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1.  CDKN2D-WDFY2 Is a Cancer-Specific Fusion Gene Recurrent in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004216.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. Almost 70% of ovarian cancer deaths are due to the high-grade serous subtype, which is typically detected only after it has metastasized. Characterization of high-grade serous cancer is further complicated by the significant heterogeneity and genome instability displayed by this cancer. Other than mutations in TP53, which is common to many cancers, highly recurrent recombinant events specific to this cancer have yet to be identified. Using high-throughput transcriptome sequencing of seven patient samples combined with experimental validation at DNA, RNA and protein levels, we identified a cancer-specific and inter-chromosomal fusion gene CDKN2D-WDFY2 that occurs at a frequency of 20% among sixty high-grade serous cancer samples but is absent in non-cancerous ovary and fallopian tube samples. This is the most frequent recombinant event identified so far in high-grade serous cancer implying a major cellular lineage in this highly heterogeneous cancer. In addition, the same fusion transcript was also detected in OV-90, an established high-grade serous type cell line. The genomic breakpoint was identified in intron 1 of CDKN2D and intron 2 of WDFY2 in patient tumor, providing direct evidence that this is a fusion gene. The parental gene, CDKN2D, is a cell-cycle modulator that is also involved in DNA repair, while WDFY2 is known to modulate AKT interactions with its substrates. Transfection of cloned fusion construct led to loss of wildtype CDKN2D and wildtype WDFY2 protein expression, and a gain of a short WDFY2 protein isoform that is presumably under the control of the CDKN2D promoter. The expression of short WDFY2 protein in transfected cells appears to alter the PI3K/AKT pathway that is known to play a role in oncogenesis. CDKN2D-WDFY2 fusion could be an important molecular signature for understanding and classifying sub-lineages among heterogeneous high-grade serous ovarian carcinomas.
Author Summary
High-grade serous carcinoma (HG-SC) is the most common subtype of ovarian cancer observed in women. This subtype of ovarian cancer is typically detected at advanced stages due to lack of effective early screening tools. Recurrent cancer-specific gene fusions resulting from chromosomal translocations have the potential to serve as effective screening tools as well as therapeutic targets. Here we identified CDKN2D-WDFY2 as a cancer-specific fusion gene present in 20% of HG-SC tumors, by far the most frequent gene recombinant event found in this highly heterogeneous disease. We also presented evidence that the expression of this fusion may affect the PI3K/AKT pathway that is important for cancer progression. Thus CDKN2D-WDFY2 could very well represent a major cellular lineage important for detecting and classifying heterogeneous ovarian carcinomas, and could provide insight into the underlying mechanism of this deadly disease. This is critical, given that ovarian cancer kills 140,200 women worldwide each year, and few ovarian cancer-specific molecular alterations are currently available for targeting and screening.
PMCID: PMC3967933  PMID: 24675677
2.  Changes in Colorectal Carcinoma Genomes under Anti-EGFR Therapy Identified by Whole-Genome Plasma DNA Sequencing 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004271.
Monoclonal antibodies targeting the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR), such as cetuximab and panitumumab, have evolved to important therapeutic options in metastatic colorectal cancer (CRC). However, almost all patients with clinical response to anti-EGFR therapies show disease progression within a few months and little is known about mechanism and timing of resistance evolution. Here we analyzed plasma DNA from ten patients treated with anti-EGFR therapy by whole genome sequencing (plasma-Seq) and ultra-sensitive deep sequencing of genes associated with resistance to anti-EGFR treatment such as KRAS, BRAF, PIK3CA, and EGFR. Surprisingly, we observed that the development of resistance to anti-EGFR therapies was associated with acquired gains of KRAS in four patients (40%), which occurred either as novel focal amplifications (n = 3) or as high level polysomy of 12p (n = 1). In addition, we observed focal amplifications of other genes recently shown to be involved in acquired resistance to anti-EGFR therapies, such as MET (n = 2) and ERBB2 (n = 1). Overrepresentation of the EGFR gene was associated with a good initial anti-EGFR efficacy. Overall, we identified predictive biomarkers associated with anti-EGFR efficacy in seven patients (70%), which correlated well with treatment response. In contrast, ultra-sensitive deep sequencing of KRAS, BRAF, PIK3CA, and EGFR did not reveal the occurrence of novel, acquired mutations. Thus, plasma-Seq enables the identification of novel mutant clones and may therefore facilitate early adjustments of therapies that may delay or prevent disease progression.
Author Summary
Targeted therapies based on characteristics of the tumor genome are increasingly being offered to patients with cancer. For example, colorectal carcinomas that are wild type for KRAS are frequently treated with monoclonal antibodies targeting the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR). However, almost all patients with clinical response to anti-EGFR therapies develop resistance and underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Because of the instability of tumor genomes the status of predictive biomarkers, such as the KRAS gene, can change during the course of disease. So-called “liquid biopsies”, e.g. analyses of circulating tumor DNA, provide genetic follow-up data non-invasively from peripheral blood. When using whole genome sequencing of plasma DNA (plasma-Seq) we observed that specific copy number changes of genes, such as KRAS, MET, or ERBB2, can be acquired under therapy and determine responsiveness to therapy. In fact, our data suggest that non-invasive genome profiling is capable of predicting responsiveness or emerging resistance to anti-EGFR therapy in the majority of cases. Hence, non-invasive testing of the current status of the tumor genome can help reduce of harm from erroneous therapeutic decisions and optimize treatment for maximal efficacy and minimal side effects, which is important for decreasing metastasized CRC-related morbidity and mortality.
PMCID: PMC3967949  PMID: 24676216
3.  FAK Acts as a Suppressor of RTK-MAP Kinase Signalling in Drosophila melanogaster Epithelia and Human Cancer Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004262.
Receptor Tyrosine Kinases (RTKs) and Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) regulate multiple signalling pathways, including mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway. FAK interacts with several RTKs but little is known about how FAK regulates their downstream signalling. Here we investigated how FAK regulates signalling resulting from the overexpression of the RTKs RET and EGFR. FAK suppressed RTKs signalling in Drosophila melanogaster epithelia by impairing MAPK pathway. This regulation was also observed in MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells, suggesting it is a conserved phenomenon in humans. Mechanistically, FAK reduced receptor recycling into the plasma membrane, which resulted in lower MAPK activation. Conversely, increasing the membrane pool of the receptor increased MAPK pathway signalling. FAK is widely considered as a therapeutic target in cancer biology; however, it also has tumour suppressor properties in some contexts. Therefore, the FAK-mediated negative regulation of RTK/MAPK signalling described here may have potential implications in the designing of therapy strategies for RTK-driven tumours.
