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1.  Polo-like kinase 1 induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and promotes epithelial cell motility by activating CRAF/ERK signaling 
eLife  null;5:e10734.
Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) is a key cell cycle regulator implicated in the development of various cancers, including prostate cancer. However, the functions of PLK1 beyond cell cycle regulation remain poorly characterized. Here, we report that PLK1 overexpression in prostate epithelial cells triggers oncogenic transformation. It also results in dramatic transcriptional reprogramming of the cells, leading to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and stimulation of cell migration and invasion. Consistently, PLK1 downregulation in metastatic prostate cancer cells enhances epithelial characteristics and inhibits cell motility. The signaling mechanisms underlying the observed cellular effects of PLK1 involve direct PLK1-dependent phosphorylation of CRAF with subsequent stimulation of the MEK1/2-ERK1/2-Fra1-ZEB1/2 signaling pathway. Our findings highlight novel non-canonical functions of PLK1 as a key regulator of EMT and cell motility in normal prostate epithelium and prostate cancer. This study also uncovers a previously unanticipated role of PLK1 as a potent activator of MAPK signaling.
eLife digest
Living cells grow and divide via a series of events called the cell cycle. If this process is disturbed in animals, it can lead to cancer. In the later stages of tumor development, cancer cells frequently change their structure and behavior in a process called the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which enables them to migrate and form new tumors around the body.
A protein called Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) plays a central role in the cell cycle and has been implicated in the development of various cancers, including prostate cancer. Recent evidence suggests that PLK1 also has other roles in cells, but it is not clear how much they contribute to the development of cancer.
Wu et al. studied PLK1 in human cells and mice and showed that manipulating healthy prostate epithelial cells to produce more PLK1 caused the cells to go through the EMT and increased their ability to migrate. In other experiments, the levels of PLK1 in prostate cancer cells were deliberately lowered, which caused the cells to change to become more like epithelial cells and become less mobile. Wu et al. also investigated how PLK1 promotes the EMT and cell migration. These experiments showed that PLK1 activates a protein that controls an important chain of signaling events called the ERK/MAPK pathway, which is essential for cell growth and migration.
Wu et al.’s findings uncover a new role for PLK1 in promoting the spread of cancer cells around the body. A future challenge is to find out how PLK1 is regulated in people with prostate cancer and whether the EMT is involved in promoting other processes in cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4811775  PMID: 27003818
polo-like kinase 1; epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; cell migration; CRAF; prostate cancer; invasion; Human; Mouse
2.  Suppression of miR-184 in malignant gliomas upregulates SND1 and promotes tumor aggressiveness 
Neuro-Oncology  2014;17(3):419-429.
Malignant glioma is an aggressive cancer requiring new therapeutic targets. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate gene expression post transcriptionally and are implicated in cancer development and progression. Deregulated expressions of several miRNAs, specifically hsa-miR-184, correlate with glioma development.
Bioinformatic approaches were used to identify potential miR-184-regulated target genes involved in malignant glioma progression. This strategy identified a multifunctional nuclease, SND1, known to be overexpressed in multiple cancers, including breast, colon, and hepatocellular carcinoma, as a putative direct miR-184 target gene. SND1 levels were evaluated in patient tumor samples and human-derived cell lines. We analyzed invasion and signaling in vitro through SND1 gain-of-function and loss-of-function. An orthotopic xenograft model with primary glioma cells demonstrated a role of miR-184/SND1 in glioma pathogenesis in vivo.
SND1 is highly expressed in human glioma tissue and inversely correlated with miR-184 expression. Transfection of glioma cells with a miR-184 mimic inhibited invasion, suppressed colony formation, and reduced anchorage-independent growth in soft agar. Similar phenotypes were evident when SND1 was knocked down with siRNA. Additionally, knockdown (KD) of SND1 induced senescence and improved the chemoresistant properties of malignant glioma cells. In an orthotopic xenograft model, KD of SND1 or transfection with a miR-184 mimic induced a less invasive tumor phenotype and significantly improved survival of tumor bearing mice.
Our study is the first to show a novel regulatory role of SND1, a direct target of miR-184, in glioma progression, suggesting that the miR-184/SND1 axis may be a useful diagnostic and therapeutic tool for malignant glioma.
PMCID: PMC4483100  PMID: 25216670
intracranial injection; invasion; malignant glioma; miR-184; SND1
3.  Gene Therapies for Cancer: Strategies, Challenges and Successes 
Journal of cellular physiology  2015;230(2):259-271.
Gene therapy, which involves replacement of a defective gene with a functional, healthy copy of that gene, is a potentially beneficial cancer treatment approach particularly over chemotherapy, which often lacks selectivity and can cause non-specific toxicity. Despite significant progress pre-clinically with respect to both enhanced targeting and expression in a tumor-selective manner several hurdles still prevent success in the clinic, including non-specific expression, low-efficiency delivery and biosafety. Various innovative genetic approaches are under development to reconstruct vectors/transgenes to make them safer and more effective. Utilizing cutting-edge delivery technologies, gene expression can now be targeted in a tissue- and organ-specific manner. With these advances, gene therapy is poised to become amenable for routine cancer therapy with potential to elevate this methodology as a first line therapy for neoplastic diseases. This review discusses recent advances in gene therapy and their impact on a pre-clinical and clinical level.
