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1.  Neutralizing antibodies against West Nile virus identified directly from human B cells by single-cell analysis and next generation sequencing 
West Nile virus infection (WNV) is an emerging mosquito-borne disease that can lead to severe neurological illness and currently has no available treatment or vaccine. Using microengraving, an integrated single-cell analysis method, we analyzed a cohort of subjects infected with WNV - recently infected and post-convalescent subjects - and efficiently identified four novel WNV neutralizing antibodies. We also assessed the humoral response to WNV on a single-cell and repertoire level by integrating next generation sequencing (NGS) into our analysis. The results from single-cell analysis indicate persistence of WNV-specific memory B cells and antibody-secreting cells in post-convalescent subjects. These cells exhibited class-switched antibody isotypes. Furthermore, the results suggest that the antibody response itself does not predict the clinical severity of the disease (asymptomatic or symptomatic). Using the nucleotide coding sequences for WNV-specific antibodies derived from single cells, we revealed the ontogeny of expanded WNV-specific clones in the repertoires of recently infected subjects through NGS and bioinformatic analysis. This analysis also indicated that the humoral response to WNV did not depend on an anamnestic response, due to an unlikely previous exposure to the virus. The innovative and integrative approach presented here to analyze the evolution of neutralizing antibodies from natural infection on a single-cell and repertoire level can also be applied to vaccine studies, and could potentially aid the development of therapeutic antibodies and our basic understanding of other infectious diseases.
PMCID: PMC4754972  PMID: 26481611
Emerging infectious disease; flavivirus; humoral immunity; antigen specific; microengraving; repertoire sequencing
2.  Comparative Analysis of Cas9 Activators Across Multiple Species 
Nature methods  2016;13(7):563-567.
Several groups have generated programmable transcription factors based on the versatile Cas9 protein, yet their relative potency and effectiveness across various cell types and species remain unexplored. Here, we compare Cas9 activator systems and examine their ability to induce robust gene expression in several human, mouse, and fly cell lines. We also explore the potential for improved activation through the combination of the most potent activator systems and assess the role of cooperativity in maximizing gene expression.
PMCID: PMC4927356  PMID: 27214048
3.  A general strategy to construct small molecule biosensors in eukaryotes 
eLife  null;4:e10606.
Biosensors for small molecules can be used in applications that range from metabolic engineering to orthogonal control of transcription. Here, we produce biosensors based on a ligand-binding domain (LBD) by using a method that, in principle, can be applied to any target molecule. The LBD is fused to either a fluorescent protein or a transcriptional activator and is destabilized by mutation such that the fusion accumulates only in cells containing the target ligand. We illustrate the power of this method by developing biosensors for digoxin and progesterone. Addition of ligand to yeast, mammalian, or plant cells expressing a biosensor activates transcription with a dynamic range of up to ~100-fold. We use the biosensors to improve the biotransformation of pregnenolone to progesterone in yeast and to regulate CRISPR activity in mammalian cells. This work provides a general methodology to develop biosensors for a broad range of molecules in eukaryotes.
eLife digest
Small molecules play essential roles in organisms, and so methods to sense these molecules within living cells could have wide-ranging uses in both biology and biotechnology. However, current methods for making new “biosensors” are limited and only a narrow range of small molecules can be detected.
One approach to biosensor design in yeast and other eukaryotic organisms uses proteins called ligand-binding domains, which bind to small molecules. Here, Feng, Jester, Tinberg, Mandell et al. have developed a new method to make biosensors from ligand-binding domains that could, in principle, be applied to any target small molecule. The new method involves taking a ligand-binding domain that is either engineered or occurs in nature and linking it to something that can be readily detected, such as a protein that fluoresces or that controls gene expression. This combined biosensor protein is then engineered, via mutations, such that it is unstable unless it binds to the small molecule. This means that, in the absence of the small molecule, these proteins are destroyed inside living cells. However, the binding of a target molecule to one of these proteins protects it from degradation, which allows the signal to be detected.
Feng, Jester, Tinberg, Mandell et al. use this method to create biosensors for a human hormone called progesterone and a drug called digoxin, which is used to treat heart disease. Further experiments used the biosensors to optimize the production of progesterone in yeast and to regulate the activity of a gene editing protein called Cas9 in human cells. The biosensors can be also used to produce long-term environmental sensors in plant cells.
This approach makes it possible to produce a wide variety of biosensors for different organisms. The next step is to continue to explore the ability of various proteins to be converted into biosensors, and to find out how easy it is to transfer a biosensor produced in one species to another.
PMCID: PMC4739774  PMID: 26714111
biosensor; metabolic engineering; CRISPR; A. thaliana; Human; S. cerevisiae
4.  Cas9 gRNA engineering for genome editing, activation and repression 
Nature methods  2015;12(11):1051-1054.
