Cell division depends upon the coordinated action of positive and negative regulatory factors that ensure high fidelity replication of the genome and its equivalent separation into daughter cells following cytokinesis. The role of positive factors such as the cyclin-dependent kinases in promoting cell division is firmly established, as is the function of CDK inhibitors and phosphatases that antagonize CDKs. In addition to these, regulated protein destruction is now appreciated as essential for temporal regulation of cell cycle transitions. Protein degradation serves as an irreversible switch that ensures temporally regulated cell cycle transitions. Signal-dependent regulation of protein degradation is best understood with regard to the 26S proteasome. Proteins are directed to this machine subsequent to enzymatic transfer of a highly conserved small polypeptide, ubiquitin. The focus of this review is the regulatory molecules that direct the regulated attachment of ubiquitin, polyubiquitylation, to proteins destined for degradation as cells transition through the G1 phase into S phase. During the past decade, it has become increasingly apparent that these molecules are critical mediators of normal cell proliferation, and as such, they are frequently deregulated in human cancers.
F-box; cullin; cyclin; CDK
The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) resident PKR-like kinase (PERK) is necessary for Akt activation in response to ER stress. We demonstrate that PERK harbors intrinsic lipid kinase, favoring diacylglycerol (DAG) as a substrate and generating phosphatidic acid (PA). This activity of PERK correlates with activation of mTOR and phosphorylation of Akt on Ser473. PERK lipid kinase activity is regulated in a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) p85α-dependent manner. Moreover, PERK activity is essential during adipocyte differentiation. Because PA and Akt regulate many cellular functions, including cellular survival, proliferation, migratory responses, and metabolic adaptation, our findings suggest that PERK has a more extensive role in insulin signaling, insulin resistance, obesity, and tumorigenesis than previously thought.
Zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) proteins ZEB1 and ZEB2 are transcription factors essential in transforming growth factor (TGF)-β-mediated senescence, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and cancer stem cell function. ZEBs are negatively regulated by members of the miR-200 microRNA family, but precisely how tumor cells expressing ZEBs emerge during invasive growth remains unknown. Here we report that NOTCH3-mediated signaling prevents expansion of a unique subset of ZEB-expressing cells. ZEB expression was associated with the lack of cellular capability of undergoing NOTCH3-mediated squamous differentiation in human esophageal cells. Genetic inhibition of the Notch-mediated transcriptional activity by dominant-negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1) prevented squamous differentiation and induction of Notch target genes including NOTCH3. Moreover, DNMAML1 enriched EMT competent cells exhibited robust upregulation of ZEBs, downregulation of the miR-200 family, and enhanced anchorage independent growth and tumor formation in nude mice. RNA interference (RNAi) experiments suggested the involvement of ZEBs in anchorage independent colony formation, invasion and TGF-β-mediated EMT. Invasive growth and impaired squamous differentiation was recapitulated upon Notch inhibition by DNMAML1 in organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Together, our findings indicate that NOTCH3 is a key factor limiting the expansion of ZEB-expressing cells, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of Notch signaling in the cell fate regulation and disease progression of squamous esophageal cancers.
Notch; EMT; squamous cell differentiation; ZEB1; miR-200
The Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) is an ensemble of signal transduction pathways that respond to perturbations in the oxidative, pro-folding environment of the endoplasmic reticulum. During the past decade, ongoing research implicated these pathways in maintaining homeostasis of cells and organisms exposed to various stresses. Herein, we highlight recent findings regarding the functional role of the UPR in both normal and pathophysiological processes.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of the most aggressive forms of squamous cell carcinomas. Common genetic lesions in ESCC include p53 mutations and EGFR overexpression, both of which have been implicated in negative regulation of Notch signaling. In addition, cyclin D1 is overexpressed in ESCC and can be activated via EGFR, Notch and Wnt signaling. To elucidate how these genetic lesions may interact during the development and progression of ESCC, we tested a panel of genetically engineered human esophageal cells (keratinocytes) in organotypic 3D culture (OTC), a form of human tissue engineering. Notch signaling was suppressed in culture and mice by dominant negative Mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1), a genetic pan-Notch inhibitor. DNMAML1 mice were subjected to 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide-induced oral-esophageal carcinogenesis. Highly invasive characteristics of primary human ESCC were recapitulated in OTC as well as DNMAML1 mice. In OTC, cyclin D1 overexpression induced squamous hyperplasia. Concurrent EGFR overexpression and mutant p53 resulted in transformation and invasive growth. Interestingly, cell proliferation appeared to be regulated differentially between those committed to squamous-cell differentiation and those invading into the stroma. Invasive cells exhibited Notch-independent activation of cyclin D1 and Wnt signaling. Within the oral-esophageal squamous epithelia, Notch signaling regulated squamous-cell differentiation to maintain epithelial integrity, and thus may act as a tumor suppressor by preventing the development of a tumor-promoting inflammatory microenvironment.
Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; organotypic 3D culture; EGFR; P53; cyclin D1; Wnt; Notch; squamous-cell differentiation; invasion; 4-Nitroquinoline 1-oxide
Curative eradication of all cells within carcinomas is seldom achievable with chemotherapy alone. This limitation may be partially attributable to tumor cell subpopulations with intrinsic resistance to current drugs. Within squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cell lines, we previously characterized a subpopulation of mesenchymal-like cells displaying phenotypic plasticity and increased resistance to both cytotoxic and targeted agents. These mesenchymal-like (Ecad-lo) cells are separable from epithelial-like (Ecad-hi) cells based on loss of surface E-cadherin and expression of vimentin. Despite their long-term plasticity, both Ecad-lo and Ecad-hi subsets in short-term culture maintained nearly uniform phenotypes after purification. This stability allowed testing of segregated subpopulations for relative sensitivity to the cytotoxic agent cisplatin in comparison to salinomycin, a compound with reported activity against CD44+CD24− stem-like cells in breast carcinomas. Salinomycin showed comparable efficacy against both Ecad-hi and Ecad-lo cells in contrast to cisplatin, which selectively depleted Ecad-hi cells. An in vivo correlate of these mesenchymal-like Ecad-lo cells was identified by immunohistochemical detection of vimentin-positive malignant subsets across a part of direct tumor xenografts (DTXs) of advanced stage SCC patient samples. Cisplatin treatment of mice with established DTXs caused enrichment of vimentin-positive malignant cells in residual tumors, but salinomycin depleted the same subpopulation. These results demonstrate that mesenchymal-like SCC cells, which resist current chemotherapies, respond to a treatment strategy developed against a stem-like subset in breast carcinoma. Further, they provide evidence of mesenchymal-like subsets being well-represented across advanced stage SCCs, suggesting that intrinsic drug resistance in this subpopulation has high clinical relevance.
EMT; squamous cell carcinoma; head and neck cancer; esophageal cancer; chemotherapy resistance; salinomycin; tumor heterogeneity
Perturbations in the regulation of the core cell cycle machinery are frequently observed in human cancers. Cyclin D1 which functions as a mitogenic sensor and allosteric activator of CDK4/6, is one of the more frequently altered cell cycle regulators in cancers. Cyclin D1 is frequently overexpressed in cancers and its overexpression can be attributed to many factors including increased transcription, translation, and protein stability. Although cyclin D1 overexpression is clearly implicated in the affected cancers, overexpression of cyclin D1 is not sufficient to drive oncogenic transformation. Rather, emerging evidence suggests that nuclear retention of cyclin D1 resulting from altered nuclear trafficking and proteolysis is critical for the manifestation of its oncogenicity. This review provides a brief overview of current data documenting various mechanisms underlying aberrant cyclin D1 regulation in human cancers and their impact on neoplastic transformation.
Protein ubiquitylation is a complex enzymatic process that results in the covalent attachment of ubiquitin, via Gly-76 of ubiquitin, to an ε-NH2-group of an internal lysine residue in a given substrate. While E3 ligases frequently utilize lysines adjacent to the degron within the substrate, many substrates can be targeted to the proteasome via polyubiquitylation of any lysine. We have assessed the role of lysine residues proximal to the cyclin D1 phosphodegron for ubiquitylation by the SCFFbx4/αB-crystallin ubiquitin ligase and subsequent proteasome-dependent degradation of cyclin D1. The work described herein reveals a requisite role for Lys-269 (K269) for the rapid, poly-ubiquitin mediated degradation of cyclin D1. Mutation of lysine 269, which is proximal to the phosphodegron sequence surrounding Thr-286 in cyclin D1, not only stabilizes cyclin D1, but also triggers cyclin D1 accumulation within the nucleus thereby promoting cell transformation. In addition, D1-K269R is resistant to genotoxic stress induced degradation, similar to non-phosphorylatable D1-T286A, supporting the critical role for the post-translational regulation of cyclin D1 in the response to DNA damaging agents. Strikingly, while mutation of lysine 269 to arginine inhibits cyclin D1 degradation, it does not inhibit cyclin D1 ubiquitylation in vivo demonstrating that ubiquitylation of a specific lysine can influence substrate targeting to the 26S proteasome.