PMCID: PMC4363073  PMID: 25196387
4.  Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) interacts with Akt isoform 2 to control glioma growth, survival and pathogenesis 
Cancer research  2014;74(24):7321-7332.
The oncogene AEG-1 (MTDH) is highly expressed in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and many other types of cancer, where it activates multiple signaling pathways that drive proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis, chemoresistance, radioresistance and metastasis. AEG-1 activates the Akt signaling pathway and Akt and c-Myc are positive regulators of AEG-1 transcription, generating a positive feedback loop between AEG-1 and Akt in regulating tumorigenesis. Here we describe in GBM cells a direct interaction between an internal domain of AEG-1 and the PH domain of Akt2, a major driver in GBM. Expression and interaction of AEG-1 and Akt2 are elevated in GBM and contribute to tumor cell survival, proliferation and invasion. Clinically, in silico gene expression and immunohistochemical analyses of patient specimens showed that AEG-1 and Akt2 expression correlated with GBM progression and reduced patient survival. AEG-1-Akt2 interaction prolonged stabilization of Akt2 phosphorylation at S474, regulating downstream signaling cascades which enable cell proliferation and survival. Disrupting AEG-1-Akt2 interaction by competitive binding of the Akt2-PH domain led to reduced cell viability and invasion. When combined with AEG-1 silencing, conditional expression of Akt2-PH markedly increased survival in an orthotopic mouse model of human GBM. Our study uncovers a novel molecular mechanism by which AEG-1 augments glioma progression and offers a rationale to block AEG-1-Akt2 signaling function as a novel GBM treatment.
PMCID: PMC4268375  PMID: 25304263
Glioblastoma; AEG-1; Akt2
5.  Analysis of global changes in gene expression induced by human polynucleotide phosphorylase (hPNPaseold-35) 
Journal of cellular physiology  2014;229(12):1952-1962.
As a strategy to identify gene expression changes affected by human polynucleotide phosphorylase (hPNPaseold-35), we performed gene expression analysis of HeLa cells in which hPNPaseold-35 was overexpressed. The observed changes were then compared to those of HO-1 melanoma cells in which hPNPaseold-35 was stably knocked down. Through this analysis, 90 transcripts, which positively or negatively correlated with hPNPaseold-35 expression, were identified. The majority of these genes were associated with cell communication, cell cycle and chromosomal organization gene ontology categories. For a number of these genes, the positive or negative correlations with hPNPaseold-35 expression were consistent with transcriptional data extracted from the TCGA (The Cancer Genome Atlas) expression datasets for colon adenocarcinoma (COAD), skin cutaneous melanoma (SKCM), ovarian serous cyst adenocarcinoma (OV), and prostate adenocarcinoma (PRAD). Further analysis comparing the gene expression changes between Ad.hPNPaseold-35 infected HO-1 melanoma cells and HeLa cells overexpressing hPNPaseold-35 under the control of a doxycycline-inducible promoter, revealed global changes in genes involved in cell cycle and mitosis. Overall, this study provides further evidence that hPNPaseold-35 is associated with global changes in cell cycle-associated genes and identifies potential gene targets for future investigation.
PMCID: PMC4149605  PMID: 24729470
6.  MDA-7/IL-24 functions as a tumor suppressor gene in vivo in transgenic mouse models of breast cancer 
Oncotarget  2015;6(35):36928-36942.
Melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/Interleukin-24 (MDA-7/IL-24) is a novel member of the IL-10 gene family that selectively induces apoptosis and toxic autophagy in a broad spectrum of human cancers, including breast cancer, without harming normal cells or tissues. The ability to investigate the critical events underlying cancer initiation and progression, as well as the capacity to test the efficacy of novel therapeutics, has been significantly advanced by the development of genetically engineered mice (GEMs) that accurately recapitulate specific human cancers. We utilized three transgenic mouse models to better comprehend the in vivo role of MDA-7/IL-24 in breast cancer. Using the MMTV-PyMT spontaneous mammary tumor model, we confirmed that exogenously introducing MDA-7/IL-24 using a Cancer Terminator Virus caused a reduction in tumor burden and also produced an antitumor “bystander” effect. Next we performed xenograft studies in a newly created MMTV-MDA-7 transgenic model that over-expresses MDA-7/IL-24 in the mammary glands during pregnancy and lactation, and found that MDA-7/IL-24 overexpression delayed tumor growth following orthotopic injection of a murine PDX tumor cell line (mPDX) derived from a tumor formed in an MMTV-PyMT mouse. We also crossed the MMTV-MDA-7 line to MMTV-Erbb2 transgenic mice and found that MDA-7/IL-24 overexpression delayed the onset of mammary tumor development in this model of spontaneous mammary tumorigenesis as well. Finally, we assessed the role of MDA-7/IL-24 in immune regulation, which can potentially contribute to tumor suppression in vivo. Our findings provide further direct in vivo evidence for the role of MDA-7/IL-24 in tumor suppression in breast cancer in immune-competent transgenic mice.