We demonstrate that by altering the length of Cas9-associated guide RNA(gRNA) we were able to control Cas9 nuclease activity and simultaneously perform genome editing and transcriptional regulation with a single Cas9 protein. We exploited these principles to engineer mammalian synthetic circuits with combined transcriptional regulation and kill functions governed by a single multifunctional Cas9 protein.
PMCID: PMC4666719  PMID: 26344044
5.  EYA4 is inactivated biallelically at a high frequency in sporadic lung cancer and is associated with familial lung cancer risk 
Oncogene  2013;33(36):4464-4473.
In an effort to identify novel biallelically inactivated tumor suppressor genes (TSG) in sporadic invasive and pre-invasive non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) genomes, we applied a comprehensive integrated multi-‘omics approach to investigate patient matched, paired NSCLC tumor and non-malignant parenchymal tissues. By surveying lung tumor genomes for genes concomitantly inactivated within individual tumors by multiple mechanisms, and by the frequency of disruption in tumors across multiple cohorts, we have identified a putative lung cancer TSG, Eyes Absent 4 (EYA4). EYA4 is frequently and concomitantly deleted, hypermethylated and underexpressed in multiple independent lung tumor data sets, in both major NSCLC subtypes, and in the earliest stages of lung cancer. We find not only that decreased EYA4 expression is associated with poor survival in sporadic lung cancers, but EYA4 SNPs are associated with increased familial cancer risk, consistent with EYA4’s proximity to the previously reported lung cancer susceptibility locus on 6q. Functionally, we find that EYA4 displays TSG-like properties with a role in modulating apoptosis and DNA repair. Cross examination of EYA4 expression across multiple tumor types suggests a cell type-specific tumorigenic role for EYA4, consistent with a tumor suppressor function in cancers of epithelial origin. This work shows a clear role for EYA4 as a putative TSG in NSCLC.
PMCID: PMC4527534  PMID: 24096489
EYA4; two-hit; hypermethylation; tumor suppressor; TSG; non-small cell lung cancer
6.  DNA Methylation Is Globally Disrupted and Associated with Expression Changes in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Small Airways 
DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that is highly disrupted in response to cigarette smoke and involved in a wide spectrum of malignant and nonmalignant diseases, but surprisingly not previously assessed in small airways of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Small airways are the primary sites of airflow obstruction in COPD. We sought to determine whether DNA methylation patterns are disrupted in small airway epithelia of patients with COPD, and evaluate whether changes in gene expression are associated with these disruptions. Genome-wide methylation and gene expression analysis were performed on small airway epithelial DNA and RNA obtained from the same patient during bronchoscopy, using Illumina’s Infinium HM27 and Affymetrix’s Genechip Human Gene 1.0 ST arrays. To control for known effects of cigarette smoking on DNA methylation, methylation and gene expression profiles were compared between former smokers with and without COPD matched for age, pack-years, and years of smoking cessation. Our results indicate that aberrant DNA methylation is (1) a genome-wide phenomenon in small airways of patients with COPD, and (2) associated with altered expression of genes and pathways important to COPD, such as the NF-E2–related factor 2 oxidative response pathway. DNA methylation is likely an important mechanism contributing to modulation of genes important to COPD pathology. Because these methylation events may underlie disease-specific gene expression changes, their characterization is a critical first step toward the development of epigenetic markers and an opportunity for developing novel epigenetic therapeutic interventions for COPD.
PMCID: PMC4068945  PMID: 24298892
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; small airways; epigenetic regulation; DNA methylation; integrative omics
7.  Targeted and genome-wide sequencing reveal single nucleotide variations impacting specificity of Cas9 in human stem cells 
Nature Communications  2014;5:5507.
CRISPR/Cas9 has demonstrated a high-efficiency in site-specific gene targeting. However, potential off-target effects of the Cas9 nuclease represent a major safety concern for any therapeutic application. Here, we knock out the Tafazzin gene by CRISPR/Cas9 in human-induced pluripotent stem cells with 54% efficiency. We combine whole-genome sequencing and deep-targeted sequencing to characterise the off-target effects of Cas9 editing. Whole-genome sequencing of Cas9-modified hiPSC clones detects neither gross genomic alterations nor elevated mutation rates. Deep sequencing of in silico predicted off-target sites in a population of Cas9-treated cells further confirms high specificity of Cas9. However, we identify a single high-efficiency off-target site that is generated by a common germline single-nucleotide variant (SNV) in our experiment. Based on in silico analysis, we estimate a likelihood of SNVs creating off-target sites in a human genome to be ~1.5–8.5%, depending on the genome and site-selection method, but also note that mutations might be generated at these sites only at low rates and may not have functional consequences. Our study demonstrates the feasibility of highly specific clonal ex vivo gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9 and highlights the value of whole-genome sequencing before personalised CRISPR design.
