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1.  IRP2 regulates breast tumor growth 
Cancer research  2013;74(2):497-507.
Experimental and epidemiological evidence suggest that dysregulation of proteins involved in iron metabolism plays a critical role in cancer. The mechanisms by which cancer cells alter homeostatic iron regulation are just beginning to be understood. Here we demonstrate that iron regulatory protein 2 (IRP2) plays a key role in iron accumulation in breast cancer. Although both IRP1 and IRP2 are over-expressed in breast cancer, the overexpression of IRP2, but not IRP1, is associated with decreased ferritin H and increased transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1). Knock-down of IRP2 in triple negative MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells increases ferritin H expression and decreases TfR1 expression, resulting in a decrease in the labile iron pool. Further, IRP2 knockdown reduces growth of MDA-MB-231 cells in the mouse mammary fat pad. Gene expression microarray profiles of breast cancer patients demonstrate that increased IRP2 expression is associated with high grade cancer. Increased IRP2 expression is observed in luminal A, luminal B and basal breast cancer subtypes, but not in breast tumors of the ERBB2 molecular subtype. These results suggest that dysregulation of IRP2 is an early nodal point underlying altered iron metabolism in breast cancer and may contribute to poor outcome of some breast cancer patients.
PMCID: PMC3989290  PMID: 24285726
breast cancer; iron; metabolism; iron regulatory proteins; molecular subtypes
2.  Dual roles for immune metagenes in breast cancer prognosis and therapy prediction 
Genome Medicine  2014;6(10):80.
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer leads to considerable variability in clinical responses, with only 10 to 20% of cases achieving complete pathologic responses (pCR). Biological and clinical factors that determine the extent of pCR are incompletely understood. Mounting evidence indicates that the patient’s immune system contributes to tumor regression and can be modulated by therapies. The cell types most frequently observed with this association are effector tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), such as cytotoxic T cells, natural killer cells and B cells. We and others have shown that the relative abundance of TILs in breast cancer can be quantified by intratumoral transcript levels of coordinately expressed, immune cell-specific genes. Through expression microarray analysis, we recently discovered three immune gene signatures, or metagenes, that appear to reflect the relative abundance of distinct tumor-infiltrating leukocyte populations. The B/P (B cell/plasma cell), T/NK (T cell/natural killer cell) and M/D (monocyte/dendritic cell) immune metagenes were significantly associated with distant metastasis-free survival of patients with highly proliferative cancer of the basal-like, HER2-enriched and luminal B intrinsic subtypes.
Given the histopathological evidence that TIL abundance is predictive of neoadjuvant treatment efficacy, we evaluated the therapy-predictive potential of the prognostic immune metagenes. We hypothesized that pre-chemotherapy immune gene signatures would be significantly predictive of tumor response. In a multi-institutional, meta-cohort analysis of 701 breast cancer patients receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy, gene expression profiles of tumor biopsies were investigated by logistic regression to determine the existence of therapy-predictive interactions between the immune metagenes, tumor proliferative capacity, and intrinsic subtypes.
By univariate analysis, the B/P, T/NK and M/D metagenes were all significantly and positively associated with favorable pathologic responses. In multivariate analyses, proliferative capacity and intrinsic subtype altered the significance of the immune metagenes in different ways, with the M/D and B/P metagenes achieving the greatest overall significance after adjustment for other variables.
Gene expression signatures of infiltrating immune cells carry both prognostic and therapy-predictive value that is impacted by tumor proliferative capacity and intrinsic subtype. Anti-tumor functions of plasma B cells and myeloid-derived antigen-presenting cells may explain more variability in pathologic response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy than previously recognized.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13073-014-0080-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4240891  PMID: 25419236
3.  Comparison of clinical outcomes and genomic characteristics of single focus and multifocal glioblastoma 
Journal of neuro-oncology  2014;119(2):429-435.
We investigate the differences in molecular signature and clinical outcomes between multiple lesion glioblastoma (GBM) and single focus GBM in the modern treatment era. Between August 2000 and May 2010, 161 patients with GBM were treated with modern radiotherapy techniques. Of this group, 33 were considered to have multiple lesion GBM (25 multifocal and 8 multicentric). Patterns of failure, time to progression and overall survival were compared based on whether the tumor was considered a single focus or multiple lesion GBM. Genomic groupings and methylation status were also investigated as a possible predictor of multifocality in a cohort of 41 patients with available tissue for analysis. There was no statistically significant difference in overall survival (p < 0.3) between the multiple lesion tumors (8.2 months) and single focus GBM (11 months). Progression free survival was superior in the single focus tumors (7.1 months) as compared to multi-focal (5.6 months, p = 0.02). For patients with single focus, multifocal and multicentric GBM, 81, 76 and 88 % of treatment failures occurred in the 60 Gy volume (p < 0.5), while 54, 72, and 38 % of treatment failures occurred in the 46 Gy volume (p < 0.4). Out of field failures were rare in both single focus and multiple foci GBM (7 vs 3 %). Genomic groupings and methylation status were not found to predict for multifocality. Patterns of failure, survival and genomic signatures for multiple lesion GBM do not appreciably differ when compared to single focus tumors.