Author Summary
Due to their deregulation in cancer and their potential to be inhibited by small chemical compounds, tyrosine kinases are among the most important targets under consideration for cancer therapeutics. One such oncogenic tyrosine kinase is FAK, which is known to regulate cellular signalling downstream of Integrins and Receptor Tyrosine Kinases (RTK) at the cell surface. In this study, however, we report that FAK can act as a suppressor of oncogenic Receptor Tyrosine Kinases. This mechanism was observed in fruit fly tissues in vivo and human cancer-derived cells in vitro, which additionally suggests it is an evolutionary conserved mechanism in humans. FAK mediated this inhibition by controlling the sub-cellular localisation of receptors, via suppression of receptor recycling to the cell surface. These results suggest that in some particular cancer contexts such as RTK-driven tumours, FAK may act as a tumour suppressor and therefore, may not be a valid drug target.
PMCID: PMC3967952  PMID: 24676055
4.  Dysregulated Estrogen Receptor Signaling in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian Axis Leads to Ovarian Epithelial Tumorigenesis in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004230.
The etiology of ovarian epithelial cancer is poorly understood, mainly due to the lack of an appropriate experimental model for studying the onset and progression of this disease. We have created a mutant mouse model in which aberrant estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) signaling in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis leads to ovarian epithelial tumorigenesis. In these mice, termed ERαd/d, the ERα gene was conditionally deleted in the anterior pituitary, but remained intact in the hypothalamus and the ovary. The loss of negative-feedback regulation by estrogen (E) at the level of the pituitary led to increased production of luteinizing hormone (LH) by this tissue. Hyperstimulation of the ovarian cells by LH resulted in elevated steroidogenesis, producing high circulating levels of steroid hormones, including E. The ERαd/d mice exhibited formation of palpable ovarian epithelial tumors starting at 5 months of age with 100% penetrance. By 15 months of age, 80% of ERαd/d mice die. Besides proliferating epithelial cells, these tumors also contained an expanded population of luteinized stromal cells, which acquire the ability to express P450 aromatase and synthesize E locally. In response to the elevated levels of E, the ERα signaling was accentuated in the ovarian epithelial cells of ERαd/d mice, triggering increased ERα-dependent gene expression, abnormal cell proliferation, and tumorigenesis. Consistent with these findings, treatment of ERαd/d mice with letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor, markedly reduced circulating E and ovarian tumor volume. We have, therefore, developed a unique animal model, which serves as a useful tool for exploring the involvement of E-dependent signaling pathways in ovarian epithelial tumorigenesis.
Author Summary
Ovarian cancer is currently the most lethal gynecological cancer in the United States. Multiple epidemiological studies indicate that women who take hormone replacement therapy, estrogen or estrogen with progesterone, peri- or postmenopause will have an increased chance of developing ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, the five-year survival rate after diagnosis is very low indicating that better tools are needed to diagnose and treat ovarian cancer. The models that would allow investigation of this disease are severely limited. In this article we introduce a mouse model that develops epithelial ovarian tumors, and by employing inhibitors of estrogen synthesis, we show that ovarian tumorigenesis in this model is dependent on estrogen production within the ovarian tumor. These studies suggest that estrogen may play a role in promoting ovarian tumor growth.
PMCID: PMC3945209  PMID: 24603706
5.  Cancer Evolution Is Associated with Pervasive Positive Selection on Globally Expressed Genes 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004239.
Cancer is an evolutionary process in which cells acquire new transformative, proliferative and metastatic capabilities. A full understanding of cancer requires learning the dynamics of the cancer evolutionary process. We present here a large-scale analysis of the dynamics of this evolutionary process within tumors, with a focus on breast cancer. We show that the cancer evolutionary process differs greatly from organismal (germline) evolution. Organismal evolution is dominated by purifying selection (that removes mutations that are harmful to fitness). In contrast, in the cancer evolutionary process the dominance of purifying selection is much reduced, allowing for a much easier detection of the signals of positive selection (adaptation). We further show that, as a group, genes that are globally expressed across human tissues show a very strong signal of positive selection within tumors. Indeed, known cancer genes are enriched for global expression patterns. Yet, positive selection is prevalent even on globally expressed genes that have not yet been associated with cancer, suggesting that globally expressed genes are enriched for yet undiscovered cancer related functions. We find that the increased positive selection on globally expressed genes within tumors is not due to their expression in the tissue relevant to the cancer. Rather, such increased adaptation is likely due to globally expressed genes being enriched in important housekeeping and essential functions. Thus, our results suggest that tumor adaptation is most often mediated through somatic changes to those genes that are important for the most basic cellular functions. Together, our analysis reveals the uniqueness of the cancer evolutionary process and the particular importance of globally expressed genes in driving cancer initiation and progression.
Author Summary
Cancer is a short-term evolutionary process that occurs within our bodies. Here, we demonstrate that the cancer evolutionary process differs greatly from other evolutionary processes. Most evolutionary processes are dominated by purifying selection (that removes harmful mutations). In contrast, in cancer evolution the dominance of purifying selection is much reduced, allowing for an easier detection of the signals of positive selection (that increases the likelihood beneficial mutations will persist). Mutations affected by positive selection within tumors are particularly interesting, as these are the mutations that allow cancer cells to acquire new capabilities important for transformation, tumor maintenance, drug resistance and metastasis. We demonstrate that, within tumors, positive selection strongly affects somatic mutations occurring within genes that are expressed globally, across all human tissues. Fitting with this, we show that genes that are already known to be involved in cancer tend to more often be globally expressed across tissues. However, even when such known cancer genes are removed from consideration, there is significantly more positive selection on the remaining globally expressed genes, suggesting that they are enriched for yet undiscovered cancer related functions. The results we present are important both for understanding cancer as an evolutionary process and to the continuing quest to identify new genes and pathways contributing to cancer.
PMCID: PMC3945297  PMID: 24603726
6.  Molecular Evidence for the Inverse Comorbidity between Central Nervous System Disorders and Cancers Detected by Transcriptomic Meta-analyses 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(2):e1004173.
There is epidemiological evidence that patients with certain Central Nervous System (CNS) disorders have a lower than expected probability of developing some types of Cancer. We tested here the hypothesis that this inverse comorbidity is driven by molecular processes common to CNS disorders and Cancers, and that are deregulated in opposite directions. We conducted transcriptomic meta-analyses of three CNS disorders (Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Schizophrenia) and three Cancer types (Lung, Prostate, Colorectal) previously described with inverse comorbidities. A significant overlap was observed between the genes upregulated in CNS disorders and downregulated in Cancers, as well as between the genes downregulated in CNS disorders and upregulated in Cancers. We also observed expression deregulations in opposite directions at the level of pathways. Our analysis points to specific genes and pathways, the upregulation of which could increase the incidence of CNS disorders and simultaneously lower the risk of developing Cancer, while the downregulation of another set of genes and pathways could contribute to a decrease in the incidence of CNS disorders while increasing the Cancer risk. These results reinforce the previously proposed involvement of the PIN1 gene, Wnt and P53 pathways, and reveal potential new candidates, in particular related with protein degradation processes.
Author Summary
A lower-than-expected probability of developing certain types of Cancer has been observed in patients with CNS disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or Schizophrenia. Understanding such a protective effect could be the key to finding novel treatments for both types of conditions, for instance thanks to drug repurposing. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms for these intriguing inverse comorbidities. Although environmental causes, drug treatments or lower screening surveys might contribute to the inverse comorbidity between complex disorders, we propose that inverse comorbidity is, at least in part, due to genetic factors.