The microbial RNA-guided CRISPR/Cas9 system has robust genome-editing activities, but the off-target effects of the Cas9 nuclease have only recently begun to be analysed. Here the authors provide evidence for high specificity of the Cas9 nuclease on targeting of the Tafazzin gene in human-induced pluripotent stem cells and demonstrate the impact of single-nucleotide variations of the human genome on Cas9 specificity.
PMCID: PMC4352754  PMID: 25425480
8.  YEATS4 is a novel oncogene amplified in non-small cell lung cancer that regulates the p53 pathway 
Cancer research  2013;73(24):7301-7312.
Genetic analyses of lung cancer have helped found new treatments in this disease. We conducted an integrative analysis of gene expression and copy number in 261 non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) relative to matched normal tissues to define novel candidate oncogenes, identifying 12q13-15 and more specifically the YEATS4 gene as amplified and overexpressed in ~20% of the NSCLC cases examined. Overexpression of YEATS4 abrogated senescence in human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs). Conversely, RNAi-mediated attenuation of YEATS4 in human lung cancer cells reduced their proliferation and tumor growth, impairing colony formation and inducing cellular senescence. These effects were associated with increased levels of p21WAF1 and p53 and cleavage of PARP, implicating YEATS4 as a negative regulator of the p21-p53 pathway. We also found that YEATS4 expression affected cellular responses to cisplastin, with increased levels associated with resistance and decreased levels with sensitivity. Taken together, our findings reveal YEATS4 as a candidate oncogene amplified in NSCLC, and a novel mechanism contributing to NSCLC pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3959870  PMID: 24170126
YEATS4; NSCLC; oncogene; p53; integrative analysis
9.  Progenitor Cell Line (hPheo1) Derived from a Human Pheochromocytoma Tumor 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65624.
Pheochromocytomas are rare tumors generally arising in the medullary region of the adrenal gland. These tumors release excessive epinephrine and norepinephrine resulting in hypertension and cardiovascular crises for which surgery is the only definitive treatment. Molecular mechanisms that control tumor development and hormone production are poorly understood, and progress has been hampered by the lack of human cellular model systems. To study pheochromocytomas, we developed a stable progenitor pheochromocytoma cell line derived from a primary human tumor.
After IRB approval and written informed consent, human pheochromocytoma tissue was excised, minced, dispersed enzymatically, and cultured in vitro. Primary pheochromocytoma cells were infected with a lentivirus vector carrying the catalytic subunit of human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). The hTERT immortalized cells (hPheo1) have been passaged >300 population doublings. The resulting cell line was characterized morphologically, biochemically and for expression of neuroendocrine properties. The expression of marker enzymes and proteins was assessed by immunofluorescence staining and immunoblotting. Telomerase activity was determined by using the telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay.
We have established a human pheochromocytoma precursor cell line that expresses the neuroendocrine marker, chromogranin A, when differentiated in the presence of bone morphogenic protein 4 (BMP4), nerve growth factor (NGF), and dexamethasone. Phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) expression is also detected with this differentiation regimen. CD-56 (also known as NCAM, neural cell adhesion molecule) is expressed in these cells, but CD31 (also known as PECAM-1, a marker of endothelial cells) is negative.
We have maintained hTERT-immortalized progenitor cells derived from a pheochromocytoma (hPheo1) in culture for over 300 population doublings. This progenitor human cell line is normal diploid except for a deletion in the p16 region and has inducible neuroendocrine biomarkers. These cells should be a valuable reagent for studying mechanisms of tumor development and for testing novel therapeutic approaches.
PMCID: PMC3681983  PMID: 23785438
10.  Integrative Genomics Identified RFC3 as an Amplified Candidate Oncogene in Esophageal Adenocarcinoma 
Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) is a lethal malignancy that can develop from the premalignant condition, Barrett’s esophagus (BE). Currently, there are no validated simple methods to predict which patients will progress to EAC. A better understanding of the genetic mechanisms driving EAC tumorigenesis is needed to identify new therapeutic targets and develop biomarkers capable of identifying high-risk patients that would benefit from aggressive neoadjuvant therapy. We employed an integrative genomics approach to identify novel genes involved in EAC biology that may serve as useful clinical markers.
Experimental Design
Whole genome tiling-path array CGH was used to identify significant regions of copy number (CN) alteration in 20 EACs and 10 matching BE tissues. CN and gene expression data were integrated to identify candidate oncogenes within regions of amplification and multiple additional sample cohorts were assessed to validate candidate genes.
We identified RFC3 as a novel, candidate oncogene activated by amplification in ~25% of EAC samples. RFC3 was also amplified in BE from a patient whose EAC harbored amplification, and was differentially expressed between non-malignant and EAC tissues. CN gains were detected in other cancer types and RFC3 knockdown inhibited proliferation and anchorage-independent growth of cancer cells with increased CN, but had little effect on those without. Moreover, high RFC3 expression was associated with poor patient outcome in multiple cancer types.
