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1.  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
2.  Smoking status impacts microRNA mediated prognosis and lung adenocarcinoma biology 
BMC Cancer  2014;14(1):778.
Cigarette smoke is associated with the majority of lung cancers: however, 25% of lung cancer patients are non-smokers, and half of all newly diagnosed lung cancer patients are former smokers. Lung tumors exhibit distinct epidemiological, clinical, pathological, and molecular features depending on smoking status, suggesting divergent mechanisms underlie tumorigenesis in smokers and non-smokers. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are integral contributors to tumorigenesis and mediate biological responses to smoking. Based on the hypothesis that smoking-specific miRNA differences in lung adenocarcinomas reflect distinct tumorigenic processes selected by different smoking and non-smoking environments, we investigated the contribution of miRNA disruption to lung tumor biology and patient outcome in the context of smoking status.
We applied a whole transcriptome sequencing based approach to interrogate miRNA levels in 94 patient-matched lung adenocarcinoma and non-malignant lung parenchymal tissue pairs from current, former and never smokers.
We discovered novel and distinct smoking status-specific patterns of miRNA and miRNA-mediated gene networks, and identified miRNAs that were prognostically significant in a smoking dependent manner.
We conclude that miRNAs disrupted in a smoking status-dependent manner affect distinct cellular pathways and differentially influence lung cancer patient prognosis in current, former and never smokers. Our findings may represent promising biologically relevant markers for lung cancer prognosis or therapeutic intervention.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-778) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4216369  PMID: 25342220
Lung adenocarcinoma; miRNA; Current smoker; Former smoker; Never smoker; Reversible; Survival; Smoking specific
3.  Unique Pattern of Component Gene Disruption in the NRF2 Inhibitor KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3-Ubiquitin Ligase Complex in Serous Ovarian Cancer 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:159459.
The NFE2-related factor 2 (NRF2) pathway is critical to initiate responses to oxidative stress; however, constitutive activation occurs in different cancer types, including serous ovarian carcinomas (OVCA). The KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3-ubiquitin ligase complex is a regulator of NRF2 levels. Hence, we investigated the DNA-level mechanisms affecting these genes in OVCA. DNA copy-number loss (CNL), promoter hypermethylation, mRNA expression, and sequence mutation for KEAP1, CUL3, and RBX1 were assessed in a cohort of 568 OVCA from The Cancer Genome Atlas. Almost 90% of cases exhibited loss-of-function alterations in any components of the NRF2 inhibitory complex. CNL is the most prominent mechanism of component disruption, with RBX1 being the most frequently disrupted component. These alterations were associated with reduced mRNA expression of complex components, and NRF2 target gene expression was positively enriched in 90% of samples harboring altered complex components. Disruption occurs through a unique DNA-level alteration pattern in OVCA. We conclude that a remarkably high frequency of DNA and mRNA alterations affects components of the KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 complex, through a unique pattern of genetic mechanisms. Together, these results suggest a key role for the KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 complex and NRF2 pathway deregulation in OVCA.
PMCID: PMC4121105  PMID: 25114896
4.  SOX15 and other SOX family members are important mediators of tumorigenesis in multiple cancer types 
Oncoscience  2014;1(5):326-335.
SOX genes are transcription factors with important roles in embryonic development and carcinogenesis. The SOX family of 20 genes is responsible for regulating lineage and tissue specific gene expression patterns, controlling numerous developmental processes including cell differentiation, sex determination, and organogenesis. As is the case with many genes involved in regulating development, SOX genes are frequently deregulated in cancer. In this perspective we provide a brief overview of how SOX proteins can promote or suppress cancer growth. We also present a pan-cancer analysis of aberrant SOX gene expression and highlight potential molecular mechanisms responsible for their disruption in cancer. Our analyses indicate the prominence of SOX deregulation in different cancer types and reveal potential roles for SOX genes not previously described in cancer. Finally, we summarize our recent identification of SOX15 as a candidate tumor suppressor in pancreatic cancer and propose several research avenues to pursue to further delineate the emerging role of SOX15 in development and carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4278306  PMID: 25594027
SOX; SOX15; oncogene; tumor suppressor; development; cancer
5.  Identification of a long non-coding RNA as a novel biomarker and potential therapeutic target for metastatic prostate cancer 
Oncotarget  2014;5(3):764-774.