We observe here that a common set of genes and biological processes are deregulated in opposite directions in CNS disorders and Cancers, i.e. upregulated in CNS disorders and downregulated in Cancers, or vice versa. We propose the alluring hypothesis that the deregulation of these genes and processes could promote CNS disorders and simultaneously lower the initiation or progression of Cancers.
PMCID: PMC3930576  PMID: 24586201
7.  ELANE Mutations in Cyclic and Severe Congenital Neutropenia—Genetics and Pathophysiology 
There are two main forms of hereditary neutropenia: cyclic and severe congenital neutropenia (SCN). Cyclic neutropenia is an autosomal dominant disorder in which neutrophil counts fluctuate between nearly normal levels and close to zero with 21-day periodicity. In contrast, SCN, also known as Kostmann syndrome, consists of chronic and profound neutropenia, with a characteristic promyelocytic maturation arrest in the bone marrow. Unlike cyclic neutropenia, SCN displays frequent acquisition of somatic mutations in the gene, CSF3R, encoding the Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor Receptor (G-CSFR), and a strong predisposition to developing myelodysplasia (MDS) and/or acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Cyclic neutropenia is caused by heterozygous mutations in the gene, ELANE (formerly known as ELA2), encoding the neutrophil granule serine protease, neutrophil elastase. SCN is genetically heterogeneous, but it is most frequently associated with ELANE mutations. While some of the different missense mutations in ELANE exhibit phenotype-genotype correlation, the same mutations are sometimes found in patients with either form of inherited neutropenia. The mutations lead to production of a mutant polypeptide, but no common biochemical abnormality, including effects on proteolysis, has been identified. Two non-mutually exclusive theories have been advanced to explain how the mutations might produce neutropenia. The mislocalization hypothesis states that mutations within neutrophil elastase or involving other proteins responsible for its intracellular trafficking cause neutrophil elastase to accumulate in inappropriate subcellular compartments. The misfolding hypothesis proposes that mutations prevent the protein from properly folding, thereby inducing the stress response pathway within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). We discuss how the mutations themselves provide clues into pathogenesis, describe supporting and contradictory observations for both theories, and highlight outstanding questions relating to pathophysiology of neutropenia.
PMCID: PMC3559001  PMID: 23351986
Cyclic neutropenia; Severe congenital neutropenia; ELANE; Neutrophil elastase; Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)
8.  Down-Regulation of eIF4GII by miR-520c-3p Represses Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma Development 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004105.
Deregulation of the translational machinery is emerging as a critical contributor to cancer development. The contribution of microRNAs in translational gene control has been established however; the role of microRNAs in disrupting the cap-dependent translation regulation complex has not been previously described. Here, we established that elevated miR-520c-3p represses global translation, cell proliferation and initiates premature senescence in HeLa and DLBCL cells. Moreover, we demonstrate that miR-520c-3p directly targets translation initiation factor, eIF4GII mRNA and negatively regulates eIF4GII protein synthesis. miR-520c-3p overexpression diminishes cells colony formation and reduces tumor growth in a human xenograft mouse model. Consequently, downregulation of eIF4GII by siRNA decreases translation, cell proliferation and ability to form colonies, as well as induces cellular senescence. In vitro and in vivo findings were further validated in patient samples; DLBCL primary cells demonstrated low miR-520c-3p levels with reciprocally up-regulated eIF4GII protein expression. Our results provide evidence that the tumor suppressor effect of miR-520c-3p is mediated through repression of translation while inducing senescence and that eIF4GII is a key effector of this anti-tumor activity.
Author Summary
Control of gene expression on the translational level is critical for proper function of major cellular processes and deregulation of translation can promote cellular transformation. Emerging actors in this post-transcriptional gene regulation are small non-coding RNAs referred to as microRNAs (miRNAs). We established that miR-520c-3p represses tumor growth through the repression of eIF4GII, a major structural component of the translation initiation complex. Since translation of most cellular mRNAs is primarily regulated at the level of initiation, this node is becoming a potential target for therapeutic intervention. Identified in this study, tumor suppressor function of miR-520c-3p is mediated through the inhibition of translational factor eIF4GII, resulting in the repression of global translational machinery and induction of senescence in tumor cells. While aging and senescence has been shown to be associated with reduced translation the linkage between translational deregulation and senescence in malignant cells has not been previously described. Lending further clinical significance to our findings, we were able to demonstrate that primary DLBCL samples had elevated levels of eIF4GII while having reciprocally low miR-520c-3p expression.
PMCID: PMC3907297  PMID: 24497838
9.  Cell-Cycle Dependent Expression of a Translocation-Mediated Fusion Oncogene Mediates Checkpoint Adaptation in Rhabdomyosarcoma 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004107.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most commonly occurring soft-tissue sarcoma in childhood. Most rhabdomyosarcoma falls into one of two biologically distinct subgroups represented by alveolar or embryonal histology. The alveolar subtype harbors a translocation-mediated PAX3:FOXO1A fusion gene and has an extremely poor prognosis. However, tumor cells have heterogeneous expression for the fusion gene. Using a conditional genetic mouse model as well as human tumor cell lines, we show that that Pax3:Foxo1a expression is enriched in G2 and triggers a transcriptional program conducive to checkpoint adaptation under stress conditions such as irradiation in vitro and in vivo. Pax3:Foxo1a also tolerizes tumor cells to clinically-established chemotherapy agents and emerging molecularly-targeted agents. Thus, the surprisingly dynamic regulation of the Pax3:Foxo1a locus is a paradigm that has important implications for the way in which oncogenes are modeled in cancer cells.
Author Summary
Rare childhood cancers can be paradigms from which important new principles can be discerned. The childhood muscle cancer rhabdomyosarcoma is no exception, having been the focus of the original 1969 description by Drs. Li and Fraumeni of a syndrome now know to be commonly caused by underlying p53 tumor suppressor loss-of-function. In our studies using a conditional genetic mouse model of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma in conjunction with human tumor cell lines, we have uncovered that the expression level of a translocation-mediated fusion gene, Pax3:Foxo1a, is dynamic and varies during the cell cycle. Our studies support that Pax3:Foxo1a facilitate the yeast-related process of checkpoint adaptation under stresses such as irradiation. The broader implication of our studies is that distal cis elements (promoter-influencing regions of DNA) may be critical to fully understanding the function of cancer-associated translocations.
PMCID: PMC3894165  PMID: 24453992
10.  The Stress-Regulated Transcription Factor CHOP Promotes Hepatic Inflammatory Gene Expression, Fibrosis, and Oncogenesis 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003937.