RFC3 is a candidate oncogene amplified in EAC. RFC3 DNA amplification is also prevalent in other epithelial cancer types and RFC3 expression could serve as a prognostic marker.
PMCID: PMC3523177  PMID: 22328562
RFC3; esophageal adenocarcinoma; Barrett’s esophagus; DNA amplification
11.  Genetic Disruption of KEAP1/CUL3 E3 Ubiquitin Ligase Complex Components is a Key Mechanism of NF-kappaB Pathway Activation in Lung Cancer 
IKBKB (IKK-β/IKK-2), which activates NF-κB, is a substrate of the KEAP1-CUL3-RBX1 E3-ubiquitin ligase complex, implicating this complex in regulation of NF-κB signaling. We investigated complex component gene disruption as a novel genetic mechanism of NF-κB activation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
644 tumor- and 90 cell line-genomes were analyzed for gene-dosage status of the individual complex components and IKBKB. Gene expression of these genes, and NF-κB target genes were analyzed in 48 tumors. IKBKB protein levels were assessed in tumors with and without complex or IKBKB genetic disruption. Complex component knockdown was performed to assess effects of the E3-ligase complex on IKBKB and NF-κB levels, and phenotypic importance of IKBKB expression was measured by pharmacological inhibition.
We observed strikingly frequent genetic disruption (42%) and aberrant expression (63%) of the E3-ligase complex and IKBKB in the samples examined. While both adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas showed complex disruption, the patterns of gene disruption differed. IKBKB levels were elevated with complex disruption, knockdown of complex components increased activated forms of IKBKB and NF-κB proteins, and IKBKB inhibition detriments cell viability, highlighting the biological significance of complex disruption. NF-κB target genes were overexpressed in samples with complex disruption, further demonstrating the effect of complex disruption on NF-κB activity.
Gene dosage alteration is a prominent mechanism that disrupts each component of the KEAP1-CUL3-RBX1 complex and its NF-κB stimulating substrate, IKBKB. Here we show that, multiple component disruption of this complex represents a novel mechanism of NF-κB activation in NSCLC.
PMCID: PMC3164321  PMID: 21795997
KEAP1; CUL3; RBX1; IKBKB; NF-κB signaling; genetic disruption
12.  Integrating the multiple dimensions of genomic and epigenomic landscapes of cancer 
Cancer metastasis reviews  2010;29(1):73-93.
Advances in high-throughput, genome-wide profiling technologies have allowed for an unprecedented view of the cancer genome landscape. Specifically, high-density microarrays and sequencing-based strategies have been widely utilized to identify genetic (such as gene dosage, allelic status, and mutations in gene sequence) and epigenetic (such as DNA methylation, histone modification, and micro-RNA) aberrations in cancer. Although the application of these profiling technologies in unidimensional analyses has been instrumental in cancer gene discovery, genes affected by low-frequency events are often overlooked. The integrative approach of analyzing parallel dimensions has enabled the identification of (a) genes that are often disrupted by multiple mechanisms but at low frequencies by any one mechanism and (b) pathways that are often disrupted at multiple components but at low frequencies at individual components. These benefits of using an integrative approach illustrate the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As efforts have now turned toward parallel and integrative multidimensional approaches for studying the cancer genome landscape in hopes of obtaining a more insightful understanding of the key genes and pathways driving cancer cells, this review describes key findings disseminating from such high-throughput, integrative analyses, including contributions to our understanding of causative genetic events in cancer cell biology.
PMCID: PMC3415277  PMID: 20108112
Integrative analysis; Cancer genome; Sequencing; Microarray
13.  Iterative capped assembly: rapid and scalable synthesis of repeat-module DNA such as TAL effectors from individual monomers 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(15):e117.
DNA built from modular repeats presents a challenge for gene synthesis. We present a solid surface-based sequential ligation approach, which we refer to as iterative capped assembly (ICA), that adds DNA repeat monomers individually to a growing chain while using hairpin ‘capping’ oligonucleotides to block incompletely extended chains, greatly increasing the frequency of full-length final products. Applying ICA to a model problem, construction of custom transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) for genome engineering, we demonstrate efficient synthesis of TALE DNA-binding domains up to 21 monomers long and their ligation into a nuclease-carrying backbone vector all within 3 h. We used ICA to synthesize 20 TALENs of varying DNA target site length and tested their ability to stimulate gene editing by a donor oligonucleotide in human cells. All the TALENS show activity, with the ones >15 monomers long tending to work best. Since ICA builds full-length constructs from individual monomers rather than large exhaustive libraries of pre-fabricated oligomers, it will be trivial to incorporate future modified TALE monomers with improved or expanded function or to synthesize other types of repeat-modular DNA where the diversity of possible monomers makes exhaustive oligomer libraries impractical.