PMCID: PMC4146694  PMID: 24990827
Glioblastoma; Multifocal; Multicentric
4.  DEAD-box helicase DP103 defines metastatic potential of human breast cancers 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(9):3807-3824.
Despite advancement in breast cancer treatment, 30% of patients with early breast cancers experience relapse with distant metastasis. It is a challenge to identify patients at risk for relapse; therefore, the identification of markers and therapeutic targets for metastatic breast cancers is imperative. Here, we identified DP103 as a biomarker and metastasis-driving oncogene in human breast cancers and determined that DP103 elevates matrix metallopeptidase 9 (MMP9) levels, which are associated with metastasis and invasion through activation of NF-κB. In turn, NF-κB signaling positively activated DP103 expression. Furthermore, DP103 enhanced TGF-β–activated kinase-1 (TAK1) phosphorylation of NF-κB–activating IκB kinase 2 (IKK2), leading to increased NF-κB activity. Reduction of DP103 expression in invasive breast cancer cells reduced phosphorylation of IKK2, abrogated NF-κB–mediated MMP9 expression, and impeded metastasis in a murine xenograft model. In breast cancer patient tissues, elevated levels of DP103 correlated with enhanced MMP9, reduced overall survival, and reduced survival after relapse. Together, these data indicate that a positive DP103/NF-κB feedback loop promotes constitutive NF-κB activation in invasive breast cancers and activation of this pathway is linked to cancer progression and the acquisition of chemotherapy resistance. Furthermore, our results suggest that DP103 has potential as a therapeutic target for breast cancer treatment.
PMCID: PMC4151228  PMID: 25083991
5.  Prognostic value of the hDMP1-ARF-Hdm2-p53 pathway in breast cancer 
Oncogene  2012;32(35):4120-4129.
Our recent study showed critical roles of Dmp1 as a sensor of oncogenic Ras, HER2/neu signaling and activation of the Arf-p53 pathway. To elucidate the role of human DMP1 (hDMP1) in breast cancer, one hundred and ten pairs of human breast cancer specimen were studied for the alterations of the hDMP1-ARF-Hdm2-p53 pathway with follow up of clinical outcomes. Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) of the hDMP1 locus was found in 42% of human breast carcinomas, while that of INK4a/ARF and p53 were found in 20% and 34%, respectively. Hdm2 amplification was found in 13% of the same sample, which was found independently of LOH for hDMP1. Conversely, LOH for hDMP1 was found in mutually exclusive fashion with that of INK4a/ARF and p53, and was associated with low Ki67 index and diploid karyotype. Consistently, LOH for hDMP1 was associated with luminal A category and longer relapse-free survival, while that of p53 was associated with non-luminal A and shorter survival. Thus, loss of hDMP1 could define a new disease category associated with prognosis of breast cancer patients. Human breast epithelial cells/cancer cells with wild-type p53 were sensitive to growth inhibition by activated Dmp1:ER while those that delete p14ARF or p53, and/or Hdm2 amplification showed partial or nearly complete resistance, indicating that p53 is a critical target for hDMP1 to exhibit its biological activity.
PMCID: PMC3742602  PMID: 23045280
Dmp1 (Dmtf1); breast cancer; loss of heterozygosity; relapse-free survival; Ki67; prognostic marker
6.  Ferroportin and Iron Regulation in Breast Cancer Progression and Prognosis 
Science translational medicine  2010;2(43):43ra56.
Ferroportin and hepcidin are critical proteins for the regulation of systemic iron homeostasis. Ferroportin is the only known mechanism for export of intracellular non–heme-associated iron; its stability is regulated by the hormone hepcidin. Although ferroportin profoundly affects concentrations of intracellular iron in tissues important for systemic iron absorption and trafficking, ferroportin concentrations in breast cancer and their influence on growth and prognosis have not been examined. We demonstrate here that both ferroportin and hepcidin are expressed in cultured human breast epithelial cells and that hepcidin regulates ferroportin in these cells. Further, ferroportin protein is substantially reduced in breast cancer cells compared to nonmalignant breast epithelial cells; ferroportin protein abundance correlates with metabolically available iron. Ferroportin protein is also present in normal human mammary tissue and markedly decreased in breast cancer tissue, with the highest degree of anaplasia associated with lowest ferroportin expression. Transfection of breast cancer cells with ferroportin significantly reduces their growth after orthotopic implantation in the mouse mammary fat pad. Gene expression profiles in breast cancers from >800 women reveal that decreased ferroportin gene expression is associated with a significant reduction in metastasis-free and disease-specific survival that is independent of other breast cancer risk factors. High ferroportin and low hepcidin gene expression identifies an extremely favorable cohort of breast cancer patients who have a 10-year survival of >90%. Ferroportin is a pivotal protein in breast biology and a strong and independent predictor of prognosis in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3734848  PMID: 20686179
7.  SOSTDC1 differentially modulates Smad and beta-catenin activation and is down-regulated in breast cancer 
