex virus type I; ICD, immunogenic cell death; IFN, interferon; IL, interleukin; MOMP, mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization; PDIA3, protein disulfide isomerase family A; member 3; PI, propidium iodide; RFP, red fluorescent protein; TLR, Toll-like receptor; XBP1, X-box binding protein 1
5.  IFN-α Regulates Blimp-1 Expression via miR-23a and miR-125b in Both Monocytes-Derived DC and pDC 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72833.
Type I interferon (IFN-I) have emerged as crucial mediators of cellular signals controlling DC differentiation and function. Human DC differentiated from monocytes in the presence of IFN-α (IFN-α DC) show a partially mature phenotype and a special capability of stimulating CD4+ T cell and cross-priming CD8+ T cells. Likewise, plasmacytoid DC (pDC) are blood DC highly specialized in the production of IFN-α in response to viruses and other danger signals, whose functional features may be shaped by IFN-I. Here, we investigated the molecular mechanisms stimulated by IFN-α in driving human monocyte-derived DC differentiation and performed parallel studies on peripheral unstimulated and IFN-α-treated pDC. A specific miRNA signature was induced in IFN-α DC and selected miRNAs, among which miR-23a and miR-125b, proved to be negatively associated with up-modulation of Blimp-1 occurring during IFN-α-driven DC differentiation. Of note, monocyte-derived IFN-α DC and in vitro IFN-α-treated pDC shared a restricted pattern of miRNAs regulating Blimp-1 expression as well as some similar phenotypic, molecular and functional hallmarks, supporting the existence of a potential relationship between these DC populations. On the whole, these data uncover a new role of Blimp-1 in human DC differentiation driven by IFN-α and identify Blimp-1 as an IFN-α-mediated key regulator potentially accounting for shared functional features between IFN-α DC and pDC.
PMCID: PMC3745402  PMID: 23977359
6.  The dual role of IRF8 in cancer immunosurveillance 
Oncoimmunology  2013;2(8):e25476.
For a long time, the transcription factor interferon-regulatory factor 8 (IRF8) has been recognized as a masterpiece for the development of myeloid cells, and its role as a central regulator of immune responses has now been clarified. IRF8 is also critical for tumor progression, suggesting its fundamental relevance in multiple aspects of cancer immunosurveillance.
PMCID: PMC3810266  PMID: 24175153
melanoma; IRF-8; immunoenvironment; crosstalk; tumor suppressor gene
7.  Interferon Regulatory Factor 8-Deficiency Determines Massive Neutrophil Recruitment but T Cell Defect in Fast Growing Granulomas during Tuberculosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62751.
Following Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection, immune cell recruitment in lungs is pivotal in establishing protective immunity through granuloma formation and neogenesis of lymphoid structures (LS). Interferon regulatory factor-8 (IRF-8) plays an important role in host defense against Mtb, although the mechanisms driving anti-mycobacterial immunity remain unclear. In this study, IRF-8 deficient mice (IRF-8−/−) were aerogenously infected with a low-dose Mtb Erdman virulent strain and the course of infection was compared with that induced in wild-type (WT-B6) counterparts. Tuberculosis (TB) progression was examined in both groups using pathological, microbiological and immunological parameters. Following Mtb exposure, the bacterial load in lungs and spleens progressed comparably in the two groups for two weeks, after which IRF-8−/− mice developed a fatal acute TB whereas in WT-B6 the disease reached a chronic stage. In lungs of IRF-8−/−, uncontrolled growth of pulmonary granulomas and impaired development of LS were observed, associated with unbalanced homeostatic chemokines, progressive loss of infiltrating T lymphocytes and massive prevalence of neutrophils at late infection stages. Our data define IRF-8 as an essential factor for the maintenance of proper immune cell recruitment in granulomas and LS required to restrain Mtb infection. Moreover, IRF-8−/− mice, relying on a common human and mouse genetic mutation linked to susceptibility/severity of mycobacterial diseases, represent a valuable model of acute TB for comparative studies with chronically-infected congenic WT-B6 for dissecting protective and pathological immune reactions.