PMCID: PMC3424587  PMID: 22740649
14.  Divergent Genomic and Epigenomic Landscapes of Lung Cancer Subtypes Underscore the Selection of Different Oncogenic Pathways during Tumor Development 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37775.
For therapeutic purposes, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) has traditionally been regarded as a single disease. However, recent evidence suggest that the two major subtypes of NSCLC, adenocarcinoma (AC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC) respond differently to both molecular targeted and new generation chemotherapies. Therefore, identifying the molecular differences between these tumor types may impact novel treatment strategy. We performed the first large-scale analysis of 261 primary NSCLC tumors (169 AC and 92 SqCC), integrating genome-wide DNA copy number, methylation and gene expression profiles to identify subtype-specific molecular alterations relevant to new agent design and choice of therapy. Comparison of AC and SqCC genomic and epigenomic landscapes revealed 778 altered genes with corresponding expression changes that are selected during tumor development in a subtype-specific manner. Analysis of >200 additional NSCLCs confirmed that these genes are responsible for driving the differential development and resulting phenotypes of AC and SqCC. Importantly, we identified key oncogenic pathways disrupted in each subtype that likely serve as the basis for their differential tumor biology and clinical outcomes. Downregulation of HNF4α target genes was the most common pathway specific to AC, while SqCC demonstrated disruption of numerous histone modifying enzymes as well as the transcription factor E2F1. In silico screening of candidate therapeutic compounds using subtype-specific pathway components identified HDAC and PI3K inhibitors as potential treatments tailored to lung SqCC. Together, our findings suggest that AC and SqCC develop through distinct pathogenetic pathways that have significant implication in our approach to the clinical management of NSCLC.
PMCID: PMC3357406  PMID: 22629454
15.  Lung Adenocarcinoma of Never Smokers and Smokers Harbor Differential Regions of Genetic Alteration and Exhibit Different Levels of Genomic Instability 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33003.
Recent evidence suggests that the observed clinical distinctions between lung tumors in smokers and never smokers (NS) extend beyond specific gene mutations, such as EGFR, EML4-ALK, and KRAS, some of which have been translated into targeted therapies. However, the molecular alterations identified thus far cannot explain all of the clinical and biological disparities observed in lung tumors of NS and smokers. To this end, we performed an unbiased genome-wide, comparative study to identify novel genomic aberrations that differ between smokers and NS.
High resolution whole genome DNA copy number profiling of 69 lung adenocarcinomas from smokers (n = 39) and NS (n = 30) revealed both global and regional disparities in the tumor genomes of these two groups. We found that NS lung tumors had a greater proportion of their genomes altered than those of smokers. Moreover, copy number gains on chromosomes 5q, 7p, and 16p occurred more frequently in NS. We validated our findings in two independently generated public datasets. Our findings provide a novel line of evidence distinguishing genetic differences between smoker and NS lung tumors, namely, that the extent of segmental genomic alterations is greater in NS tumors. Collectively, our findings provide evidence that these lung tumors are globally and genetically different, which implies they are likely driven by distinct molecular mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3296775  PMID: 22412972
16.  TRAF6 is an amplified oncogene bridging the RAS and NF-κB pathways in human lung cancer  
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2011;121(10):4095-4105.
Somatic mutations and copy number alterations (as a result of deletion or amplification of large portions of a chromosome) are major drivers of human lung cancers. Detailed analysis of lung cancer–associated chromosomal amplifications could identify novel oncogenes. By performing an integrative cytogenetic and gene expression analysis of non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) cell lines and tumors, we report here the identification of a frequently recurring amplification at chromosome 11 band p13. Within this region, only TNF receptor–associated factor 6 (TRAF6) exhibited concomitant mRNA overexpression and gene amplification in lung cancers. Inhibition of TRAF6 in human lung cancer cell lines suppressed NF-κB activation, anchorage-independent growth, and tumor formation. In these lung cancer cell lines, RAS required TRAF6 for its oncogenic capabilities. Furthermore, TRAF6 overexpression in NIH3T3 cells resulted in NF-κB activation, anchorage-independent growth, and tumor formation. Our findings show that TRAF6 is an oncogene that is important for RAS-mediated oncogenesis and provide a mechanistic explanation for the previously apparent importance of constitutive NF-κB activation in RAS-driven lung cancers.
PMCID: PMC3195480  PMID: 21911935
17.  MicroRNA Gene Dosage Alterations and Drug Response in Lung Cancer 
Chemotherapy resistance is a key contributor to the dismal prognoses for lung cancer patients. While the majority of studies have focused on sequence mutations and expression changes in protein-coding genes, recent reports have suggested that microRNA (miRNA) expression changes also play an influential role in chemotherapy response. However, the role of genetic alterations at miRNA loci in the context of chemotherapy response has yet to be investigated. In this study, we demonstrate the application of an integrative, multidimensional approach in order to identify miRNAs that are associated with chemotherapeutic resistance and sensitivity utilizing publicly available drug response, miRNA loci copy number, miRNA expression, and mRNA expression data from independent resources. By instigating a logical stepwise strategy, we have identified specific miRNAs that are associated with resistance to several chemotherapeutic agents and provide a proof of principle demonstration of how these various databases may be exploited to derive relevant pharmacogenomic results.