Sclerostin domain containing 1 (SOSTDC1) protein regulates processes from development to cancer by modulating activity of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and wingless/int (Wnt) signaling pathways. As dysregulation of both BMP and Wnt signaling has been observed in breast cancer, we investigated whether disruption of SOSTDC1 signaling occurs in breast cancer. SOSTDC1 mRNA expression levels in breast tissue were examined using a dot blot. Affymetrix microarray data on SOSTDC1 levels were correlated with breast cancer patient survival using Kaplan–Meier plots. Correlations between SOSTDC1 protein levels and clinical parameters were assessed by immunohistochemistry of a breast cancer tissue microarray. SOSTDC1 secretion and BMP and Wnt signaling were investigated using immunoblotting. We found that SOSTDC1 is expressed in normal breast tissue and this expression is reduced in breast cancer. High levels of SOSTDC1 mRNA correlated with increased patient survival; conversely, SOSTDC1 protein levels decreased as tumor size and disease stage increased. Treatment of breast cancer cells with recombinant SOSTDC1 or Wise, a SOSTDC1 orthologue, demonstrated that SOSTDC1 selectively blocks BMP-7-induced Smad phosphorylation without diminishing BMP-2 or Wnt3a-induced signaling. In conclusion, SOSTDC1 mRNA and protein are reduced in breast cancer. High SOSTDC1 mRNA levels correlate with increased distant metastasis-free survival in breast cancer patients. SOSTDC1 differentially affects Wnt3a, BMP-2, and BMP-7 signaling in breast cancer cells. These results identify SOSTDC1 as a clinically important extracellular regulator of multiple signaling pathways in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3685185  PMID: 21113658
Beta-catenin (BMP); Bone morphogenetic protein(BMP); Breast cancer; Sclerostin domain containing 1 (SOSTDC1); Wingless/int (Wnt); Wise
8.  Strategies to defeat ketamine-induced neonatal brain injury 
Neuroscience  2012;210:384-392.
Studies using animal models have shown that general anesthetics such as ketamine trigger widespread and robust apoptosis in the infant rodent brain. Recent clinical evidence suggests that the use of general anesthetics on young children (at ages equivalent to those used in rodent studies) can promote learning deficits as they mature. Thus, there is a growing need to develop strategies to prevent this injury. In this study, we describe a number of independent approaches to address therapeutic intervention. Postnatal day 7 (P7) rats were injected with vehicle (sterile PBS) or the NMDAR antagonist ketamine (20 mg/kg). At 8 hours after, we prepared brains for immunohistochemical detection of the pro-apoptotic enzyme activated caspase-3 (AC3). Focusing on the somatosensory cortex, AC3-positive cells were then counted in a non-biased stereological manner. We found AC3 levels were markedly increased in ketamine-treated animals. In one study, microarray analysis of the somatosensory cortex from ketamine-treated P7 pups revealed that expression of activity dependent neuroprotective protein (ADNP) was enhanced. Thus, we injected P7 animals with the ADNP peptide fragment NAP 15 min before ketamine administration and found we could dose-dependently reverse the injury. In separate studies, pretreatment of P6 animals with 20 mg/kg vitamin D3 or a non-toxic dose of ketamine (5 mg/kg) also prevented ketamine-induced apoptosis at P7. In contrast, pretreatment of P7 animals with aspirin (30 mg/kg) 15 min before ketamine administration actually increased AC3 counts in some regions. These data show that a number of unique approaches can be taken to address anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity in the infant brain, thus providing MDs with a variety of alternative strategies that enhance therapeutic flexibility.
PMCID: PMC3358446  PMID: 22406413
glutamate; rat; anesthesia; neonatal; cell death; prevention
9.  Interactions between immunity, proliferation and molecular subtype in breast cancer prognosis 
Genome Biology  2013;14(4):R34.
Gene expression signatures indicative of tumor proliferative capacity and tumor-immune cell interactions have emerged as principal biology-driven predictors of breast cancer outcomes. How these signatures relate to one another in biological and prognostic contexts remains to be clarified.
To investigate the relationship between proliferation and immune gene signatures, we analyzed an integrated dataset of 1,954 clinically annotated breast tumor expression profiles randomized into training and test sets to allow two-way discovery and validation of gene-survival associations. Hierarchical clustering revealed a large cluster of distant metastasis-free survival-associated genes with known immunological functions that further partitioned into three distinct immune metagenes likely reflecting B cells and/or plasma cells; T cells and natural killer cells; and monocytes and/or dendritic cells. A proliferation metagene allowed stratification of cases into proliferation tertiles. The prognostic strength of these metagenes was largely restricted to tumors within the highest proliferation tertile, though intrinsic subtype-specific differences were observed in the intermediate and low proliferation tertiles. In highly proliferative tumors, high tertile immune metagene expression equated with markedly reduced risk of metastasis whereas tumors with low tertile expression of any one of the three immune metagenes were associated with poor outcome despite higher expression of the other two metagenes.
These findings suggest that a productive interplay among multiple immune cell types at the tumor site promotes long-term anti-metastatic immunity in a proliferation-dependent manner. The emergence of a subset of effective immune responders among highly proliferative tumors has novel prognostic ramifications.