PMCID: PMC4741906  PMID: 26474456
melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (MDA-7/IL-24); MMTV-PyMT mice; MMTV-MDA-7 mice; MMTV-MDA-7/MMTV-Erbb2 mice; transgenic mice
7.  Pancreatic cancer-specific cell death induced in vivo by cytoplasmic-delivered polyinosine-polycytidylic acid 
Cancer research  2014;74(21):6224-6235.
Polyinosine-polycytidylic acid (pIC) is a synthetic dsRNA that acts as an immune agonist of TLR3 and RLR to activate dendritic and NK cells that can kill tumor cells. pIC can also trigger apoptosis in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells but its mechanism of action is obscure. In this study, we investigated the potential therapeutic activity of a formulation of pIC with polyethylenimine ([pIC]PEI) in PDAC and investigated its mechanism of action. [pIC]PEI stimulated apoptosis in PDAC cells without affecting normal pancreatic epithelial cells. Mechanistically, [pIC]PEI repressed XIAP and survivin expression and activated an immune response by inducing MDA-5, RIG-I and NOXA. Phosphorylation of AKT was inhibited by [pIC]PEI in PDAC and this event was critical for stimulating apoptosis through XIAP and survivin degradation. In vivo administration of [pIC]PEI inhibited tumor growth via AKT-mediated XIAP degradation in both subcutaneous and quasi-orthotopic-models of PDAC. Taken together, these results offer a preclinical proof-of-concept for the evaluation of [pIC]PEI as an immunochemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer.
PMCID: PMC4216760  PMID: 25205107
[pI:C]; [pIC]PEI; jetPEI; Pancreatic cancer; PDAC; AKT; XIAP
8.  Combination of nanoparticle-delivered siRNA for Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA): an effective therapeutic strategy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) 
Bioconjugate chemistry  2015;26(8):1651-1661.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a fatal cancer with no effective therapy. Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) plays a pivotal role in hepatocarcinogenesis and inhibits retinoic acid-induced gene expression and cell death. Combination of a lentivirus expressing AEG-1 shRNA and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) profoundly and synergistically inhibited subcutaneous human HCC xenografts in nude mice. We now have developed liver-targeted nanoplexes by conjugating poly(amidoamine) (PAMAM) dendrimers with polyethylene glycol (PEG) and lactobionic acid (Gal) (PAMAM-PEG-Gal) which were complexed with AEG-1 siRNA (PAMAM-AEG-1si). The polymer conjugate was characterized by 1H-NMR, MALDI and mass spectrometry, and optimal nanoplex formulations were characterized for surface charge, size and morphology. Orthotopic xenografts of human HCC cell QGY-7703 expressing luciferase (QGY-luc) were established in the livers of athymic nude mice and tumor development was monitored by bioluminescence imaging (BLI). Tumor-bearing mice were treated with PAMAM-siCon, PAMAM-siCon+ATRA, PAMAM-AEG-1si and PAMAM-AEG-1si+ATRA. In the control group the tumor developed aggressively. ATRA showed little effect due to high AEG-1 levels in QGY-luc cells. PAMAM-AEG-1si showed significant reduction in tumor growth and the combination of PAMAM-AEG-1si+ATRA showed profound and synergistic inhibition so that the tumors were almost undetectable by BLI. A marked decrease in AEG-1 level was observed in tumor samples treated with PAMAM-AEG-1si. The group treated with PAMAM-AEG-1si+ATRA nanoplexes showed increased necrosis, inhibition of proliferation and increased apoptosis when compared to other groups. Liver is an ideal organ for RNAi therapy and ATRA is an approved anti-cancer agent. Our exciting observations suggest that the combinatorial approach might be an effective way to combat HCC.
PMCID: PMC4783168  PMID: 26079152
Astrocyte elevated gene-1; all-trans retinoic acid; nanoparticle; hepatocellular carcinoma; combinatorial therapy; orthotopic xenograft
9.  Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) and c-Myc cooperate to promote hepatocarcinogenesis 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2015;61(3):915-929.
Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1) and c-Myc are overexpressed in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) functioning as oncogenes. AEG-1 is transcriptionally regulated by c-Myc and AEG-1 itself induces c-Myc by activating Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. We now document cooperation of AEG-1 and c-Myc in promoting hepatocarcinogenesis by analyzing hepatocyte-specific transgenic mice expressing either AEG-1 (Alb/AEG-1), c-Myc (Alb/c-Myc) or both (Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc). WT and Alb/AEG-1 mice did not develop spontaneous HCC. Alb/c-Myc mice developed spontaneous HCC without distant metastasis while Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc mice developed highly aggressive HCC with frank metastasis to the lungs. Induction of carcinogenesis by N-nitrosodiethylamine (DEN) significantly accelerated the kinetics of tumor formation in all groups. However, in Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc the effect was markedly pronounced with lung metastasis. In vitro analysis showed that Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc hepatocytes acquired increased proliferation and transformative potential with sustained activation of pro-survival and epithelialmesenchymal transition (EMT) signaling pathways. RNA-sequencing analysis identified a unique gene signature in livers of Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc mice that was not observed when either AEG-1 or c-Myc was overexpressed. Specifically Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc mice overexpressed maternally imprinted non-coding RNAs, such as Rian, Meg-3 and Migr, which are implicated in hepatocarcinogenesis. Knocking down these ncRNAs significantly inhibited proliferation and invasion by Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc hepatocytes.