PMCID: PMC3663794  PMID: 23717393
8.  The Tumor Microenvironment: A Pitch for Multiple Players 
The cancer microenvironment may be conceptually regarded as a pitch where the main players are resident and non-resident cellular components, each covering a defined role and interconnected by a complex network of soluble mediators. The crosstalk between these cells and the tumor cells within this environment crucially determines the fate of tumor progression. Immune cells that infiltrate the tumor bed are transported there by blood circulation and exert a variety of effects, either counteracting or favoring tumor outgrowth. Here, we review and discuss the multiple populations composing the tumor bed, with special focus on immune cells subsets that positively or negatively dictate neoplastic progression. In this scenario, the contribution of cancer stem cells within the tumor microenvironment will also be discussed. Finally, we illustrate recent advances on new integrated approaches to investigate the tumor microenvironment in vitro.
PMCID: PMC3628362  PMID: 23616948
tumor microenvironment; dendritic cells; macrophages; myeloid-derived suppressor cells; NK cells; T lymphocytes; cancer stem cells; solid tumors
9.  Type I Interferons as Stimulators of DC-Mediated Cross-Priming: Impact on Anti-Tumor Response 
Induction of potent tumor-specific cytotoxic T-cell responses is a fundamental objective in anticancer therapeutic strategies. This event requires that antigen-presenting cells present tumor-associated antigens (Ag) on their MHC class-I molecule, in a process termed cross-presentation. Dendritic cells (DC) are particularly keen on this task and can induce the cross-priming of CD8+ T cells, when exposed to danger or inflammatory signals that stimulate their activation. Type I interferons (IFN-I), a family of long-known immunostimulatory cytokines, have been proven to produce optimal activation signal for DC-induced cross-priming. Recent in vitro and in vivo evidences have suggested that IFN-I-stimulated cross-priming by DC against tumor-associated Ag is a key mechanism for cancer immunosurveillance and may be usefully exploited to boost anti-tumor CD8+ T-cell responses. Here, we will review the cross-presentation properties of different DC subsets, with special focus on cell-associated and tumor Ag, and discuss how IFN-I can modify this function, with the aim of identifying more specific and effective strategies for improving anticancer responses.
PMCID: PMC3872318  PMID: 24400008
type I interferon; interferon alpha; cross-priming; dendritic cells; dendritic cell subsets; cancer; tumor-associated antigen; immunosurveillance
10.  IRF-8 Controls Melanoma Progression by Regulating the Cross Talk between Cancer and Immune Cells within the Tumor Microenvironment12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2012;14(12):1223-1235.
The transcription factor interferon regulatory factor-8 (IRF-8) is crucial for myeloid cell development and immune response and also acts as a tumor suppressor gene. Here, we analyzed the role of IRF-8 in the cross talk between melanoma cells and tumor-infiltrating leukocytes. B16-F10 melanoma cells transplanted into IRF-8-deficient (IRF-8-/-) mice grow more rapidly, leading to higher numbers of lung metastasis, with respect to control animals. These events correlated with reduced dendritic cell and T cell infiltration, accumulation of myeloid-derived suppressor cells and a chemokine/chemokine receptor expression profile within the tumor microenvironment supporting tumor growth, angiogenesis, and metastasis. Noticeably, primary tumors developing in IRF-8-/- mice displayed a clear-cut inhibition of IRF-8 expression in melanoma cells. Injection of the demethylating agent 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine into melanoma-bearing IRF-8-/- animals induced intratumoral IRF-8 expression and resulted in the re-establishment of a chemokine/ chemokine receptor pattern favoring leukocyte infiltration and melanoma growth arrest. Importantly, intrinsic IRF-8 expression was progressively down-modulated during melanoma growth in mice and in human metastatic melanoma cells with respect to primary tumors. Lastly, IRF-8 expression in melanoma cells was directly modulated by soluble factors, among which interleukin-27 (IL-27), released by immune cells from tumor-bearing mice. Collectively, these results underscore a key role of IRF-8 in the cross talk between melanoma and immune cells, thus revealing its critical function within the tumor microenvironment in regulating melanoma progression and invasiveness.
PMCID: PMC3540947  PMID: 23308054
11.  Apicidin and Docetaxel Combination Treatment Drives CTCFL Expression and HMGB1 Release Acting as Potential Antitumor Immune Response Inducers in Metastatic Breast Cancer Cells12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2012;14(9):855-867.