PMCID: PMC3798758  PMID: 23618380
Breast cancer; gene signatures; hierarchical clustering; immune metagene; intrinsic subtypes; metagene tertiles; multivariable analysis; prognosis; proliferation metagene; survival analysis
10.  An Iron Regulatory Gene Signature Predicts Outcome in Breast Cancer 
Cancer research  2011;71(21):6728-6737.
Changes in iron regulation characterize the malignant state. However, the pathways that effect these changes and their specific impact on prognosis remain poorly understood. We capitalized on publicly available microarray datasets comprising 674 breast cancer cases to systematically investigate how expression of genes related to iron metabolism is linked to breast cancer prognosis. Of 61 genes involved in iron regulation, 49% were statistically significantly associated with distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS). Cases were divided into test and training cohorts and the supervised principal component method was used to stratify cases into risk groups. Optimal risk stratification was achieved with a model comprising 16 genes, which we term the iron regulatory gene signature (IRGS). Multivariable analysis revealed that the IRGS contributes information not captured by conventional prognostic indicators (hazard ratio 1.61; 95% CI 1.16–2.24; p=0.004). The IRGS successfully stratified homogeneously treated patients, including ER+ patients treated with tamoxifen monotherapy, both with (p=0.006) and without (p=0.03) lymph node metastases. To test whether multiple pathways were embedded within the IRGS, we evaluated the performance of two gene dyads with known roles in iron biology in ER+ patients treated with tamoxifen monotherapy (n=371). For both dyads, gene combinations that minimized intracellular iron content (anti-import: TFRCLow/HFEHigh; or pro-export: FPHigh/HAMPLow) were associated with favorable prognosis (p<0.005). Although the clinical utility of the IRGS will require further evaluation, its ability to both identify high risk patients within traditionally low risk groups and low risk patients within high risk groups has the potential to affect therapeutic decision-making.
PMCID: PMC3206152  PMID: 21875943
11.  JMJD6 is a driver of cellular proliferation and motility and a marker of poor prognosis in breast cancer 
We developed an analytic strategy that correlates gene expression and clinical outcomes as a means to identify novel candidate oncogenes operative in breast cancer. This analysis, followed by functional characterization, resulted in the identification of Jumonji Domain Containing 6 (JMJD6) protein as a novel driver of oncogenic properties in breast cancer.
Through microarray informatics, Cox proportional hazards regression was used to analyze the correlation between gene expression and distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS) of patients in 14 independent breast cancer cohorts. JMJD6 emerged as a top candidate gene robustly associated with poor patient survival. Immunohistochemistry, siRNA-mediated silencing, and forced overexpression of JMJD6 in cell-based assays elucidated molecular mechanisms of JMJD6 action in breast cancer progression and shed light on the clinical breast cancer subtypes relevant to JMJD6 action.
JMJD6 was expressed at highest levels in tumors associated with worse outcomes, including ER- and basal-like, Claudin-low, Her2-enriched, and ER+ Luminal B tumors. High nuclear JMJD6 protein was associated with ER negativity, advanced grade, and poor differentiation in tissue microarrays. Separation of ER+/LN- patients that received endocrine monotherapy indicated that JMJD6 is predictive of poor outcome in treatment-specific subgroups. In breast cancer cell lines, loss of JMJD6 consistently resulted in suppressed proliferation but not apoptosis, whereas forced stable overexpression increased growth. In addition, knockdown of JMJD6 in invasive cell lines, such as MDA-MB231, decreased motility and invasion, whereas overexpression in MCF-7 cells slightly promoted motility but did not confer invasive growth. Microarray analysis showed that the most significant transcriptional changes occurred in cell-proliferation genes and genes of the TGF-β tumor-suppressor pathway. High proliferation was characterized by constitutively high cyclin E protein levels. The inverse relation of JMJD6 expression with TGF-β2 could be extrapolated to the breast cancer cohorts, suggesting that JMJD6 may affect similar pathways in primary breast cancer.
JMJD6 is a novel biomarker of tumor aggressiveness with functional implications in breast cancer growth and migration.
PMCID: PMC3446348  PMID: 22621393
12.  RAS Mutations and Oncogenesis: Not all RAS Mutations are Created Equally 
Frontiers in Genetics  2012;2:100.
Mutation in RAS proteins is one of the most common genetic alterations observed in human and experimentally induced rodent cancers. In vivo, oncogenic mutations have been shown to occur at exons 12, 13, and 61, resulting in any 1 of 19 possible point mutations in a given tumor for a specific RAS isoform. While some studies have suggested a possible role of different mutant alleles in determining tumor severity and phenotype, no general consensus has emerged on the oncogenicity of different mutant alleles in tumor formation and progression. Part of this may be due to a lack of a single, signature pathway that shows significant alterations between different mutations. Rather, it is likely that subtle differences in the activation, or lack thereof, of downstream effectors by different RAS mutant alleles may determine the eventual outcome in terms of tumor phenotype. This paper reviews our current understanding of the potential role of different RAS mutations on tumorigenesis, highlights studies in model cell culture and in vivo systems, and discusses the potential of expression array and computational network modeling to dissect out differences in activated RAS genes in conferring a transforming phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3262225  PMID: 22303394
ras; cancer; mutation; tumorigenesis
13.  Targeting Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Cancer Stem Cells in Ovarian Cancer 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2010;9(12):3186-3199.