Our studies reveal a novel cooperative oncogenic effect of AEG-1 and c-Myc that might explain the mechanism of aggressive HCC. Alb/AEG-1/c-Myc mice provide a useful model to understand the molecular mechanism of cooperation between these two oncogenes and other molecules involved in hepatocarcinogenesis. This model might also be of use for evaluating novel therapeutic strategies targeting HCC.
PMCID: PMC4309751  PMID: 25065684
AEG-1; c-Myc; hepatocarcinogenesis; metastasis; ncRNA
10.  The role of AEG-1 in the development of liver cancer 
Hepatic oncology  2015;2(3):303-312.
AEG-1 is an oncogene that is overexpressed in all cancers, including hepatocellular carcinoma. AEG-1 plays a seminal role in promoting cancer development and progression by augmenting proliferation, invasion, metastasis, angiogenesis and chemoresistance, all hallmarks of aggressive cancer. AEG-1 mediates its oncogenic function predominantly by interacting with various protein complexes. AEG-1 acts as a scaffold protein, activating multiple protumorigenic signal transduction pathways, such as MEK/ERK, PI3K/Akt, NF-κB and Wnt/β-catenin while regulating gene expression at transcriptional, post-transcriptional and translational levels. Our recent studies document that AEG-1 is fundamentally required for activation of inflammation. A comprehensive and convincing body of data currently points to AEG-1 as an essential component critical to the onset and progression of cancer. The present review describes the current knowledge gleaned from patient and experimental studies as well as transgenic and knockout mouse models, on the impact of AEG-1 on hepatocarcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4717832  PMID: 26798451
AEG-1; angiogenesis; chemoresistance; hepatocellular carcinoma; inflammation; metastasis
11.  Targeting tumor invasion: the roles of MDA-9/Syntenin 
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene – 9 (MDA-9)/Syntenin has become an increasingly popular focus for investigation in numerous cancertypes. Originally implicated in melanoma metastasis, it has diverse cellular roles and is consistently identified as a regulator of tumor invasion and angiogenesis. As a potential target for inhibiting some of the most lethal aspects of cancer progression, further insight into the function of MDA-9/Syntenin is mandatory.
Areas covered
Recent literature and seminal articles were reviewed to summarize the latest collective understanding of MDA-9/Syntenin’s role in normal and cancerous settings. Insights into its participation in developmental processes are included, as is the functional significance of the N- and C-terminals and PDZ domains of MDA-9/Syntenin. Current reports highlight the clinical significance of MDA-9/Syntenin expression level in a variety of cancers, often correlating directly with reduced patient survival. Also presented are assessments of roles of MDA-9/Syntenin in cancer progression as well as its functions as an intracellular adapter molecule.
Expert opinion
Multiple studies demonstrate the importance of MDA-9/ Syntenin in tumor invasion and progression. Through the use of novel drug design approaches, this protein may provide a worthwhile therapeutic target. As many conventional therapies do not address, or even enhance, tumor invasion, an anti-invasive approach would be a worthwhile addition in cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC4632993  PMID: 25219541
angiogenesis; breast cancer; c-Src; EGFR; exosomes; glioblastoma; glioma; integrin; invasion; melanoma; melanoma differentiation-associated gene – 9; metastasis; PDZ; small cell lung carcinoma; syndecan binding protein; syntenin; urothelial cell carcinoma; uveal melanoma
12.  Therapy of prostate cancer using a novel cancer terminator virus and a small molecule BH-3 mimetic 
Oncotarget  2015;6(13):10712-10727.
Despite recent advances, treatment options for advanced prostate cancer (CaP) remain limited. We are pioneering approaches to treat advanced CaP that employ conditionally replication-competent oncolytic adenoviruses that simultaneously produce a systemically active cancer-specific therapeutic cytokine, mda-7/IL-24, Cancer Terminator Viruses (CTV). A truncated version of the CCN1/CYR61 gene promoter, tCCN1-Prom, was more active than progression elevated gene-3 promoter (PEG-Prom) in regulating transformation-selective transgene expression in CaP and oncogene-transformed rat embryo cells. Accordingly, we developed a new CTV, Ad.tCCN1-CTV-m7, which displayed dose-dependent killing of CaP without harming normal prostate epithelial cells in vitro with significant anti-cancer activity in vivo in both nude mouse CaP xenograft and transgenic Hi-Myc mice (using ultrasound-targeted microbubble (MB)-destruction, UTMD, with decorated MBs). Resistance to mda-7/IL-24-induced cell deathcorrelated with overexpression of Bcl-2 family proteins. Inhibiting Mcl-1 using an enhanced BH3 mimetic, BI-97D6, sensitized CaP cell lines to mda-7/IL-24-induced apoptosis. Combining BI-97D6 with Ads expressing mda-7/IL-24promoted ER stress, decreased anti-apoptotic Mcl-1 expression and enhanced mda-7/IL-24expression through mRNA stabilization selectively in CaP cells. In Hi-myc mice, the combination induced enhanced apoptosis and tumor growth suppression. These studies highlight therapeutic efficacy of combining a BH3 mimetic with a novel CTV, supporting potential clinical applications for treating advanced CaP.