Viral hepatitis, obesity, and alcoholism all represent major risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Although these conditions also lead to integrated stress response (ISR) or unfolded protein response (UPR) activation, the extent to which these stress pathways influence the pathogenesis of HCC has not been tested. Here we provide multiple lines of evidence demonstrating that the ISR-regulated transcription factor CHOP promotes liver cancer. We show that CHOP expression is up-regulated in liver tumors in human HCC and two mouse models thereof. Chop-null mice are resistant to chemical hepatocarcinogenesis, and these mice exhibit attenuation of both apoptosis and cellular proliferation. Chop-null mice are also resistant to fibrosis, which is a key risk factor for HCC. Global gene expression profiling suggests that deletion of CHOP reduces the levels of basal inflammatory signaling in the liver. Our results are consistent with a model whereby CHOP contributes to hepatic carcinogenesis by promoting inflammation, fibrosis, cell death, and compensatory proliferation. They implicate CHOP as a common contributing factor in the development of HCC in a variety of chronic liver diseases.
Author Summary
Liver cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death worldwide. It is most commonly caused by viral hepatitis, alcoholism, or obesity, all of which activate cellular stress responses in the liver. However, the contribution of these responses to disease pathogenesis was unknown. We found that expression of the stress-regulated transcription factor CHOP—widely thought to be anti-oncogenic because of its cell death-promoting properties—was associated with both human liver cancer and two mouse models thereof. In response to challenge with a tumor-causing agent, mice lacking CHOP developed fewer tumors, exhibited less cell death, compensatory cellular proliferation, and liver scarring (fibrosis), and showed lower expression of immune and inflammatory genes. These findings establish CHOP as a biomarker for liver cancer and demonstrate its importance in promoting liver tumor formation. They raise the possibility that promotion of tumorigenesis by CHOP is a common feature of liver cancer caused by viral infection, alcoholism, and obesity.
PMCID: PMC3868529  PMID: 24367269
11.  Stressing the Importance of CHOP in Liver Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1004045.
PMCID: PMC3868558  PMID: 24367283
12.  Loss of miR-10a Activates Lpo and Collaborates with Activated Wnt Signaling in Inducing Intestinal Neoplasia in Female Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003913.
miRNAs are small regulatory RNAs that, due to their considerable potential to target a wide range of mRNAs, are implicated in essentially all biological process, including cancer. miR-10a is particularly interesting considering its conserved location in the Hox cluster of developmental regulators. A role for this microRNA has been described in developmental regulation as well as for various cancers. However, previous miR-10a studies are exclusively based on transient knockdowns of this miRNA and to extensively study miR-10a loss we have generated a miR-10a knock out mouse. Here we show that, in the Apcmin mouse model of intestinal neoplasia, female miR-10a deficient mice develop significantly more adenomas than miR-10+/+ and male controls. We further found that Lpo is extensively upregulated in the intestinal epithelium of mice deprived of miR-10a. Using in vitro assays, we demonstrate that the primary miR-10a target KLF4 can upregulate transcription of Lpo, whereas siRNA knockdown of KLF4 reduces LPO levels in HCT-116 cells. Furthermore, Klf4 is upregulated in the intestines of miR-10a knockout mice. Lpo has previously been shown to have the capacity to oxidize estrogens into potent depurinating mutagens, creating an instable genomic environment that can cause initiation of cancer. Therefore, we postulate that Lpo upregulation in the intestinal epithelium of miR-10a deficient mice together with the predominant abundance of estrogens in female animals mainly accounts for the sex-related cancer phenotype we observed. This suggests that miR-10a could be used as a potent diagnostic marker for discovering groups of women that are at high risk of developing colorectal carcinoma, which today is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths.
Author Summary
Posttranscriptional regulation by microRNA molecules constitutes an important mechanism for gene regulation and numerous studies have demonstrated a correlation between deregulated microRNA levels and diseases, such as cancer. However, genetics studies linking individual microRNAs to the etiology of cancer remain scarce. Here, we provide causal evidence for the involvement of the conserved microRNA miR-10a in the development of intestinal adenomas in the face of activated Wnt signaling. Interestingly, we find that loss of miR-10a mediates an increase in intestinal adenomas in female mice only and delineate the pathway to involve aberrant upregulation of the miR-10a target Klf4 and subsequent transcriptional activation of the Lpo gene encoding the antibacterial protein Lactoperoxidase. Lpo, in turn, has previously been demonstrated to oxidize estrogens into DNA-damaging mutagens.
PMCID: PMC3812087  PMID: 24204315
13.  Eleven Candidate Susceptibility Genes for Common Familial Colorectal Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003876.
Hereditary factors are presumed to play a role in one third of colorectal cancer (CRC) cases. However, in the majority of familial CRC cases the genetic basis of predisposition remains unexplained. This is particularly true for families with few affected individuals. To identify susceptibility genes for this common phenotype, we examined familial cases derived from a consecutive series of 1514 Finnish CRC patients. Ninety-six familial CRC patients with no previous diagnosis of a hereditary CRC syndrome were included in the analysis. Eighty-six patients had one affected first-degree relative, and ten patients had two or more. Exome sequencing was utilized to search for genes harboring putative loss-of-function variants, because such alterations are likely candidates for disease-causing mutations. Eleven genes with rare truncating variants in two or three familial CRC cases were identified: UACA, SFXN4, TWSG1, PSPH, NUDT7, ZNF490, PRSS37, CCDC18, PRADC1, MRPL3, and AKR1C4. Loss of heterozygosity was examined in all respective cancer samples, and was detected in seven occasions involving four of the candidate genes. In all seven occasions the wild-type allele was lost (P = 0.0078) providing additional evidence that these eleven genes are likely to include true culprits. The study provides a set of candidate predisposition genes which may explain a subset of common familial CRC. Additional genetic validation in other populations is required to provide firm evidence for causality, as well as to characterize the natural history of the respective phenotypes.
Author Summary
Many individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer have no detectable germline mutation in the known cancer predisposing genes. We aimed to identify novel susceptibility genes for this common phenotype by performing exome sequencing on 96 independent cases with familial colorectal cancer. Eighty-six patients had one affected first-degree relative, and ten patients had two or more. None of the patients had a previous diagnosis of a hereditary syndrome. We focused our search on genes with rare variants, predicted to truncate the protein product, since these are likely candidates for disease predisposition. Using this approach we identified truncating germline variants in eleven genes, present in two or three independent familial colorectal cancer cases. We analyzed the respective tumor DNAs and found loss of the wild-type allele in seven out of seven occasions, involving four genes. No tumor showed loss of the mutant allele which provides us with additional evidence for disease causality. Further studies are required to provide firm evidence for pathogenicity. Genetic knowledge on confirmed predisposing genes can ultimately be translated into tools for cancer prevention and early diagnosis in individuals carrying predisposition alleles.
PMCID: PMC3798264  PMID: 24146633
14.  Guanine Holes Are Prominent Targets for Mutation in Cancer and Inherited Disease 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003816.