Aldehyde dehydrogenase-1A1 (ALDH1A1) expression characterizes a subpopulation of cells with tumor initiating or cancer stem cell properties in several malignancies. Our goal was to characterize the phenotype of ALDH1A1-positive ovarian cancer cells and examine the biological effects of ALDH1A1 gene silencing. In our analysis of multiple ovarian cancer cell lines, we found that ALDH1A1 expression and activity was significantly higher in taxane and platinum-resistant cell lines. In patient samples, 72.9% of ovarian cancers had ALDH1A1 expression, in whom the percent of ALDH1A1-positive cells correlated negatively with progression-free survival (6.05 v 13.81 months, p<0.035). Subpopulations of A2780cp20 cells with ALDH1A1 activity were isolated for orthotopic tumor initiating studies, where tumorigenicity was approximately 50-fold higher with ALDH1A1-positive cells. Interestingly, tumors derived from ALDH1A1-positive cells gave rise to both ALDH1A1-positive and ALDH1A1-negative populations, but ALDH1A1-negative cells could not generate ALDH1A1-positive cells. In an in vivo orthotopic mouse model of ovarian cancer, ALDH1A1 silencing using nanoliposomal siRNA sensitized both taxane- and platinum-resistant cell lines to chemotherapy, significantly reducing tumor growth in mice compared to chemotherapy alone (a 74–90% reduction, p<0.015). These data demonstrate that the ALDH1A1 subpopulation is associated with chemoresistance and outcome in ovarian cancer patients, and targeting ALDH1A1 sensitizes resistant cells to chemotherapy. ALDH1A1-positive cells have enhanced, but not absolute, tumorigenicity, but do have differentiation capacity lacking in ALDH1A1-negative cells. This enzyme may be important for identification and targeting of chemoresistant cell populations in ovarian cancer.
PMCID: PMC3005138  PMID: 20889728
aldehyde dehydrogenase; chemotherapy resistance; cancer stem cell; small interfering RNA; ovarian cancer
14.  Yin Yang 1 contains G-quadruplex structures in its promoter and 5′-UTR and its expression is modulated by G4 resolvase 1 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(3):1033-1049.
Yin Yang 1 (YY1) is a multifunctional protein with regulatory potential in tumorigenesis. Ample studies demonstrated the activities of YY1 in regulating gene expression and mediating differential protein modifications. However, the mechanisms underlying YY1 gene expression are relatively understudied. G-quadruplexes (G4s) are four-stranded structures or motifs formed by guanine-rich DNA or RNA domains. The presence of G4 structures in a gene promoter or the 5′-UTR of its mRNA can markedly affect its expression. In this report, we provide strong evidence showing the presence of G4 structures in the promoter and the 5′-UTR of YY1. In reporter assays, mutations in these G4 structure forming sequences increased the expression of Gaussia luciferase (Gluc) downstream of either YY1 promoter or 5′-UTR. We also discovered that G4 Resolvase 1 (G4R1) enhanced the Gluc expression mediated by the YY1 promoter, but not the YY1 5′-UTR. Consistently, G4R1 binds the G4 motif of the YY1 promoter in vitro and ectopically expressed G4R1 increased endogenous YY1 levels. In addition, the analysis of a gene array data consisting of the breast cancer samples of 258 patients also indicates a significant, positive correlation between G4R1 and YY1 expression.
PMCID: PMC3273823  PMID: 21993297
15.  Combined genomic and phenotype screening reveals secretory factor SPINK1 as an invasion and survival factor associated with patient prognosis in breast cancer 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2011;3(8):451-464.
Secretory factors that drive cancer progression are attractive immunotherapeutic targets. We used a whole-genome data-mining approach on multiple cohorts of breast tumours annotated for clinical outcomes to discover such factors. We identified Serine protease inhibitor Kazal-type 1 (SPINK1) to be associated with poor survival in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) cases. Immunohistochemistry showed that SPINK1 was absent in normal breast, present in early and advanced tumours, and its expression correlated with poor survival in ER+ tumours. In ER− cases, the prognostic effect did not reach statistical significance. Forced expression and/or exposure to recombinant SPINK1 induced invasiveness without affecting cell proliferation. However, down-regulation of SPINK1 resulted in cell death. Further, SPINK1 overexpressing cells were resistant to drug-induced apoptosis due to reduced caspase-3 levels and high expression of Bcl2 and phospho-Bcl2 proteins. Intriguingly, these anti-apoptotic effects of SPINK1 were abrogated by mutations of its protease inhibition domain. Thus, SPINK1 affects multiple aggressive properties in breast cancer: survival, invasiveness and chemoresistance. Because SPINK1 effects are abrogated by neutralizing antibodies, we suggest that SPINK1 is a viable potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3377086  PMID: 21656687
breast cancer; cancer therapy; distant metastasis-free survival; expression microarrays; oncogenes
16.  Positive Crosstalk between Estrogen Receptor and NFκB in Breast Cancer 
Cancer research  2009;69(23):8918-8925.