PMCID: PMC4484414  PMID: 25926554
BH3 mimetic; cancer terminator virus (CTV; prostate cancer (CaP); truncated CCN1 (tCCN1)-Prom; PEG-Prom
13.  Designing Novel Nanoformulations Targeting Glutamate Transporter Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2: Implications in Treating Drug Addiction 
Chronic drug abuse is associated with elevated extracellular glutamate concentration in the brain reward regions. Deficit of glutamate clearance has been identified as a contributing factor that leads to enhanced glutamate concentration following extended drug abuse. Importantly, normalization of glutamate level through induction of glutamate transporter 1 (GLT1)/ excitatory amino acid transporter 2 (EAAT2) expression has been described in several in vivo studies. GLT1 upregulators including ceftriaxone, a beta-lactam antibiotic, have been effective in attenuating drug-seeking and drug-consumption behavior in rodent models. However, potential obstacles toward clinical translation of GLT1 (EAAT2) upregulators as treatment for drug addiction might include poor gastrointestinal absorption, serious peripheral adverse effects, and/or suboptimal CNS concentrations. Given the growing success of nanotechnology in targeting CNS ailments, nanoformulating known GLT1 (EAAT2) upregulators for selective uptake across the blood brain barrier presents an ideal therapeutic approach for treating drug addiction. In this review, we summarize the results obtained with promising GLT1 (EAAT2) inducing compounds in animal models recapitulating drug addiction. Additionally, the various nanoformulations that can be employed for selectively increasing the CNS bioavailability of GLT1 (EAAT2) upregulators are discussed. Finally, the applicability of GLT1 (EAAT2) induction via central delivery of drug-loaded nanoformulations is described.
PMCID: PMC4666545  PMID: 26635971
Glutamate; EAAT2; Drug addiction; Nanoparticles; Transcytosis
14.  Suppression of Her2/Neu mammary tumor development in mda-7/IL-24 transgenic mice 
Oncotarget  2015;6(35):36943-36954.
Melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) encodes a tumor suppressor gene implicated in the growth of various tumor types including breast cancer. We previously demonstrated that recombinant adenovirus-mediated mda-7/IL-24 expression in the mammary glands of carcinogen-treated (methylnitrosourea, MNU) rats suppressed mammary tumor development. Since most MNU-induced tumors in rats contain activating mutations in Ha-ras, which arenot frequently detected in humans, we presently examined the effect of MDA-7/IL-24 on Her2/Neu-induced mammary tumors, in which the RAS pathway is induced. We generated tet-inducible MDA-7/IL-24 transgenic mice and crossed them with Her2/Neu transgenic mice. Triple compound transgenic mice treated with doxycycline exhibited a strong inhibition of tumor development, demonstrating tumor suppressor activity by MDA-7/IL-24 in immune-competent mice. MDA-7/IL-24 induction also inhibited growth of tumors generated following injection of Her2/Neu tumor cells isolated from triple compound transgenic mice that had not been treated with doxycycline, into the mammary fat pads of isogenic FVB mice. Despite initial growth suppression, tumors in triple compound transgenic mice lost mda-7/IL-24 expression and grew, albeit after longer latency, indicating that continuous presence of this cytokine within tumor microenvironment is crucial to sustain tumor inhibitory activity. Mechanistically, MDA-7/IL-24 exerted its tumor suppression effect on HER2+ breast cancer cells, at least in part, through PERP, a member of PMP-22 family with growth arrest and apoptosis-inducing capacity. Overall, our results establish mda-7/IL-24 as a suppressor of mammary tumor development and provide a rationale for using this cytokine in the prevention/treatment of human breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4741907  PMID: 26460950
mda-7/IL-24; HER2; breast cancer; prevention; mouse model
15.  MDA-7/IL-24: Multifunctional Cancer Killing Cytokine 
First identified almost two decades ago as a novel gene differentially expressed in human melanoma cells induced to terminally differentiate, MDA-7/IL-24 has since shown great potential as an anti-cancer gene. MDA-7/IL24, a secreted protein of the IL-10 family, functions as a cytokine at normal physiological levels and is expressed in tissues of the immune system. At supra-physiological levels, MDA-7/IL-24 plays a prominent role in inhibiting tumor growth, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis and was recently shown to target tumor stem/initiating cells for death. Much of the attention focused on MDA-7/IL-24 originated from the fact that it can selectively induce cell death in cancer cells without affecting normal cells. Thus, this gene originally shown to be associated with melanoma cell differentiation has now proven to be a multi-functional protein affecting a broad array of cancers. Moreover, MDA-7/IL-24 has proven efficacious in a Phase I/II clinical trial in humans with multiple advanced cancers. As research in the field progresses, we will unravel more of the functions of MDA-7/IL-24 and define novel ways to utilize MDA-7/IL-24 in the treatment of cancer.