PMCID: PMC3085440  PMID: 21541180
18.  Deciphering Squamous Cell Carcinoma Using Multidimensional Genomic Approaches 
Journal of Skin Cancer  2010;2011:541405.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SqCCs) arise in a wide range of tissues including skin, lung, and oral mucosa. Although all SqCCs are epithelial in origin and share common nomenclature, these cancers differ greatly with respect to incidence, prognosis, and treatment. Current knowledge of genetic similarities and differences between SqCCs is insufficient to describe the biology of these cancers, which arise from diverse tissue origins. In this paper we provide a general overview of whole genome approaches for gene and pathway discovery and highlight the advancement of integrative genomics as a state-of-the-art technology in the study of SqCC genetics.
PMCID: PMC3017908  PMID: 21234096
19.  A sequence-based approach to identify reference genes for gene expression analysis 
BMC Medical Genomics  2010;3:32.
An important consideration when analyzing both microarray and quantitative PCR expression data is the selection of appropriate genes as endogenous controls or reference genes. This step is especially critical when identifying genes differentially expressed between datasets. Moreover, reference genes suitable in one context (e.g. lung cancer) may not be suitable in another (e.g. breast cancer). Currently, the main approach to identify reference genes involves the mining of expression microarray data for highly expressed and relatively constant transcripts across a sample set. A caveat here is the requirement for transcript normalization prior to analysis, and measurements obtained are relative, not absolute. Alternatively, as sequencing-based technologies provide digital quantitative output, absolute quantification ensues, and reference gene identification becomes more accurate.
Serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) profiles of non-malignant and malignant lung samples were compared using a permutation test to identify the most stably expressed genes across all samples. Subsequently, the specificity of the reference genes was evaluated across multiple tissue types, their constancy of expression was assessed using quantitative RT-PCR (qPCR), and their impact on differential expression analysis of microarray data was evaluated.
We show that (i) conventional references genes such as ACTB and GAPDH are highly variable between cancerous and non-cancerous samples, (ii) reference genes identified for lung cancer do not perform well for other cancer types (breast and brain), (iii) reference genes identified through SAGE show low variability using qPCR in a different cohort of samples, and (iv) normalization of a lung cancer gene expression microarray dataset with or without our reference genes, yields different results for differential gene expression and subsequent analyses. Specifically, key established pathways in lung cancer exhibit higher statistical significance using a dataset normalized with our reference genes relative to normalization without using our reference genes.
Our analyses found NDUFA1, RPL19, RAB5C, and RPS18 to occupy the top ranking positions among 15 suitable reference genes optimal for normalization of lung tissue expression data. Significantly, the approach used in this study can be applied to data generated using new generation sequencing platforms for the identification of reference genes optimal within diverse contexts.
PMCID: PMC2928167  PMID: 20682026
20.  Integrative Genomic Analyses Identify BRF2 as a Novel Lineage-Specific Oncogene in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000315.
William Lockwood and colleagues show that the focal amplification of a gene, BRF2, on Chromosome 8p12 plays a key role in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung.
Traditionally, non-small cell lung cancer is treated as a single disease entity in terms of systemic therapy. Emerging evidence suggests the major subtypes—adenocarcinoma (AC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to therapy. Identification of the molecular differences between these tumor types will have a significant impact in designing novel therapies that can improve the treatment outcome.
Methods and Findings
We used an integrative genomics approach, combing high-resolution comparative genomic hybridization and gene expression microarray profiles, to compare AC and SqCC tumors in order to uncover alterations at the DNA level, with corresponding gene transcription changes, which are selected for during development of lung cancer subtypes. Through the analysis of multiple independent cohorts of clinical tumor samples (>330), normal lung tissues and bronchial epithelial cells obtained by bronchial brushing in smokers without lung cancer, we identified the overexpression of BRF2, a gene on Chromosome 8p12, which is specific for development of SqCC of lung. Genetic activation of BRF2, which encodes a RNA polymerase III (Pol III) transcription initiation factor, was found to be associated with increased expression of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) that are involved in processes essential for cell growth, such as RNA splicing. Ectopic expression of BRF2 in human bronchial epithelial cells induced a transformed phenotype and demonstrates downstream oncogenic effects, whereas RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown suppressed growth and colony formation of SqCC cells overexpressing BRF2, but not AC cells. Frequent activation of BRF2 in >35% preinvasive bronchial carcinoma in situ, as well as in dysplastic lesions, provides evidence that BRF2 expression is an early event in cancer development of this cell lineage.