Estrogen receptors (ER) and NFκB are known to play important roles in breast cancer but these factors are generally thought to repress each others’ activity. However, we have recently found that ER and NFκB can also act together in a positive manner to synergistically increase gene transcription. To examine the extent of crosstalk between ER and NFκB, a microarray study was conducted in which MCF-7 breast cancer cells were treated with 17β-estradiol (E2), TNFα, or both. Follow-up studies with an ER antagonist and NFκB inhibitors demonstrate that crosstalk between E2 and TNFα is mediated by these two factors. We find that although transrepression between ER and NFκB does occur, positive crosstalk is more prominent with three gene-specific patterns of regulation: 1) TNFα enhances E2 action on ~30% of E2 up-regulated genes, 2) E2 enhances TNFα activity on ~15% of TNFα up-regulated genes, and 3) E2+TNFα causes a more than additive up-regulation of ~60 genes. Consistent with their prosurvival roles, ER and NFκB, and their target gene BIRC3, are involved in protecting breast cancer cells against apoptosis. Furthermore, genes positively regulated by E2+TNFα are clinically relevant since they are enriched in luminal B breast tumors and their expression profiles can distinguish a cohort of patients with poor outcome following endocrine treatment. Taken together, our findings suggest that positive crosstalk between ER and NFκB is more extensive than anticipated and that these factors may act together to promote survival of breast cancer cells and progression to a more aggressive phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2996265  PMID: 19920189
Estrogen; NFκB; Cytokine; Breast Cancer; Cell Survival
17.  Trefoil Factor 3 Is Oncogenic and Mediates Anti-Estrogen Resistance in Human Mammary Carcinoma123 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2010;12(12):1041-1053.
We report herein that trefoil factor 3 (TFF3) is oncogenic and mediates anti-estrogen resistance in human mammary carcinoma. Forced expression of TFF3 in mammary carcinoma cells increased cell proliferation and survival, enhanced anchorage-independent growth, and promoted migration and invasion. Moreover, forced expression of TFF3 increased tumor size in xenograft models. Conversely, depletion of endogenous TFF3 with small interfering RNA (siRNA) decreased the oncogenicity and invasiveness of mammary carcinoma cells. Neutralization of secreted TFF3 by antibody promoted apoptosis, decreased cell growth in vitro, and arrested mammary carcinoma xenograft growth. TFF3 expression was significantly correlated to decreased survival of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer patients treated with tamoxifen. Forced expression of TFF3 in mammary carcinoma cells increased ER transcriptional activity, promoted estrogen-independent growth, and produced resistance to tamoxifen and fulvestrant in vitro and to tamoxifen in xenograft models. siRNA-mediated depletion or antibody inhibition of TFF3 significantly enhanced the efficacy of antiestrogens. Increased TFF3 expression was observed in tamoxifen-resistant (TAMR) cells and antibody inhibition of TFF3 in TAMR cells improved tamoxifen sensitivity. Functional antagonism of TFF3 therefore warrants consideration as a novel therapeutic strategy for mammary carcinoma.
PMCID: PMC3003139  PMID: 21170268
18.  Establishment and metabolic analysis of a model microbial community for understanding trophic and electron accepting interactions of subsurface anaerobic environments 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:149.
Communities of microorganisms control the rates of key biogeochemical cycles, and are important for biotechnology, bioremediation, and industrial microbiological processes. For this reason, we constructed a model microbial community comprised of three species dependent on trophic interactions. The three species microbial community was comprised of Clostridium cellulolyticum, Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough, and Geobacter sulfurreducens and was grown under continuous culture conditions. Cellobiose served as the carbon and energy source for C. cellulolyticum, whereas D. vulgaris and G. sulfurreducens derived carbon and energy from the metabolic products of cellobiose fermentation and were provided with sulfate and fumarate respectively as electron acceptors.
qPCR monitoring of the culture revealed C. cellulolyticum to be dominant as expected and confirmed the presence of D. vulgaris and G. sulfurreducens. Proposed metabolic modeling of carbon and electron flow of the three-species community indicated that the growth of C. cellulolyticum and D. vulgaris were electron donor limited whereas G. sulfurreducens was electron acceptor limited.
The results demonstrate that C. cellulolyticum, D. vulgaris, and G. sulfurreducens can be grown in coculture in a continuous culture system in which D. vulgaris and G. sulfurreducens are dependent upon the metabolic byproducts of C. cellulolyticum for nutrients. This represents a step towards developing a tractable model ecosystem comprised of members representing the functional groups of a trophic network.
PMCID: PMC2906461  PMID: 20497531
19.  RCP is a human breast cancer–promoting gene with Ras-activating function  
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2009;119(8):2171-2183.