Single base substitutions constitute the most frequent type of human gene mutation and are a leading cause of cancer and inherited disease. These alterations occur non-randomly in DNA, being strongly influenced by the local nucleotide sequence context. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying such sequence context-dependent mutagenesis are not fully understood. Using bioinformatics, computational and molecular modeling analyses, we have determined the frequencies of mutation at G•C bp in the context of all 64 5′-NGNN-3′ motifs that contain the mutation at the second position. Twenty-four datasets were employed, comprising >530,000 somatic single base substitutions from 21 cancer genomes, >77,000 germline single-base substitutions causing or associated with human inherited disease and 16.7 million benign germline single-nucleotide variants. In several cancer types, the number of mutated motifs correlated both with the free energies of base stacking and the energies required for abstracting an electron from the target guanines (ionization potentials). Similar correlations were also evident for the pathological missense and nonsense germline mutations, but only when the target guanines were located on the non-transcribed DNA strand. Likewise, pathogenic splicing mutations predominantly affected positions in which a purine was located on the non-transcribed DNA strand. Novel candidate driver mutations and tissue-specific mutational patterns were also identified in the cancer datasets. We conclude that electron transfer reactions within the DNA molecule contribute to sequence context-dependent mutagenesis, involving both somatic driver and passenger mutations in cancer, as well as germline alterations causing or associated with inherited disease.
Author Summary
A large number of DNA mutations identified in cells from patients with cancer or human inherited disease were analyzed to address a fundamental issue in human pathology, viz, the mutational mechanisms that cause irreversible changes to DNA. By using bioinformatics and computational methods, we found that mutations do not occur randomly, but instead affect specific bases, most often guanines flanked by other guanines or adenines. We attribute this effect to electron transfer, a chemical reaction known to underlie basic biological processes such as cellular respiration and photosynthesis. Certain types of carcinogens, oxidants or radiation can interact with DNA and abstract an electron. Our results imply that the ensuing sites of electron loss can migrate from their original position in the DNA to neighboring guanines where they become trapped, leading to further chemical modifications that may eventually result in mutations. Many of the mutations known to be important for tumor growth (driver mutations), as well as passenger mutations and mutations associated with inherited disease, appear to be caused by electron transfer. Beyond pathological mutations, electron transfer may represent a universal mechanism by which genetic changes occur in all life forms to drive population fitness over evolutionary time.
PMCID: PMC3784513  PMID: 24086153
15.  A Genome-Wide Systematic Analysis Reveals Different and Predictive Proliferation Expression Signatures of Cancerous vs. Non-Cancerous Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003806.
Understanding cell proliferation mechanisms has been a long-lasting goal of the scientific community and specifically of cancer researchers. Previous genome-scale studies of cancer proliferation determinants have mainly relied on knockdown screens aimed to gauge their effects on cancer growth. This powerful approach has several limitations such as off-target effects, partial knockdown, and masking effects due to functional backups. Here we employ a complementary approach and assign each gene a cancer Proliferation Index (cPI) that quantifies the association between its expression levels and growth rate measurements across 60 cancer cell lines. Reassuringly, genes found essential in cancer gene knockdown screens exhibit significant positive cPI values, while tumor suppressors exhibit significant negative cPI values. Cell cycle, DNA replication, splicing and protein production related processes are positively associated with cancer proliferation, while cellular migration is negatively associated with it – in accordance with the well known “go or grow” dichotomy. A parallel analysis of genes' non-cancerous proliferation indices (nPI) across 224 lymphoblastoid cell lines reveals surprisingly marked differences between cancerous and non-cancerous proliferation. These differences highlight genes in the translation and spliceosome machineries as selective cancer proliferation-associated proteins. A cross species comparison reveals that cancer proliferation resembles that of microorganisms while non-cancerous proliferation does not. Furthermore, combining cancerous and non-cancerous proliferation signatures leads to enhanced prediction of patient outcome and gene essentiality in cancer. Overall, these results point to an inherent difference between cancerous and non-cancerous proliferation determinants, whose understanding may contribute to the future development of novel cancer-specific anti-proliferative drugs.
Author Summary
One of the hallmarks of cancer is uncontrolled cellular proliferation, and therefore many anti-cancer drugs aim to disrupt cancer proliferation. However, some of these drugs (e.g., chemotherapeutic agents) affect normal proliferating cells as well, resulting in undesirable side effects. Understanding the differences between cancerous and non-cancerous proliferation can help us design new selective drugs that kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. In this work, we use genome scale gene expression and growth rate measurements across 60 cancer cell lines (NCI-60) to uncover genetic determinants of cancerous proliferation. In parallel, gene expression and growth rate measurements of non-cancerous cell lines allow us to uncover determinants of non-cancerous proliferation. Notably, we find marked differences between the cancerous and non-cancerous proliferation. The two proliferation signatures can be used jointly to enhance the prediction of patient outcome in cancer. Notably, we find that certain genes in the translation and spliceosome machineries are involved in cancerous proliferation but not in non-cancerous proliferation, highlighting them as putative selective anti-cancer drug targets.
PMCID: PMC3778010  PMID: 24068970
16.  System-Wide Analysis Reveals a Complex Network of Tumor-Fibroblast Interactions Involved in Tumorigenicity 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003789.
Many fibroblast-secreted proteins promote tumorigenicity, and several factors secreted by cancer cells have in turn been proposed to induce these proteins. It is not clear whether there are single dominant pathways underlying these interactions or whether they involve multiple pathways acting in parallel. Here, we identified 42 fibroblast-secreted factors induced by breast cancer cells using comparative genomic analysis. To determine what fraction was active in promoting tumorigenicity, we chose five representative fibroblast-secreted factors for in vivo analysis. We found that the majority (three out of five) played equally major roles in promoting tumorigenicity, and intriguingly, each one had distinct effects on the tumor microenvironment. Specifically, fibroblast-secreted amphiregulin promoted breast cancer cell survival, whereas the chemokine CCL7 stimulated tumor cell proliferation while CCL2 promoted innate immune cell infiltration and angiogenesis. The other two factors tested had minor (CCL8) or minimally (STC1) significant effects on the ability of fibroblasts to promote tumor growth. The importance of parallel interactions between fibroblasts and cancer cells was tested by simultaneously targeting fibroblast-secreted amphiregulin and the CCL7 receptor on cancer cells, and this was significantly more efficacious than blocking either pathway alone. We further explored the concept of parallel interactions by testing the extent to which induction of critical fibroblast-secreted proteins could be achieved by single, previously identified, factors produced by breast cancer cells. We found that although single factors could induce a subset of genes, even combinations of factors failed to induce the full repertoire of functionally important fibroblast-secreted proteins. Together, these results delineate a complex network of tumor-fibroblast interactions that act in parallel to promote tumorigenicity and suggest that effective anti-stromal therapeutic strategies will need to be multi-targeted.