Skp1-Cul1-F-box (SCF) E3 ubiquitin ligase complexes modulate the accumulation of key cell cycle regulatory proteins. Following the G1/S transition, SCFFbx4 targets cyclin D1 for proteasomal degradation, a critical event necessary for DNA replication fidelity. Deregulated cyclin D1 drives tumorigenesis, and inactivating mutations in Fbx4 have been identified in human cancer, suggesting that Fbx4 may function as a tumor suppressor. Fbx4+/− and Fbx4−/− mice succumb to multiple tumor phenotypes, including lymphomas, histiocytic sarcomas and, less frequently, mammary and hepatocellular carcinomas. Tumors and premalignant tissue from Fbx4+/− and Fbx4−/− mice exhibit elevated cyclin D1, an observation consistent with cyclin D1 as a target of Fbx4. Molecular dissection of the Fbx4 regulatory network in murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) revealed that loss of Fbx4 results in cyclin D1 stabilization and nuclear accumulation throughout cell division. Increased proliferation in early passage primary MEFs is antagonized by DNA damage checkpoint activation, consistent with nuclear cyclin D1-driven genomic instability. Furthermore, Fbx4−/− MEFs exhibited increased susceptibility to Ras-dependent transformation in vitro, analogous to tumorigenesis observed in mice. Collectively, these data reveal a requisite role for the SCFFbx4 E3 ubiquitin ligase in regulating cyclin D1 accumulation, consistent with tumor suppressive function in vivo.
P120ctn interacts with E-cadherin, but no formal proof that p120ctn functions as a bone fide tumor suppressor gene has emerged. We report herein that p120ctn loss leads to tumor development in mice. We have generated a conditional knockout model of p120ctn whereby mice develop pre-neoplastic and neoplastic lesions in the oral cavity, esophagus and squamous forestomach. Tumor derived cells secrete granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF), macrophage colony stimulating factor (M-CSF), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα). The tumors contain significant desmoplasia and immune cell infiltration. Immature myeloid cells comprise a significant percentage of the immune cells present, and likely participate in fostering a favorable tumor microenvironment, including the activation of fibroblasts.
Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is a B-cell lymphoma characterized by overexpression of cyclin D1 due to the t(11;14) chromosomal translocation. While expression of cyclin D1 is correlates with MCL development, expression of wild type cyclin D1 transgene in murine lymphocytes is unable to drive B-cell lymphoma. Because cyclin D1 mutants that are refractory to nuclear export display heighten oncogenicity in vitro compared with wild type D1, we generated mice expressing FLAG-D1/T286A, a constitutively nuclear mutant, under the control of the immunoglobulin enhancer, Eµ. D1/T286A transgenic mice universally develop a mature B-cell lymphoma. Expression of D1/T286A in B lymphocytes results in promiscuous S-phase entry and increased apoptosis in spleens of young pre-malignant mice. Lymphoma onset correlates with loss of p53 suggesting that inactivation of the p53 signaling axis precedes lymphoma development. Our results describe a cyclin D1-driven model of B-cell lymphomagenesis and provide evidence that nuclear-retention of cyclin D1 is oncogenic in vivo.
CDK4; cyclin D1; mantle cell lymphoma; apoptosis
Mammary epithelial cells (MECs) detached from the extracellular matrix (ECM) produce deleterious reactive oxygen species (ROS) and induce autophagy to survive. The coordination of such opposing responses likely dictates whether epithelial cells survive ECM detachment or undergo anoikis. Here, we demonstrate that the endoplasmic reticulum kinase PERK facilitates survival of ECM-detached cells by concomitantly promoting autophagy, ATP production, and an antioxidant response. Loss-of-function studies show that ECM detachment activates a canonical PERK-eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α)-ATF4-CHOP pathway that coordinately induces the autophagy regulators ATG6 and ATG8, sustains ATP levels, and reduces ROS levels to delay anoikis. Inducible activation of an Fv2E-ΔNPERK chimera by persistent activation of autophagy and reduction of ROS results in lumen-filled mammary epithelial acini. Finally, luminal P-PERK and LC3 levels are reduced in PERK-deficient mammary glands, whereas they are increased in human breast ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) versus normal breast tissues. We propose that the normal proautophagic and antioxidant PERK functions may be hijacked to promote the survival of ECM-detached tumor cells in DCIS lesions.
Exposure of cells to Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) stress leads to activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)–Akt signaling pathway and transcriptional induction of the inhibitor of apoptosis family of proteins. One of the proximal effectors of the ER stress response, the PKR-like ER kinase (PERK), leads to cellular adaptation to stress by multiple mechanisms, including attenuation of protein synthesis, and transcriptional induction of pro-survival genes. While PERK activity leads to cellular adaptation to ER stress, we now demonstrate that PERK activity also inhibits the ER stress-induced apoptotic program through induction of cellular inhibitor of apoptosis (cIAP1 and cIAP2) proteins. This induction of IAPs occurs through both transcriptional and translational responses that are PERK-dependent. Reintroduction of cIAP1 or cIAP2 expression into PERK−/− MEFs during ER stress delays the early onset of ER stress-induced caspase activation and apoptosis observed in these cells. Furthermore, we demonstrate that activation of the PI3K-Akt pathway by ER stress is dependent on PERK, suggesting additional ways in which PERK activity protects cells from ER stress-induced apoptosis.