Aggressive forms of cancer are often defined by recurrent chromosomal alterations, yet in most cases, the causal or contributing genetic components remain poorly understood. Here, we utilized microarray informatics to identify candidate oncogenes potentially contributing to aggressive breast cancer behavior. We identified the Rab-coupling protein RCP (also known as RAB11FIP1), which is located at a chromosomal region frequently amplified in breast cancer (8p11–12) as a potential candidate. Overexpression of RCP in MCF10A normal human mammary epithelial cells resulted in acquisition of tumorigenic properties such as loss of contact inhibition, growth-factor independence, and anchorage-independent growth. Conversely, knockdown of RCP in human breast cancer cell lines inhibited colony formation, invasion, and migration in vitro and markedly reduced tumor formation and metastasis in mouse xenograft models. Overexpression of RCP enhanced ERK phosphorylation and increased Ras activation in vitro. As these results indicate that RCP is a multifunctional gene frequently amplified in breast cancer that encodes a protein with Ras-activating function, we suggest it has potential importance as a therapeutic target. Furthermore, these studies provide new insight into the emerging role of the Rab family of small G proteins and their interacting partners in carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2719918  PMID: 19620787
20.  Correction: CDKN1C (p57KIP2) Is a Direct Target of EZH2 and Suppressed by Multiple Epigenetic Mechanisms in Breast Cancer Cells 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):10.1371/annotation/e70583a2-3581-4848-b1e3-b518ac07d3a6.
PMCID: PMC2674778
21.  CDKN1C (p57KIP2) Is a Direct Target of EZH2 and Suppressed by Multiple Epigenetic Mechanisms in Breast Cancer Cells 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5011.
CDKN1C (encoding tumor suppressor p57KIP2) is a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor whose family members are often transcriptionally downregulated in human cancer via promoter DNA methylation. In this study, we show that CDKN1C is repressed in breast cancer cells mainly through histone modifications. In particular, we show that CDKN1C is targeted by histone methyltransferase EZH2-mediated histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), and can be strongly activated by inhibition of EZH2 in synergy with histone deacetylase inhibitor. Consistent with the overexpression of EZH2 in a variety of human cancers including breast cancer, CDKN1C in these cancers is downregulated, and breast tumors expressing low levels of CDKN1C are associated with a poor prognosis. We further show that assessing both EZH2 and CDKN1C expression levels as a measurement of EZH2 pathway activity provides a more predictive power of disease outcome than that achieved with EZH2 or CDKN1C alone. Taken together, our study reveals a novel epigenetic mechanism governing CDKN1C repression in breast cancer. Importantly, as a newly identified EZH2 target with prognostic value, it has implications in patient stratification for cancer therapeutic targeting EZH2-mediated gene repression.
PMCID: PMC2659786  PMID: 19340297
22.  LOMA: A fast method to generate efficient tagged-random primers despite amplification bias of random PCR on pathogens 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:368.
Pathogen detection using DNA microarrays has the potential to become a fast and comprehensive diagnostics tool. However, since pathogen detection chips currently utilize random primers rather than specific primers for the RT-PCR step, bias inherent in random PCR amplification becomes a serious problem that causes large inaccuracies in hybridization signals.
In this paper, we study how the efficiency of random PCR amplification affects hybridization signals. We describe a model that predicts the amplification efficiency of a given random primer on a target viral genome. The prediction allows us to filter false-negative probes of the genome that lie in regions of poor random PCR amplification and improves the accuracy of pathogen detection. Subsequently, we propose LOMA, an algorithm to generate random primers that have good amplification efficiency. Wet-lab validation showed that the generated random primers improve the amplification efficiency significantly.
The blind use of a random primer with attached universal tag (random-tagged primer) in a PCR reaction on a pathogen sample may not lead to a successful amplification. Thus, the design of random-tagged primers is an important consideration when performing PCR.
PMCID: PMC2553803  PMID: 18783594
23.  A Precisely Regulated Gene Expression Cassette Potently Modulates Metastasis and Survival in Multiple Solid Cancers 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(7):e1000129.
Successful tumor development and progression involves the complex interplay of both pro- and anti-oncogenic signaling pathways. Genetic components balancing these opposing activities are likely to require tight regulation, because even subtle alterations in their expression may disrupt this balance with major consequences for various cancer-associated phenotypes. Here, we describe a cassette of cancer-specific genes exhibiting precise transcriptional control in solid tumors. Mining a database of tumor gene expression profiles from six different tissues, we identified 48 genes exhibiting highly restricted levels of gene expression variation in tumors (n = 270) compared to nonmalignant tissues (n = 71). Comprising genes linked to multiple cancer-related pathways, the restricted expression of this “Poised Gene Cassette” (PGC) was robustly validated across 11 independent cohorts of ∼1,300 samples from multiple cancer types. In three separate experimental models, subtle alterations in PGC expression were consistently associated with significant differences in metastatic and invasive potential. We functionally confirmed this association in siRNA knockdown experiments of five PGC genes (p53CSV, MAP3K11, MTCH2, CPSF6, and SKIP), which either directly enhanced the invasive capacities or inhibited the proliferation of AGS cancer cells. In primary tumors, similar subtle alterations in PGC expression were also repeatedly associated with clinical outcome in multiple cohorts. Taken collectively, these findings support the existence of a common set of precisely controlled genes in solid tumors. Since inducing small activity changes in these genes may prove sufficient to potently influence various tumor phenotypes such as metastasis, targeting such precisely regulated genes may represent a promising avenue for novel anti-cancer therapies.