Author Summary
There is increasing interest in developing methods to treat cancer by targeting non-cancer cells that play supportive roles in the tumor microenvironment. One type of non-cancer cell that has received considerable attention along these lines is cancer-associated fibroblasts, which can promote tumor formation and tumor growth. There have been several studies showing that inhibition of individual fibroblast genes or proteins dramatically reduces the tumor supportive function of fibroblasts. From the perspective of developing a therapeutic strategy, what remains unclear is whether the several different important factors discovered to date reflect the requirement of a multitude of fibroblast factors to promote tumorigenicity, or whether it reflects the diversity of the epithelial cancer cells and fibroblasts used in these different studies. Here, we addressed this question directly using a single system of fibroblasts and breast cancer epithelial cells. Importantly, we found that a multitude of fibroblast factors are indeed required to promote tumorigenicity, and that they have different effects on the tumor microenvironment. Furthermore, we found that inhibiting multiple fibroblast-secreted factors is more efficacious than blocking individual factors. These results suggest that fibroblasts and cancer cells act through multiple parallel pathways and that effective anti-stromal therapeutic strategies will need to be multi-targeted.
PMCID: PMC3778011  PMID: 24068959
17.  Comparative Oncogenomic Analysis of Copy Number Alterations in Human and Zebrafish Tumors Enables Cancer Driver Discovery 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003734.
The identification of cancer drivers is a major goal of current cancer research. Finding driver genes within large chromosomal events is especially challenging because such alterations encompass many genes. Previously, we demonstrated that zebrafish malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) are highly aneuploid, much like human tumors. In this study, we examined 147 zebrafish MPNSTs by massively parallel sequencing and identified both large and focal copy number alterations (CNAs). Given the low degree of conserved synteny between fish and mammals, we reasoned that comparative analyses of CNAs from fish versus human MPNSTs would enable elimination of a large proportion of passenger mutations, especially on large CNAs. We established a list of orthologous genes between human and zebrafish, which includes approximately two-thirds of human protein-coding genes. For the subset of these genes found in human MPNST CNAs, only one quarter of their orthologues were co-gained or co-lost in zebrafish, dramatically narrowing the list of candidate cancer drivers for both focal and large CNAs. We conclude that zebrafish-human comparative analysis represents a powerful, and broadly applicable, tool to enrich for evolutionarily conserved cancer drivers.
Author Summary
Cancer is essentially a genetic disease, caused by serial genetic changes including point mutations and chromosome number abnormalities. The latter leads to copy number alterations of many genes. While there are usually thousands of these genetic changes in a given tumor, only a small fraction likely contribute to cancer development. One of the major challenges is to distinguish these cancer “driver” genes from “passenger” mutations that do not contribute to the cancer phenotype. In particular, identifying the driver genes on entire chromosomes that are frequently gained or lost in tumors remains a recalcitrant problem as these alterations contain so many genes. We demonstrate that, because the chromosomal location of genes is highly scrambled between zebrafish and human, the number of passenger genes can be dramatically reduced by comparing the genes in copy number alterations found in zebrafish and human tumors. Thus, our approach dramatically narrows down the list of candidate cancer drivers, and can accelerate discovery of novel cancer drivers and pathways that could inform future targeted therapy and personalized medicine.
PMCID: PMC3757083  PMID: 24009526
18.  Characterization of the p53 Cistrome – DNA Binding Cooperativity Dissects p53's Tumor Suppressor Functions 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003726.
p53 protects us from cancer by transcriptionally regulating tumor suppressive programs designed to either prevent the development or clonal expansion of malignant cells. How p53 selects target genes in the genome in a context- and tissue-specific manner remains largely obscure. There is growing evidence that the ability of p53 to bind DNA in a cooperative manner prominently influences target gene selection with activation of the apoptosis program being completely dependent on DNA binding cooperativity. Here, we used ChIP-seq to comprehensively profile the cistrome of p53 mutants with reduced or increased cooperativity. The analysis highlighted a particular relevance of cooperativity for extending the p53 cistrome to non-canonical binding sequences characterized by deletions, spacer insertions and base mismatches. Furthermore, it revealed a striking functional separation of the cistrome on the basis of cooperativity; with low cooperativity genes being significantly enriched for cell cycle and high cooperativity genes for apoptotic functions. Importantly, expression of high but not low cooperativity genes was correlated with superior survival in breast cancer patients. Interestingly, in contrast to most p53-activated genes, p53-repressed genes did not commonly contain p53 binding elements. Nevertheless, both the degree of gene activation and repression were cooperativity-dependent, suggesting that p53-mediated gene repression is largely indirect and mediated by cooperativity-dependently transactivated gene products such as CDKN1A, E2F7 and non-coding RNAs. Since both activation of apoptosis genes with non-canonical response elements and repression of pro-survival genes are crucial for p53's apoptotic activity, the cistrome analysis comprehensively explains why p53-induced apoptosis, but not cell cycle arrest, strongly depends on the intermolecular cooperation of p53 molecules as a possible safeguard mechanism protecting from accidental cell killing.
Author Summary
The tumor suppressor gene p53 counteracts tumor growth by activating genes that prevent cell proliferation or induce cell death. How p53 selects genes in the genome to direct cell fate specifically into one or the other direction remains unclear. We show that the ability of p53 molecules to interact and thereby cooperate, influences which genes in the genome p53 is regulating. In the absence of cooperation, p53 only binds and regulates a limited ‘default’ set of genes that is proficient to stop cell proliferation but insufficient to induce cell death. Cooperation increases p53's DNA binding and enables context-dependent activation of apoptosis genes and repression of pro-survival genes which together triggers cell death. As the concerted effort of p53 molecules is needed, the threshold for cell killing is raised possibly to protect us from accidental cell loss. Thus, by shaping the genomic binding pattern, p53 cooperation fine-tunes the gene activity pattern to steer cell fate into the most appropriate, context-dependent direction. The genome-wide binding patterns of cooperating and non-cooperating p53 proteins generated in this study provide a comprehensive list of p53 binding sites as a resource for the scientific community to further explore mechanisms of tumor suppression by p53.
PMCID: PMC3744428  PMID: 23966881
19.  An Essential Function for the ATR-Activation-Domain (AAD) of TopBP1 in Mouse Development and Cellular Senescence 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(8):e1003702.
ATR activation is dependent on temporal and spatial interactions with partner proteins. In the budding yeast model, three proteins – Dpb11TopBP1, Ddc1Rad9 and Dna2 - all interact with and activate Mec1ATR. Each contains an ATR activation domain (ADD) that interacts directly with the Mec1ATR:Ddc2ATRIP complex. Any of the Dpb11TopBP1, Ddc1Rad9 or Dna2 ADDs is sufficient to activate Mec1ATR in vitro. All three can also independently activate Mec1ATR in vivo: the checkpoint is lost only when all three AADs are absent. In metazoans, only TopBP1 has been identified as a direct ATR activator. Depletion-replacement approaches suggest the TopBP1-AAD is both sufficient and necessary for ATR activation. The physiological function of the TopBP1 AAD is, however, unknown. We created a knock-in point mutation (W1147R) that ablates mouse TopBP1-AAD function. TopBP1-W1147R is early embryonic lethal. To analyse TopBP1-W1147R cellular function in vivo, we silenced the wild type TopBP1 allele in heterozygous MEFs. AAD inactivation impaired cell proliferation, promoted premature senescence and compromised Chk1 signalling following UV irradiation. We also show enforced TopBP1 dimerization promotes ATR-dependent Chk1 phosphorylation. Our data suggest that, unlike the yeast models, the TopBP1-AAD is the major activator of ATR, sustaining cell proliferation and embryonic development.