This is the first study, to our knowledge, to show that the focal amplification of a gene in Chromosome 8p12, plays a key role in squamous cell lineage specificity of the disease. Our data suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 represents a unique mechanism of SqCC lung tumorigenesis through the increase of Pol III-mediated transcription. It can serve as a marker for lung SqCC and may provide a novel target for therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Lung cancer is the commonest cause of cancer-related death. Every year, 1.3 million people die from this disease, which is mainly caused by smoking. Most cases of lung cancer are “non-small cell lung cancers” (NSCLCs). Like all cancers, NSCLC starts when cells begin to divide uncontrollably and to move round the body (metastasize) because of changes (mutations) in their genes. These mutations are often in “oncogenes,” genes that, when activated, encourage cell division. Oncogenes can be activated by mutations that alter the properties of the proteins they encode or by mutations that increase the amount of protein made from them, such as gene amplification (an increase in the number of copies of a gene). If NSCLC is diagnosed before it has spread from the lungs (stage I disease), it can be surgically removed and many patients with stage I NSCLC survive for more than 5 years after their diagnosis. Unfortunately, in more than half of patients, NSCLC has metastasized before it is diagnosed. This stage IV NSCLC can be treated with chemotherapy (toxic chemicals that kill fast-growing cancer cells) but only 2% of patients with stage IV lung cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Traditionally, NSCLC has been regarded as a single disease in terms of treatment. However, emerging evidence suggests that the two major subtypes of NSCLC—adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC)—respond differently to chemotherapy. Adenocarcinoma and SqCC start in different types of lung cell and experts think that for each cell type in the body, specific combinations of mutations interact with the cell type's own unique characteristics to provide the growth and survival advantage needed for cancer development. If this is true, then identifying the molecular differences between adenocarcinoma and SqCC could provide targets for more effective therapies for these major subtypes of NSCLC. Amplification of a chromosome region called 8p12 is very common in NSCLC, which suggests that an oncogene that drives lung cancer development is present in this chromosome region. In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility by looking for an amplified gene in the 8p12 chromosome region that makes increased amounts of protein in lung SqCC but not in lung adenocarcinoma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called comparative genomic hybridization to show that focal regions of Chromosome 8p are amplified in about 40% of lung SqCCs, but that DNA loss in this region is the most common alteration in lung adenocarcinomas. Ten genes in the 8p12 chromosome region were expressed at higher levels in the SqCC samples that they examined than in adenocarcinoma samples, they report, and overexpression of five of these genes correlated with amplification of the 8p12 region in the SqCC samples. Only one of the genes—BRF2—was more highly expressed in squamous carcinoma cells than in normal bronchial epithelial cells (the cell type that lines the tubes that take air into the lungs and from which SqCC develops). Artificially induced expression of BRF2 in bronchial epithelial cells made these normal cells behave like tumor cells, whereas reduction of BRF2 expression in squamous carcinoma cells made them behave more like normal bronchial epithelial cells. Finally, BRF2 was frequently activated in two early stages of squamous cell carcinoma—bronchial carcinoma in situ and dysplastic lesions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Together, these findings show that the focal amplification of chromosome region 8p12 plays a role in the development of lung SqCC but not in the development of lung adenocarcinoma, the other major subtype of NSCLC. These findings identify BRF2 (which encodes a RNA polymerase III transcription initiation factor, a protein that is required for the synthesis of RNA molecules that help to control cell growth) as a lung SqCC-specific oncogene and uncover a unique mechanism for lung SqCC development. Most importantly, these findings suggest that genetic activation of BRF2 could be used as a marker for lung SqCC, which might facilitate the early detection of this type of NSCLC and that BRF2 might provide a new target for therapy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and professionals about all aspects of lung cancer, including information on non-small cell carcinoma (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information about lung cancer and information on how cancer starts
MedlinePlus has links to other resources about lung cancer (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2910599  PMID: 20668658
21.  FACADE: a fast and sensitive algorithm for the segmentation and calling of high resolution array CGH data 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(15):e157.
The availability of high resolution array comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) platforms has led to increasing complexities in data analysis. Specifically, defining contiguous regions of alterations or segmentation can be computationally intensive and popular algorithms can take hours to days for the processing of arrays comprised of hundreds of thousands to millions of elements. Additionally, tumors tend to demonstrate subtle copy number alterations due to heterogeneity, ploidy and hybridization effects. Thus, there is a need for fast, sensitive array CGH segmentation and alteration calling algorithms. Here, we describe Fast Algorithm for Calling After Detection of Edges (FACADE), a highly sensitive and easy to use algorithm designed to rapidly segment and call high resolution array data.
PMCID: PMC2926625  PMID: 20551132
22.  An integrative multi-dimensional genetic and epigenetic strategy to identify aberrant genes and pathways in cancer 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:67.