PMCID: PMC4633013  PMID: 25001534
MDA-7; IL-24; Cytokine; Cancer; Apoptosis; Autophagy; Bystander antitumor activity; Cancer terminator virus
16.  Developing an Effective Gene Therapy for Prostate Cancer: New Technologies with Potential to Translate from the Laboratory into the Clinic 
Discovery medicine  2011;11(56):46-56.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S. At present, no single or combination therapy has shown efficacy in decreasing disease progression in patients with metastatic disease. A potentially viable approach for treating late-stage prostate cancer is gene therapy. Adenoviruses (Ad) are the most commonly used mode of gene delivery, but progress using this vector has been hampered by concerns over the safety and practicality of viruses including conditionally replicating Ads (CRAds), particularly for intravenous delivery, and the inefficiency of non-viral transfection techniques. Major challenges for effective gene therapy using Ads are the limited infectivity of regular Ad serotype 5 (Ad5) and the inability to specifically deliver the therapeutic directly into diseased tissue without trapping in the liver or elimination by the immune system. The shortcoming in using Ad5 is mostly attributed to a reduction in Coxsackie-adenovirus receptors (CAR) on the surface of cancer cells, which can be mitigated by generating tropism-modified Ads permitting CAR-independent infection of tumor cells. The limitations of systemic gene delivery can now be overcome by using a novel targeted-delivery approach such as ultrasound (US) contrast agents (microbubbles) to deliver effective therapeutic reagents, Ads, or recombinant proteins, combined with ultrasound-targeted microbubble destruction (UTMD), to develop a site-specific therapy in immune competent transgenic mouse models. These unique strategies for enhancing the efficacy of gene therapy provide a direct path to translation from the laboratory into the clinic for developing an effective gene therapy of prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC4348040  PMID: 21276410
17.  Genetic deletion of AEG-1 prevents hepatocarcinogenesis 
Cancer research  2014;74(21):6184-6193.
Activation of the oncogene AEG-1 (MTDH, LYRIC) has been implicated recently in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In mice, HCC can be initiated by exposure to the carcinogen DEN, which has been shown to rely upon activation of NF-κB in liver macrophages. Since AEG-1 is an essential component of NF-κB activation, we interrogated the susceptibility of mice lacking the AEG-1 gene to DEN-induced hepatocarcinogenesis. AEG-1-deficient mice displayed resistance to DEN-induced HCC and lung metastasis. No difference was observed in the response to growth factor signaling or activation of Akt, ERK and β-catenin, compared to wild-type control animals. However, AEG-1-deficient hepatocytes and macrophages exhibited a relative defect in NF-κB activation. Mechanistic investigations showed that IL-6 production and STAT-3 activation, two key mediators of HCC development, were also deficient along with other biological and epigenetics findings in the tumor microenvironment confirming that AEG-1 supports an NF-κB-mediated inflammatory state that drives HCC development. Overall, our findings offer in vivo proofs that AEG-1 is essential for NF-κB activation and hepatocarcinogenesis, and they reveal new roles for AEG-1 in shaping the tumor microenvironment for HCC development.
PMCID: PMC4216744  PMID: 25193383
Astrocyte elevated gene-1 (AEG-1); hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); tumor microenvironment; macrophages; NF-κB
18.  Expression patterns of MDA-9/syntenin during development of the mouse embryo 
Journal of molecular histology  2012;44(2):159-166.
MDA-9 (melanoma differentiation associated gene-9)/Syntenin is a PDZ domain-containing adaptor protein involved in multiple diverse cellular processes including organization of protein complexes in the plasma membrane, intracellular trafficking and cell surface targeting, synaptic transmission, and cancer metastasis. In the present study, we analyzed the expression pattern of MDA-9/syntenin during mouse development. MDA-9/syntenin was robustly expressed with tight regulation of its temporal and spatial expression during fetal development in the developing skin, spinal cord, heart, lung and liver, which are regulated by multiple signaling pathways in the process of organogenesis. Recent studies also indicate that MDA-9/syntenin is involved in the signaling pathways crucial during development such as Wnt, Notch and FGF. Taken together, these results suggest that MDA-9/syntenin may play a prominent role during normal mouse development in the context of cell proliferation as well as differentiation through modulating multiple signaling pathways as a crucial adaptor protein. Additionally, temporal regulation of MDA-9/syntenin expression may be required during specific stages and in specific tissues during development.
PMCID: PMC3605205  PMID: 23180153
MDA-9/syntenin; development; mouse embryo; adaptor protein
19.  Design, Synthesis and Bio-evaluation of an EphA2-based Targeted Delivery System 
ChemMedChem  2014;9(7):1403-1412.