Metastatic prostate cancer (PCa) is still an incurable disease. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) may be an overlooked source of cancer biomarkers and therapeutic targets. We therefore performed RNA sequencing on paired metastatic/non-metastatic PCa xenografts derived from clinical specimens. The most highly up-regulated transcript was LOC728606, a lncRNA now designated PCAT18. PCAT18 is specifically expressed in the prostate compared to 11 other normal tissues (p<0.05) and up-regulated in PCa compared to 15 other neoplasms (p<0.001). Cancer-specific up-regulation of PCAT18 was confirmed on an independent dataset of PCa and benign prostatic hyperplasia samples (p<0.001). PCAT18 was detectable in plasma samples and increased incrementally from healthy individuals to those with localized and metastatic PCa (p<0.01). We identified a PCAT18-associated expression signature (PES), which is highly PCa-specific and activated in metastatic vs. primary PCa samples (p<1E−4, odds ratio>2). The PES was significantly associated with androgen receptor (AR) signalling. Accordingly, AR activation dramatically up-regulated PCAT18 expression in vitro and in vivo. PCAT18 silencing significantly (p<0.001) inhibited PCa cell proliferation and triggered caspase 3/7 activation, with no effect on non-neoplastic cells. PCAT18 silencing also inhibited PCa cell migration (p<0.01) and invasion (p<0.01). These results position PCAT18 as a potential therapeutic target and biomarker for metastatic PCa.
PMCID: PMC3996663  PMID: 24519926
long non-coding RNA; prostate cancer; metastasis; androgen receptor; cancer biomarkers
6.  Frequent concerted genetic mechanisms disrupt multiple components of the NRF2 inhibitor KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3-ubiquitin ligase complex in thyroid cancer 
Molecular Cancer  2013;12:124.
Reactive oxygen species contribute to normal thyroid function. The NRF2 oxidative response pathway is frequently and constitutively activated in multiple tumor types, including papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC). Genetic mechanisms underlying NRF2 pathway activation in PTC are not fully understood. Thus, we aimed to determine whether inactivating patterns of DNA-level alterations affect genes encoding for individual NRF2 inhibitor complex components (CUL3/KEAP1/RBX1) occur in PTC.
Combined patterns of epi/genetic alterations for KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3 ubiquitin-ligase complex components were simultaneously interrogated for a panel of 310 PTC cases and 40 adjacent non-malignant tissues. Data were obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas project. Enrichment of NRF2 pathway activation was assessed by gene-set enrichment analysis using transcriptome data. Our analyses revealed that PTC sustain a strikingly high frequency (80.6%) of disruption to multiple component genes of the NRF2 inhibitor complex. Hypermethylation is the predominant inactivating mechanism primarily affecting KEAP1 (70.6%) and CUL3 (20%), while copy number loss mostly affects RBX1 (16.8%). Concordantly, NRF2-associated gene expression signatures are positively and significantly enriched in PTC.
The KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3-ubiquitin ligase complex is almost ubiquitously affected by multiple DNA-level mechanisms and downstream NRF2 pathway targets are activated in PTC. Given the importance of this pathway to normal thyroid function as well as to cancer; targeted inhibition of NRF2 regulators may impact strategies for therapeutic intervention involving this pathway.
PMCID: PMC4016213  PMID: 24138990
KEAP1/CUL3/RBX1 E3-ubiquitin ligase complex; Gene disruption; NRF2; Thyroid cancer
7.  The detection and implication of genome instability in cancer 
Cancer Metastasis Reviews  2013;32(3-4):341-352.