Genomics has substantially changed our approach to cancer research. Gene expression profiling, for example, has been utilized to delineate subtypes of cancer, and facilitated derivation of predictive and prognostic signatures. The emergence of technologies for the high resolution and genome-wide description of genetic and epigenetic features has enabled the identification of a multitude of causal DNA events in tumors. This has afforded the potential for large scale integration of genome and transcriptome data generated from a variety of technology platforms to acquire a better understanding of cancer.
Here we show how multi-dimensional genomics data analysis would enable the deciphering of mechanisms that disrupt regulatory/signaling cascades and downstream effects. Since not all gene expression changes observed in a tumor are causal to cancer development, we demonstrate an approach based on multiple concerted disruption (MCD) analysis of genes that facilitates the rational deduction of aberrant genes and pathways, which otherwise would be overlooked in single genomic dimension investigations.
Notably, this is the first comprehensive study of breast cancer cells by parallel integrative genome wide analyses of DNA copy number, LOH, and DNA methylation status to interpret changes in gene expression pattern. Our findings demonstrate the power of a multi-dimensional approach to elucidate events which would escape conventional single dimensional analysis and as such, reduce the cohort sample size for cancer gene discovery.
PMCID: PMC2880289  PMID: 20478067
23.  Disruption of the non-canonical WNT pathway in lung squamous cell carcinoma 
Clinical medicine. Oncology  2008;2008(2):169-179.
Disruptions of beta-catenin and the canonical Wnt pathway are well documented in cancer. However, little is known of the non-canonical branch of the Wnt pathway. In this study, we investigate the transcript level patterns of genes in the Wnt pathway in squamous cell lung cancer using reverse-transcriptase (RT)-PCR. It was found that over half of the samples examined exhibited dysregulated gene expression of multiple components of the non-canonical branch of the WNT pathway. In the cases where beta catenin (CTNNB1) was not over-expressed, we identified strong relationships of expression between wingless-type MMTV integration site family member 5A (WNT5A)/ frizzled homolog 2 (FZD2), frizzled homolog 3 (FZD3) / dishevelled 2 (DVL2), and low density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5)/ secreted frizzled-related protein 4 (SFRP4). This is one of the first studies to demonstrate expression of genes in the non-canonical pathway in normal lung tissue and its disruption in lung squamous cell carcinoma. These findings suggest that the non-canonical pathway may have a more prominent role in lung cancer than previously reported.
PMCID: PMC2855195  PMID: 20401333
WNT pathway; lung cancer; gene expression; NSCLC; non-canonical; squamous cell carcinoma
24.  Transcriptome Profiles of Carcinoma-in-Situ and Invasive Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer as Revealed by SAGE 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(2):e9162.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) presents as a progressive disease spanning precancerous, preinvasive, locally invasive, and metastatic lesions. Identification of biological pathways reflective of these progressive stages, and aberrantly expressed genes associated with these pathways, would conceivably enhance therapeutic approaches to this devastating disease.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Through the construction and analysis of SAGE libraries, we have determined transcriptome profiles for preinvasive carcinoma-in-situ (CIS) and invasive squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the lung, and compared these with expression profiles generated from both bronchial epithelium, and precancerous metaplastic and dysplastic lesions using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Expression of genes associated with epidermal development, and loss of expression of genes associated with mucociliary biology, are predominant features of CIS, largely shared with precancerous lesions. Additionally, expression of genes associated with xenobiotic metabolism/detoxification is a notable feature of CIS, and is largely maintained in invasive cancer. Genes related to tissue fibrosis and acute phase immune response are characteristic of the invasive SCC phenotype. Moreover, the data presented here suggests that tissue remodeling/fibrosis is initiated at the early stages of CIS. Additionally, this study indicates that alteration in copy-number status represents a plausible mechanism for differential gene expression in CIS and invasive SCC.
This study is the first report of large-scale expression profiling of CIS of the lung. Unbiased expression profiling of these preinvasive and invasive lesions provides a platform for further investigations into the molecular genetic events relevant to early stages of squamous NSCLC development. Additionally, up-regulated genes detected at extreme differences between CIS and invasive cancer may have potential to serve as biomarkers for early detection.
PMCID: PMC2820080  PMID: 20161782
25.  Public Databases and Software for the Pathway Analysis of Cancer Genomes 
Cancer informatics  2007;3:379-397.
The study of pathway disruption is key to understanding cancer biology. Advances in high throughput technologies have led to the rapid accumulation of genomic data. The explosion in available data has generated opportunities for investigation of concerted changes that disrupt biological functions, this in turns created a need for computational tools for pathway analysis. In this review, we discuss approaches to the analysis of genomic data and describe the publicly available resources for studying biological pathways.
PMCID: PMC2410087  PMID: 19455256

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