Author Summary
DNA damage checkpoint signalling is an essential component of the DNA damage response. Many of the key proteins initiating the checkpoint signal have been identified and characterised in yeast. Here we explore the role of the ATR activating domain (AAD) of TopBP1 in embryonic development, cell growth and checkpoint activation using a mouse model. In contrast to yeasts, where the TopBP1 AAD plays a redundant, and thus phenotypically minor, role in ATR activation, our data demonstrate that the mouse TopBP1 AAD is essential for cellular proliferation. Interestingly, this suggests evolution has provided a simpler ATR activation mechanism in metazoans than it has in yeasts.
PMCID: PMC3738440  PMID: 23950734
20.  Oxidative Stress and Replication-Independent DNA Breakage Induced by Arsenic in Saccharomyces cerevisiae 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003640.
Arsenic is a well-established human carcinogen of poorly understood mechanism of genotoxicity. It is generally accepted that arsenic acts indirectly by generating oxidative DNA damage that can be converted to replication-dependent DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs), as well as by interfering with DNA repair pathways and DNA methylation. Here we show that in budding yeast arsenic also causes replication and transcription-independent DSBs in all phases of the cell cycle, suggesting a direct genotoxic mode of arsenic action. This is accompanied by DNA damage checkpoint activation resulting in cell cycle delays in S and G2/M phases in wild type cells. In G1 phase, arsenic activates DNA damage response only in the absence of the Yku70–Yku80 complex which normally binds to DNA ends and inhibits resection of DSBs. This strongly indicates that DSBs are produced by arsenic in G1 but DNA ends are protected by Yku70–Yku80 and thus invisible for the checkpoint response. Arsenic-induced DSBs are processed by homologous recombination (HR), as shown by Rfa1 and Rad52 nuclear foci formation and requirement of HR proteins for cell survival during arsenic exposure. We show further that arsenic greatly sensitizes yeast to phleomycin as simultaneous treatment results in profound accumulation of DSBs. Importantly, we observed a similar response in fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, suggesting that the mechanisms of As(III) genotoxicity may be conserved in other organisms.
Author Summary
Arsenic is a highly toxic compound which causes several types of cancer in humans. However, precise mechanisms of arsenic carcinogenesis remain elusive and are still a matter of debate. For example, the oxidative stress theory of arsenic proposes that arsenic generates reactive oxygen species producing oxidative DNA damage that can be converted to DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) during replication. Using budding yeast as a model organism, we show that arsenic is able to induce DSBs in the absence of transcription, replication and pronounced oxidative stress. Importantly, we also demonstrate that arsenic greatly enhances cytotoxic activity of antitumor drug phleomycin, as evidenced by increased sensitivity and DNA fragmentation visible upon co-treatment. Our work suggests that arsenic acts as a direct inducer of DNA breaks and could be potentially used with other anticancer drugs, like phleomycin-related bleomycin, as a new combinatory therapy to treat cancers that poorly respond to these drugs. Additionally, since in many countries millions of people are exposed to high doses of arsenic in drinking water, we believe that our findings about genotoxicity of arsenic are important not only to geneticists but also to the general public.
PMCID: PMC3723488  PMID: 23935510
21.  Reassembly of Nucleosomes at the MLH1 Promoter Initiates Resilencing Following Decitabine Exposure 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003636.
Hypomethylating agents reactivate tumor suppressor genes that are epigenetically silenced in cancer. Inevitably these genes are resilenced, leading to drug resistance. Using the MLH1 tumor suppressor gene as a model, we showed that decitabine-induced re-expression was dependent upon demethylation and eviction of promoter nucleosomes. Following decitabine withdrawal, MLH1 was rapidly resilenced despite persistent promoter demethylation. Single molecule analysis at multiple time points showed that gene resilencing was initiated by nucleosome reassembly on demethylated DNA and only then was followed by remethylation and stable silencing. Taken together, these data establish the importance of nucleosome positioning in mediating resilencing of drug-induced gene reactivation and suggest a role for therapeutic targeting of nucleosome assembly as a mechanism to overcome drug resistance.
Author Summary
Hypomethylating agents are emerging as effective cancer therapies. However, their therapeutic effects are transient and drug resistance inevitably develops. While resistance is associated with resilencing of genes initially demethylated by the drug, the mechanism underlying this resilencing is unknown. We provide evidence that the rapid reassembly of nucleosomes at transcription start sites initiates resilencing and is a prerequisite for promoter remethylation. This finding shows reassembly of nucleosomes at the promoter of critical genes is a potential early marker of resistance to hypomethylating agents. Our findings have implications for the treatment of cancer using epigenetic therapies that target DNA methylation alone, and suggest that overcoming drug resistance will require therapeutic strategies which prevent nucleosome deposition.
PMCID: PMC3723495  PMID: 23935509
22.  The BTB-zinc Finger Transcription Factor Abrupt Acts as an Epithelial Oncogene in Drosophila melanogaster through Maintaining a Progenitor-like Cell State 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003627.
The capacity of tumour cells to maintain continual overgrowth potential has been linked to the commandeering of normal self-renewal pathways. Using an epithelial cancer model in Drosophila melanogaster, we carried out an overexpression screen for oncogenes capable of cooperating with the loss of the epithelial apico-basal cell polarity regulator, scribbled (scrib), and identified the cell fate regulator, Abrupt, a BTB-zinc finger protein. Abrupt overexpression alone is insufficient to transform cells, but in cooperation with scrib loss of function, Abrupt promotes the formation of massive tumours in the eye/antennal disc. The steroid hormone receptor coactivator, Taiman (a homologue of SRC3/AIB1), is known to associate with Abrupt, and Taiman overexpression also drives tumour formation in cooperation with the loss of Scrib. Expression arrays and ChIP-Seq indicates that Abrupt overexpression represses a large number of genes, including steroid hormone-response genes and multiple cell fate regulators, thereby maintaining cells within an epithelial progenitor-like state. The progenitor-like state is characterised by the failure to express the conserved Eyes absent/Dachshund regulatory complex in the eye disc, and in the antennal disc by the failure to express cell fate regulators that define the temporal elaboration of the appendage along the proximo-distal axis downstream of Distalless. Loss of scrib promotes cooperation with Abrupt through impaired Hippo signalling, which is required and sufficient for cooperative overgrowth with Abrupt, and JNK (Jun kinase) signalling, which is required for tumour cell migration/invasion but not overgrowth. These results thus identify a novel cooperating oncogene, identify mammalian family members of which are also known oncogenes, and demonstrate that epithelial tumours in Drosophila can be characterised by the maintenance of a progenitor-like state.