We recently described a new targeted delivery system based on specific EphA2 receptor targeting peptides conjugated with the chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel. In this manuscript we investigate the chemical determinants responsible for the stability and degradation of these agents in plasma. Introducing modifications in both the peptide and the linker between the peptide and paclitaxel, resulted in drug conjugates that are both long-lived in rat plasma and that markedly reduced tumor size in a prostate cancer xenograft model compared to paclitaxel alone treatment. These studies identify critical rate-limiting degradation sites on the peptide-drug conjugates, enabling the design of agents with increased stability and efficacy. These results provide support for our central hypothesis that peptide-drug conjugates targeting the EphA2 receptor represent an innovative and potentially effective strategy to selectively deliver cytotoxic drugs to cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4082471  PMID: 24677792
Targeted delivery; drug discovery; EphA2; ephrin; chemotherapy
20.  Targeting breast cancer-initiating/stem cells with melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) displays a broad range of antitumor properties including cancer-specific induction of apoptosis, inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and modulation of antitumor immune responses. In our study, we elucidated the role of MDA-7/IL-24 in inhibiting growth of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. Ad.mda-7 infection decreased proliferation of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells without affecting normal breast stem cells. Ad.mda-7 induced apoptosis and endoplasmic reticulum stress in breast cancer-initiating/stem cells similar to unsorted breast cancer cells and inhibited the self-renewal property of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells by suppressing Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Prevention of inhibition of Wnt signaling by LiCl increased cell survival upon Ad.mda-7 treatment, suggesting that Wnt signaling inhibition might play a key role in MDA-7/IL-24-mediated death of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. In a nude mouse subcutaneous xenograft model, Ad.mda-7 injection profoundly inhibited growth of tumors generated from breast cancer-initiating/stem cells and also exerted a potent “bystander” activity inhibiting growth of distant uninjected tumors. Further studies revealed that tumor growth inhibition by Ad.mda-7 was associated with a decrease in proliferation and angiogenesis, two intrinsic features of MDA-7/IL-24, and a reduction in vivo in the percentage of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. Our findings demonstrate that MDA-7/IL-24 is not only nontoxic to normal cells and normal stem cells but also can kill both unsorted cancer cells and enriched populations of cancer-initiating/stem cells, providing further documentation that MDA-7/IL-24 might be a safe and effective way to eradicate cancers and also potentially establish disease-free survival.
PMCID: PMC4334374  PMID: 23720015
MDA-7/IL-24; apoptosis; Wnt signaling; cancer-initiating/stem cells; breast cancer
21.  Enhanced Prostate Cancer Gene Transfer and Therapy Using a Novel Serotype Chimera Cancer Terminator Virus (Ad.5/3-CTV) 
Journal of cellular physiology  2014;229(1):34-43.
Few options are available for treating patients with advanced prostate cancer (PC). As PC is a slow growing disease and accessible by ultrasound, gene therapy could provide a viable option for this neoplasm. Conditionally replication-competent adenoviruses (CRCAs) represent potentially useful reagents for treating PC. We previously constructed a CRCA, cancer terminator virus (CTV), which showed efficacy both in vitro and in vivo for PC. The CTV was generated on a serotype 5-background (Ad.5-CTV) with infectivity depending on Coxsackie-Adenovirus Receptors (CARs). CARs are frequently reduced in many tumor types, including PCs thereby limiting effective Ad-mediated therapy. Using serotype chimerism, a novel CTV (Ad.5/3-CTV) was created by replacing the Ad.5 fiber knob with the Ad.3 fiber knob thereby facilitating infection in a CAR-independent manner. We evaluated Ad.5/3-CTV in comparison with Ad.5-CTV in low CAR human PC cells, demonstrating higher efficiency in inhibiting cell viability in vitro. Moreover, Ad.5/3-CTV potently suppressed in vivo tumor growth in a nude mouse xenograft model and in a spontaneously induced PC that develops in Hi-myc transgenic mice. Considering the significant responses in a Phase I clinical trial of a non-replicating Ad.5-mda-7 in advanced cancers, Ad.5/3-CTV may exert improved therapeutic benefit in a clinical setting.
PMCID: PMC4332535  PMID: 23868767
22.  Targeting the Bcl-2 Family for Cancer Therapy 
Programmed cell death is well-orchestrated process regulated by multiple pro-apoptotic and anti-apoptotic genes, particularly those of the Bcl-2 gene family. These genes are well documented in cancer with aberrant expression being strongly associated with resistance to chemotherapy and radiation.
Areas covered
This review focuses on the resistance induced by the Bcl-2 family of anti-apoptotic proteins and current therapeutic interventions currently in preclinical or clinical trials that target this pathway. Major resistance mechanisms that are regulated by Bcl-2 family proteins and potential strategies to circumvent resistance are also examined. Although antisense and gene therapy strategies are used to nullify Bcl-2 family proteins, recent approaches use small molecule inhibitors and peptides. Structural similarity of the Bcl-2 family of proteins greatly favors development of inhibitors that target the BH3 domain, called BH3 mimetics.
Expert opinion
Strategies to specifically identify and inhibit critical determinants that promote therapy-resistance and tumor progression represent viable approaches for developing effective cancer therapies. From a clinical perspective, pretreatment with novel, potent Bcl-2 inhibitors either alone or in combination with conventional therapies hold significant promise for providing beneficial clinical outcomes. Identifying small molecule inhibitors with broader and higher affinities for inhibiting all of the Bcl-2 pro-survival proteins will facilitate development of superior cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3955095  PMID: 23173842
BH3 domain; apoptosis; Mcl-1; radiation resistance; chemotherapy resistance
23.  Tumor-Specific Expression and Detection of a CEST Reporter Gene 
Magnetic resonance in medicine  2015;74(2):544-549.
To develop an imaging tool that enables the detection of malignant tissue with enhanced specificity using the exquisite spatial resolution of MRI.