Currently approved combination regimens available for the treatment of metastatic tumors, such as breast cancer, have been shown to increase response rates, often at the cost of a substantial increase in toxicity. An ideal combination strategy may consist of agents with different mechanisms of action leading to complementary antitumor activities and safety profiles. In the present study, we investigated the effects of the epigenetic modulator apicidin in combination with the cytotoxic agent docetaxel in tumor breast cell lines characterized by different grades of invasiveness. We report that combined treatment of apicidin and docetaxel, at low toxicity doses, stimulates in metastatic breast cancer cells the expression of CTCF-like protein and other cancer antigens, thus potentially favoring an antitumor immune response. In addition, apicidin and docetaxel co-treatment specifically stimulates apoptosis, characterized by an increased Bax/Bcl-2 ratio and caspase-8 activation. Importantly, following combined exposure to these agents, metastatic cells were also found to induce signals of immunogenic apoptosis such as cell surface expression of calreticulin and release of considerable amounts of high-mobility group box 1 protein, thus potentially promoting the translation of induced cell death into antitumor immune response. Altogether, our results indicate that the combined use of apicidin and docetaxel, at a low toxicity profile, may represent a potential innovative strategy able to activate complementary antitumor pathways in metastatic breast cancer cells, associated with a potential control of metastatic growth and possible induction of antitumor immunity.
PMCID: PMC3459281  PMID: 23019417
12.  Type I Interferon Induction in Dendritic Cells Requires IRF-8 That Effects the Feedback Phase of Transcription 
Immunity  2007;27(2):228-239.
Dendritic cells (DCs) produce type I interferons (IFNs) in greater amounts than other cells, but the mechanisms remain elusive. Here we studied the role of a transcription factor, IRF-8 in DC induction of type I IFNs. Upon NDV infection, bone marrow derived plasmacytoid and conventional DCs induced IFN transcripts, exhibiting two phase kinetics. The second, amplifying phase represented an IFN feedback response that accounted for much of IFN protein production. Induction of second phase transcription required IRF-8. CMV and Toll like receptor-mediated IFN induction in DCs also required IRF-8. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis showed that IRF-7, IRF-8 and RNA polymerase II were recruited to the IFN promoters upon stimulation. Moreover, sustained RNA polymerase II recruitment to the promoters critically depended on IRF-8. Together, IRF-8 magnifies the second phase of IFN transcription in DCs by prolonging binding of basic transcription machinery to the IFN promoters, thereby playing a role in innate immunity.
PMCID: PMC2768351  PMID: 17702615
13.  ICSBP Is Essential for the Development of Mouse Type I Interferon-producing Cells and for the Generation and Activation of CD8α+ Dendritic Cells 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2002;196(11):1415-1425.
Interferon (IFN) consensus sequence-binding protein (ICSBP) is a transcription factor playing a critical role in the regulation of lineage commitment, especially in myeloid cell differentiation. In this study, we have characterized the phenotype and activation pattern of subsets of dendritic cells (DCs) in ICSBP−/− mice. Remarkably, the recently identified mouse IFN-producing cells (mIPCs) were absent in all lymphoid organs from ICSBP−/− mice, as revealed by lack of CD11clowB220+Ly6C+CD11b− cells. In parallel, CD11c+ cells isolated from ICSBP−/− spleens were unable to produce type I IFNs in response to viral stimulation. ICSBP−/− mice also displayed a marked reduction of the DC subset expressing the CD8α marker (CD8α+ DCs) in spleen, lymph nodes, and thymus. Moreover, ICSBP−/− CD8α+ DCs exhibited a markedly impaired phenotype when compared with WT DCs. They expressed very low levels of costimulatory molecules (intercellular adhesion molecule [ICAM]-1, CD40, CD80, CD86) and of the T cell area-homing chemokine receptor CCR7, whereas they showed higher levels of CCR2 and CCR6, as revealed by reverse transcription PCR. In addition, these cells were unable to undergo full phenotypic activation upon in vitro culture in presence of maturation stimuli such as lipopolysaccharide or poly (I:C), which paralleled with lack of Toll-like receptor (TLR)3 mRNA expression. Finally, cytokine expression pattern was also altered in ICSBP−/− DCs, as they did not express interleukin (IL)-12p40 or IL-15, but they displayed detectable IL-4 mRNA levels. On the whole, these results indicate that ICSBP is a crucial factor in the regulation of two possibly linked processes: (a) the development and activity of mIPCs, whose lack in ICSBP−/− mice may explain their high susceptibility to virus infections; (b) the generation and activation of CD8α+ DCs, whose impairment in ICSBP−/− mice can be responsible for the defective generation of a Th1 type of immune response.