Author Summary
Successful carcinogenesis involves the integration of both pro- and anti-oncogenic pathways. We postulated that genes critical for balancing these opposing pathways are likely to be precisely controlled in tumors, since even subtle alterations in their activity might cause substantial alterations in tumor growth and survival. Using a novel genomic approach, we identified a 48-gene “Poised Gene Cassette” (PGC) showing tight regulation specifically in human cancers but not in corresponding nonmalignant tissues. We show, using a wide variety of in vitro and in vivo approaches, that small alterations in PGC expression are consistently associated with significant differences in experimental metastasis and patient survival, and we demonstrate a direct functional role for five PGC genes (p53CSV, MAP3K11, MTCH2, CPSF6 and SKIP) in cancer invasion. Our findings support the existence of a novel class of ultrasensitive genes that may regulate various cancer-associated phenotypes such as metastasis. Such precisely controlled genes could represent appealing drug targets, since even partial alterations in their activity should prove sufficient to induce potent effects on tumors. Besides cancer, our analytical approach is quite generalizable and likely to be applicable to other disease conditions.
PMCID: PMC2444049  PMID: 18636107
24.  Prospective Molecular Profiling of Melanoma Metastases Suggests Classifiers of Immune Responsiveness 
Cancer research  2002;62(13):3581-3586.
We amplified RNAs from 63 fine needle aspiration (FNA) samples from 37 s.c. melanoma metastases from 25 patients undergoing immunotherapy for hybridization to a 6108-gene human cDNA chip. By prospectively following the history of the lesions, we could correlate transcript patterns with clinical outcome. Cluster analysis revealed a tight relationship among autologous synchronously sampled tumors compared with unrelated lesions (average Pearson's r = 0.83 and 0.7, respectively, P < 0.0003). As reported previously, two subgroups of metastatic melanoma lesions were identified that, however, had no predictive correlation with clinical outcome. Ranking of gene expression data from pretreatment samples identified ∼30 genes predictive of clinical response (P < 0.001). Analysis of their annotations denoted that approximately half of them were related to T-cell regulation, suggesting that immune responsiveness might be predetermined by a tumor microenvironment conducive to immune recognition.
PMCID: PMC2241738  PMID: 12097256
25.  Whole-Genome Cartography of Estrogen Receptor α Binding Sites 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(6):e87.
Using a chromatin immunoprecipitation-paired end diTag cloning and sequencing strategy, we mapped estrogen receptor α (ERα) binding sites in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. We identified 1,234 high confidence binding clusters of which 94% are projected to be bona fide ERα binding regions. Only 5% of the mapped estrogen receptor binding sites are located within 5 kb upstream of the transcriptional start sites of adjacent genes, regions containing the proximal promoters, whereas vast majority of the sites are mapped to intronic or distal locations (>5 kb from 5′ and 3′ ends of adjacent transcript), suggesting transcriptional regulatory mechanisms over significant physical distances. Of all the identified sites, 71% harbored putative full estrogen response elements (EREs), 25% bore ERE half sites, and only 4% had no recognizable ERE sequences. Genes in the vicinity of ERα binding sites were enriched for regulation by estradiol in MCF-7 cells, and their expression profiles in patient samples segregate ERα-positive from ERα-negative breast tumors. The expression dynamics of the genes adjacent to ERα binding sites suggest a direct induction of gene expression through binding to ERE-like sequences, whereas transcriptional repression by ERα appears to be through indirect mechanisms. Our analysis also indicates a number of candidate transcription factor binding sites adjacent to occupied EREs at frequencies much greater than by chance, including the previously reported FOXA1 sites, and demonstrate the potential involvement of one such putative adjacent factor, Sp1, in the global regulation of ERα target genes. Unexpectedly, we found that only 22%–24% of the bona fide human ERα binding sites were overlapping conserved regions in whole genome vertebrate alignments, which suggest limited conservation of functional binding sites. Taken together, this genome-scale analysis suggests complex but definable rules governing ERα binding and gene regulation.
Author Summary
Estrogen receptors (ERs) play key roles in facilitating the transcriptional effects of hormone functions in target tissues. To obtain a genome-wide view of ERα binding sites, we applied chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with a cloning and sequencing strategy using chromatin immunoprecipitation pair end-tagging technology to map ERα binding sites in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. We identified 1,234 high quality ERα binding sites in the human genome and demonstrated that the binding sites are frequently adjacent to genes significantly associated with breast cancer disease status and outcome. The mapping results also revealed that ERα can influence gene expression across distances of up to 100 kilobases or more, that genes that are induced or repressed utilize sites in different regions relative to the transcript (suggesting different mechanisms of action), and that ERα binding sites are only modestly conserved in evolution. Using computational approaches, we identified potential interactions with other transcription factor binding sites adjacent to the ERα binding elements. Taken together, these findings suggest complex but definable rules governing ERα binding and gene regulation and provide a valuable dataset for mapping the precise control nodes for one of the most important nuclear hormone receptors in breast cancer biology.
PMCID: PMC1885282  PMID: 17542648

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