Author Summary
Cancer is a multigenic process, involving cooperative interactions between oncogenes or tumour suppressors. In this study, in a genetic screen in the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, for genes that cooperate with a mutation in the cell polarity (shape) regulator, scribbled (scrib), we identify a novel cooperative oncogene, abrupt. Expression of abrupt in scrib mutant tissue in the developing eye/antennal epithelium results in overgrown invasive tumours. abrupt encodes a BTB-zinc finger transcription factor, which has homology to several cancer-causing proteins in humans, such as BCL6. Analysis of the Abrupt targets and misexpressed genes in abrupt expressing-tissue and abrupt-expressing scrib mutant tumours, revealed cell fate regulators as a major class of targets. Thus, our results reveal that deregulation of multiple cell fate factors by Abrupt expression in the context of polarity disruption is associated with a progenitor-like cell state and the formation of overgrown invasive tumours. Our findings suggest that defective polarity may also be a critical factor in BTB-zinc finger-driven human cancers, and warrants further investigation into this issue.
PMCID: PMC3715428  PMID: 23874226
23.  Distinct Neuroblastoma-associated Alterations of PHOX2B Impair Sympathetic Neuronal Differentiation in Zebrafish Models 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003533.
Heterozygous germline mutations and deletions in PHOX2B, a key regulator of autonomic neuron development, predispose to neuroblastoma, a tumor of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system. To gain insight into the oncogenic mechanisms engaged by these changes, we used zebrafish models to study the functional consequences of aberrant PHOX2B expression in the cells of the developing sympathetic nervous system. Allelic deficiency, modeled by phox2b morpholino knockdown, led to a decrease in the terminal differentiation markers th and dbh in sympathetic ganglion cells. The same effect was seen on overexpression of two distinct neuroblastoma-associated frameshift mutations, 676delG and K155X - but not the R100L missense mutation - in the presence of endogenous Phox2b, pointing to their dominant-negative effects. We demonstrate that Phox2b is capable of regulating itself as well as ascl1, and that phox2b deficiency uncouples this autoregulatory mechanism, leading to inhibition of sympathetic neuron differentiation. This effect on terminal differentiation is associated with an increased number of phox2b+, ascl1+, elavl3− cells that respond poorly to retinoic acid. These findings suggest that a reduced dosage of PHOX2B during development, through either a heterozygous deletion or dominant-negative mutation, imposes a block in the differentiation of sympathetic neuronal precursors, resulting in a cell population that is likely to be susceptible to secondary transforming events.
Author Summary
Neuroblastoma, a tumor of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system, is the most common cancer diagnosed in infancy. Although most cases arise sporadically, familial predisposition also occurs in association with mutations in a single copy of the PHOX2B gene, a “master regulator” of sympathetic neuronal development. The exact mechanisms by which these mutations increase susceptibility to neuroblastoma are unclear, primarily because of the paucity of optimal models in which to study very early development of the sympathetic nervous system. We took advantage of the ex vivo development and transparent nature of zebrafish embryos to study the roles of both normal and mutated PHOX2B in development of the sympathetic nervous system. We present data indicating that aberrant PHOX2B expression causes an arrest in the normal maturation of sympathetic neurons, leading to immature cells that are resistant to drug-induced differentiation. Indeed, we demonstrate that phox2b gene “dosage” is important for normal differentiation of sympathetic neurons in the zebrafish and suggest that the population of immature cells resulting from a decreased dosage of this pivotal factor may be susceptible to secondary mutations that could ultimately lead to neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3675015  PMID: 23754957
24.  Mitotic errors, aneuploidy and micronuclei in Hodgkin lymphoma pathogenesis 
The Reed-Sternberg (RS) cell is the driving force behind Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), a unique malignancy in which the rare RS cell creates an inflammatory microenvironment that recruits a reactive tumor infiltrate. Well-known oncogenic factors such as nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) signaling and Epstein-Barr virus infection are linked to HL pathogenesis but do not adequately explain the RS cell’s key pathologic features of multi-nucleation, abnormalities of centrosome function and number and aneuploidy. Chromosomal instability is also considered a key pathway in the origin of the RS cell, though the molecular mechanisms have largely been a “black box.” We demonstrated that the midbody kelch domain protein KLHDC8B protects against mitotic errors, centrosomal amplification and chromosomal instability. Here we discuss how the new findings linking KLHDC8B to mitotic integrity and faithful chromosomal segregation are providing mechanistic explanations for the origin of the RS cell and the molecular pathogenesis of chromosomal instability in HL.
PMCID: PMC3656006  PMID: 23713010
Hodgkin lymphoma; Reed-Sternberg cell; aneuploidy; micronuclei; chromothripsis; kelch proteins; mitosis
25.  Loss of Expression and Promoter Methylation of SLIT2 Are Associated with Sessile Serrated Adenoma Formation 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(5):e1003488.
Serrated adenomas form a distinct subtype of colorectal pre-malignant lesions that may progress to malignancy along a different molecular pathway than the conventional adenoma-carcinoma pathway. Previous studies have hypothesised that BRAF mutation and promoter hypermethylation plays a role, but the evidence for this is not robust. We aimed to carry out a whole-genome loss of heterozygosity analysis, followed by targeted promoter methylation and expression analysis to identify potential pathways in serrated adenomas. An initial panel of 9 sessile serrated adenomas (SSA) and one TSA were analysed using Illumina Goldengate HumanLinkage panel arrays to ascertain regions of loss of heterozygosity. This was verified via molecular inversion probe analysis and microsatellite analysis of a further 32 samples. Methylation analysis of genes of interest was carried out using methylation specific PCR (verified by pyrosequencing) and immunohistochemistry used to correlate loss of expression of genes of interest. All experiments used adenoma samples and normal tissue samples as control. SSA samples were found on whole-genome analysis to have consistent loss of heterozygosity at 4p15.1–4p15.31, which was not found in the sole TSA, adenomas, or normal tissues. Genes of interest in this region were PDCH7 and SLIT2, and combined MSP/IHC analysis of these genes revealed significant loss of SLIT2 expression associated with promoter methylation of SLIT2. Loss of expression of SLIT2 by promoter hypermethylation and loss of heterozygosity events is significantly associated with serrated adenoma development, and SLIT2 may represent a epimutated tumour suppressor gene according to the Knudson “two hit” hypothesis.
Author Summary
Polyps in the bowel are the precursors of development of bowel cancer. Much is known about the biology and pathology of these polyps. These polyps have classically been divided into two main types: adenomas and hyperplastic polyps. The former has pre-malignant potential, whereas it is thought the second does not. Within the last 10 years, a third type of polyp has been discovered, called the “serrated adenoma,” that has features of both adenomas and hyperplastic polyps. However, they seem to have very different characteristics, and we are not certain of the distinct molecular event that leads to their development. In this study we investigate the genetic differences that set apart serrated adenomas from other types of polyps. We report on a gene change within these polyps that seems to be associated with their development. The gene change is highly unusual as it consists of the loss of one copy of the gene as well as methylation of the other gene. This methylation switches off the remaining copy of the gene and stops its associated protein from being expressed in the polyp. To our knowledge, this is the first time this phenomenon has been seen.
PMCID: PMC3649993  PMID: 23671423

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