PMCID: PMC2194263  PMID: 12461077
transcription factor; dendritic cell subsets; interferon; differentiation; maturation
14.  Regulation of Apoptosis in Myeloid Cells by Interferon Consensus Sequence–Binding Protein 
Mice with a null mutation of the gene encoding interferon consensus sequence–binding protein (ICSBP) develop a disease with marked expansion of granulocytes and macrophages that frequently progresses to a fatal blast crisis, thus resembling human chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). One important feature of CML is decreased responsiveness of myeloid cells to apoptotic stimuli. Here we show that myeloid cells from mice deficient in ICSBP exhibit reduced spontaneous apoptosis and a significant decrease in sensitivity to apoptosis induced by DNA damage. In contrast, apoptosis in thymocytes from ICSBP-deficient mice is unaffected. We also show that overexpression of ICSBP in the human U937 monocytic cell line enhances the rate of spontaneous apoptosis and the sensitivity to apoptosis induced by etoposide, lipopolysaccharide plus ATP, or rapamycin. Programmed cell death induced by etoposide was specifically blocked by peptides inhibitory for the caspase-1 or caspase-3 subfamilies of caspases. Studies of proapoptotic genes showed that cells overexpressing ICSBP have enhanced expression of caspase-3 precursor protein. In addition, analyses of antiapoptotic genes showed that overexpression of ICSBP results in decreased expression of Bcl-XL. These data suggest that ICSBP modulates survival of myeloid cells by regulating expression of apoptosis-related genes.
PMCID: PMC2195590  PMID: 10430629
apoptosis; caspase; chronic myelogenous leukemia; interferon; interferon consensus sequence–binding protein
15.  Interferon (IFN) Consensus Sequence-binding Protein, a Transcription Factor of the IFN Regulatory Factor Family, Regulates Immune Responses In Vivo through Control of Interleukin 12 Expression  
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1997;186(9):1535-1546.
Mice with a null mutation of the gene encoding interferon consensus sequence-binding protein (ICSBP) develop a chronic myelogenous leukemia-like syndrome and mount impaired responses to certain viral and bacterial infections. To gain a mechanistic understanding of the contributions of ICSBP to humoral and cellular immunity, we characterized the responses of control and ICSBP−/− mice to infection with influenza A (flu) and Leishmania major (L. major). Mice of both genotypes survived infections with flu, but differed markedly in the isotype distribution of antiflu antibodies. In sera of normal mice, immunoglobulin (Ig)G2a antibodies were dominant over IgG1 antibodies, a pattern indicative of a T helper cell type 1 (Th1)-driven response. In sera of ICSBP−/− mice, however, IgG1 antibodies dominated over IgG2a antibodies, a pattern indicative of a Th2-driven response. The dominance of IgG1 and IgE over IgG2a was detected in the sera of uninfected mice as well. A seeming Th2 bias of ICSBP-deficient mice was also uncovered in their inability to control infection with L. major, where resistance is known to be dependent on IL-12 and IFN-γ as components of a Th1 response. Infected ICSBP-deficient mice developed fulminant, disseminated leishmaniasis as a result of failure to mount a Th1-mediated curative response, although T cells remained capable of secreting IFN-γ and macrophages of producing nitric oxide. Compromised Th1 differentiation in ICSBP−/− mice could not be attributed to hyporesponsiveness of CD4+ T cells to interleukin (IL)-12; however, the ability of uninfected and infected ICSBP-deficient mice to produce IL-12 was markedly impaired. This indicates that ICSBP is a deciding factor in Th responses governing humoral and cellular immunity through its role in regulating IL-12 expression.
PMCID: PMC2199114  PMID: 9348311

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