Genomic instability is a hallmark of cancer that leads to an increase in genetic alterations, thus enabling the acquisition of additional capabilities required for tumorigenesis and progression. Substantial heterogeneity in the amount and type of instability (nucleotide, microsatellite, or chromosomal) exists both within and between cancer types, with epithelial tumors typically displaying a greater degree of instability than hematological cancers. While high-throughput sequencing studies offer a comprehensive record of the genetic alterations within a tumor, detecting the rate of instability or cell-to-cell viability using this and most other available methods remains a challenge. Here, we discuss the different levels of genomic instability occurring in human cancers and touch on the current methods and limitations of detecting instability. We have applied one such approach to the surveying of public tumor data to provide a cursory view of genome instability across numerous tumor types.
PMCID: PMC3843371  PMID: 23633034
Genomic instability; Cancer; CIN; MSI; Nucleotide instability
8.  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
9.  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
10.  Mechanistic Roles of Noncoding RNAs in Lung Cancer Biology and Their Clinical Implications 
Lung cancer biology has traditionally focused on genomic and epigenomic deregulation of protein-coding genes to identify oncogenes and tumor suppressors diagnostic and therapeutic targets. Another important layer of cancer biology has emerged in the form of noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs), which are major regulators of key cellular processes such as proliferation, RNA splicing, gene regulation, and apoptosis. In the past decade, microRNAs (miRNAs) have moved to the forefront of ncRNA cancer research, while the role of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) is emerging. Here we review the mechanisms by which miRNAs and lncRNAs are deregulated in lung cancer, the technologies that can be applied to detect such alterations, and the clinical potential of these RNA species. An improved comprehension of lung cancer biology will come through the understanding of the interplay between deregulation of non-coding RNAs, the protein-coding genes they regulate, and how these interactions influence cellular networks and signalling pathways.
PMCID: PMC3407615  PMID: 22852089
11.  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
12.  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
13.  DNA Extraction from Paraffin Embedded Material for Genetic and Epigenetic Analyses 
Disease development and progression are characterized by frequent genetic and epigenetic aberrations including chromosomal rearrangements, copy number gains and losses and DNA methylation. Advances in high-throughput, genome-wide profiling technologies, such as microarrays, have significantly improved our ability to identify and detect these specific alterations. However as technology continues to improve, a limiting factor remains sample quality and availability. Furthermore, follow-up clinical information and disease outcome are often collected years after the initial specimen collection. Specimens, typically formalin-fixed and paraffin embedded (FFPE), are stored in hospital archives for years to decades. DNA can be efficiently and effectively recovered from paraffin-embedded specimens if the appropriate method of extraction is applied. High quality DNA extracted from properly preserved and stored specimens can support quantitative assays for comparisons of normal and diseased tissues and generation of genetic and epigenetic signatures 1. To extract DNA from paraffin-embedded samples, tissue cores or microdissected tissue are subjected to xylene treatment, which dissolves the paraffin from the tissue, and then rehydrated using a series of ethanol washes. Proteins and harmful enzymes such as nucleases are subsequently digested by proteinase K. The addition of lysis buffer, which contains denaturing agents such as sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), facilitates digestion 2. Nucleic acids are purified from the tissue lysate using buffer-saturated phenol and high speed centrifugation which generates a biphasic solution. DNA and RNA remain in the upper aqueous phase, while proteins, lipids and polysaccharides are sequestered in the inter- and organic-phases respectively. Retention of the aqueous phase and repeated phenol extractions generates a clean sample. Following phenol extractions, RNase A is added to eliminate contaminating RNA. Additional phenol extractions following incubation with RNase A are used to remove any remaining enzyme. The addition of sodium acetate and isopropanol precipitates DNA, and high speed centrifugation is used to pellet the DNA and facilitate isopropanol removal. Excess salts carried over from precipitation can interfere with subsequent enzymatic assays, but can be removed from the DNA by washing with 70% ethanol, followed by centrifugation to re-pellet the DNA 3. DNA is re-suspended in distilled water or the buffer of choice, quantified and stored at -20°C. Purified DNA can subsequently be used in downstream applications which include, but are not limited to, PCR, array comparative genomic hybridization 4 (array CGH), methylated DNA Immunoprecipitation (MeDIP) and sequencing, allowing for an integrative analysis of tissue/tumor samples.
PMCID: PMC3197328  PMID: 21490570
14.  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

Results 1-14 (14)