Two mammalian gene expression vectors were created for the expression of the lysine-rich protein (LRP) under the control of the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter and the progression elevated gene-3 promoter (PEG-3 promoter) for constitutive and tumor-specific expression of LRP, respectively. Using those vectors, stable cell lines of rat 9L glioma, 9LCMV-LRP and 9LPEG-LRP, were established and tested for CEST contrast in vitro and in vivo.
9LPEG-LRP cells showed increased CEST contrast compared with 9L cells in vitro. Both 9LCMV-LRP and 9LPEG-LRP cells were capable of generating tumors in the brains of mice, with a similar growth rate to tumors derived from wild-type 9L cells. An increase in CEST contrast was clearly visible in tumors derived from both 9LCMV-LRP and 9LPEG-LRP cells at 3.4 ppm.
The PEG-3 promoter:LRP system can be used as a cancer-specific, molecular-genetic imaging reporter system in vivo. Because of the ubiquity of MR imaging in clinical practice, sensors of this class can be used to translate molecular-genetic imaging rapidly.
PMCID: PMC4612624  PMID: 25919119
molecular imaging; chemical exchange saturation transfer; PEG-3 promoter; glioma; magnetic resonance imaging
24.  Novel mechanism of MDA-7/IL-24 cancer-specific apoptosis through SARI induction 
Cancer research  2013;74(2):563-574.
Subtraction-hybridization combined with induction of cancer cell terminal differentiation in human melanoma cells identified melanoma differentiation associated gene-7 (mda-7/IL-24) and SARI (Suppressor of AP-1, induced by IFN) that display potent antitumor activity. These genes are not constitutively expressed in cancer cells and forced expression of mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.mda-7) or SARI(Ad.SARI) promotes cancer-specific cell death. Ectopic expression of mda-7/IL-24 induces SARI mRNA and protein in a panel of different cancer cells leading to cell death, without harming corresponding normal cells. Simultaneous inhibition of K-ras downstream extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) signaling in pancreatic cancer cells reverses the translational block of MDA-7/IL-24 and induces SARI expression and cell death. Using SARI-antisense-based approaches we demonstrate that SARI expression is necessary for mda-7/IL-24 antitumor effects. Secreted MDA-7/IL-24 protein induces antitumor ‘bystander’ effects by promoting its own expression. Recombinant MDA-7/IL-24 (His-MDA-7) induces SARI expression, supporting the involvement of SARI in the MDA-7/IL-24-driven autocrine loop culminating in antitumor effects. Moreover, His-MDA-7 after binding to its cognate receptors (IL-20R1/IL-20R2 or IL-22R/IL-20R2) induces intracellular signaling by phosphorylation of p38 MAPK leading to transcription of a family of growth arrest and DNA damage inducible (GADD) genes, culminating in apoptosis. Inhibition of p38 MAPK fails to induce SARI following Ad.mda-7 infection. These findings reveal the significance of the mda-7/IL-24-SARI axis in cancer-specific killing, and provide a potential strategy for treating both local and metastatic disease.
PMCID: PMC3915776  PMID: 24282278
SARI; MDA-7/IL-24; apoptosis; IL-20/IL-22 receptors
25.  MDA-9/syntenin is a key regulator of glioma pathogenesis 
Neuro-Oncology  2013;16(1):50-61.
The extraordinary invasiveness of human glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) contributes to treatment failure and the grim prognosis of patients diagnosed with this tumor. Consequently, it is imperative to define further the cellular mechanisms that control GBM invasion and identify promising novel therapeutic targets. Melanoma differentiation associated gene–9 (MDA-9/syntenin) is a highly conserved PDZ domain–containing scaffolding protein that promotes invasion and metastasis in vitro and in vivo in human melanoma models. To determine whether MDA-9/syntenin is a relevant target in GBM, we investigated its expression in tumor samples and involvement in GBM invasion and angiogenesis.
We assessed MDA-9/syntenin levels in available databases, patient tumor samples, and human-derived cell lines. Through gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies, we analyzed changes in invasion, angiogenesis, and signaling in vitro. We used orthotopic xenografts with GBM6 cells to demonstrate the role of MDA-9/syntenin in GBM pathogenesis in vivo.
MDA-9/syntenin expression in high-grade astrocytomas is significantly higher than normal tissue counterparts. Forced overexpression of MDA-9/syntenin enhanced Matrigel invasion, while knockdown inhibited invasion, migration, and anchorage-independent growth in soft agar. Moreover, overexpression of MDA-9/syntenin increased activation of c-Src, p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, and nuclear factor kappa-B, leading to elevated expression of matrix metalloproteinase 2 and secretion of interleukin-8 with corresponding changes observed upon knockdown. GBM6 cells that stably express small hairpin RNA for MDA-9/syntenin formed smaller tumors and had a less invasive phenotype in vivo.
Our findings indicate that MDA-9/syntenin is a novel and important mediator of invasion in GBM and a key regulator of pathogenesis, and we identify it as a potential target for anti-invasive treatment in human astrocytoma.
PMCID: PMC3870820  PMID: 24305713
MDA-9/syntenin; GBM; glioma; invasion; intracranial injection

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