PERK; ER Stress; Apoptosis; IAP
Human squamous cell cancers are the most common epithelially derived malignancies. One example is esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), which is associated with a high mortality rate (1) that is related to a propensity for invasion and metastasis (2). Here we report that periostin, a highly expressed cell adhesion molecule, is a key component of a novel tumor invasive signature obtained from an organotypic culture model of engineered ESCC. This tumor invasive signature classifies with human ESCC microarrays, underscoring its utility in human cancer. Genetic modulation of periostin promotes tumor cell migration and invasion as revealed in gain of and loss of function experiments. Inhibition of EGFR signaling and restoration of wild-type p53 function were each found to attenuate periostin, suggesting interdependence of two common genetic alterations with periostin function. Collectively, our studies reveal periostin as an important mediator of ESCC tumor invasion and they indicate that organotypic (3D) culture can offer an important tool to discover novel biologic effectors in cancer.
tumor microenvironment; periostin; EGFR; p53
Background & Aims
The Notch receptor family regulates cell fate through cell-cell communication. CSL (CBF-1/RBP-jκ, Su(H), Lag-1) drives canonical Notch-mediated gene transcription during cell lineage specification, differentiation and proliferation in the hematopoietic system, the intestine, the pancreas and the skin. However, the functional roles of Notch in esophageal squamous epithelial biology remain unknown.
Normal esophageal keratinocytes were stimulated with calcium chloride to induce terminal differentiation. The squamous epithelia were reconstituted in organotypic three-dimensional culture, a form of human tissue engineering. Notch was inhibited in culture with a γ-secretase inhibitor or dominant negative mastermind-like1 (DNMAML1). The roles of Notch receptors were evaluated by in vitro gain-of-function and loss-of-function experiments. Additionally, DNMAML1 was targeted to the mouse esophagus by cytokeratin K14 promoter-driven Cre (K14Cre) recombination of Lox-STOP-Lox-DNMAML1. Notch-regulated gene expression was determined by reporter transfection, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays, quantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR), Western blotting, immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry.
NOTCH1 (N1) was activated at the onset of squamous differentiation in the esophagus. Intracellular domain of N1 (ICN1) directly activated NOTCH3 (N3) transcription, inducing HES5 and early differentiation markers such as involucrin (IVL) and cytokeratin CK13 in a CSL-dependent fashion. N3 enhanced ICN1 activity and was required for squamous differentiation. Loss of Notch signaling in K14Cre;DNMAML1 mice perturbed esophageal squamous differentiation and resulted in N3 loss and basal cell hyperplasia.
Notch signaling is important for esophageal epithelial homeostasis. In particular, the crosstalk of N3 with N1 during differentiation provides novel, mechanistic insights into Notch signaling and squamous epithelial biology.
NOTCH1; NOTCH3; esophageal epithelium; squamous differentiation
Oncogenic Ras and p53 loss-of-function mutations are common in many advanced sporadic malignancies and together predict a limited responsiveness to conventional chemotherapy. Notably, studies in cultured cells have indicated that each of these genetic alterations creates a selective sensitivity to ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) pathway inhibition. Here, we describe a genetic system to conditionally reduce ATR expression to 10% of normal levels in adult mice to compare the impact of this suppression on normal tissues and cancers in vivo. Hypomorphic suppression of ATR minimally affected normal bone marrow and intestinal homeostasis, indicating that this level of ATR expression was sufficient for highly proliferative adult tissues. In contrast, hypomorphic ATR reduction potently inhibited the growth of both p53-deficient fibrosarcomas expressing H-rasG12V and acute myeloid leukemias (AMLs) driven by MLL-ENL and N-rasG12D. Notably, DNA damage increased in a greater-than-additive fashion upon combining ATR suppression with oncogenic stress (H-rasG12V, K-rasG12D, or c-Myc overexpression), indicating that this cooperative genome-destabilizing interaction may contribute to tumor selectivity in vivo. This toxic interaction between ATR suppression and oncogenic stress occurred without regard to p53 status. These studies define a level of ATR pathway inhibition in which the growth of malignancies harboring oncogenic mutations can be suppressed with minimal impact on normal tissue homeostasis, highlighting ATR inhibition as a promising therapeutic strategy.
Fbx4 is an F-box constituent of SCF ubiquitin ligases that directs ubiquitylation of cyclin D1. Ubiquitylation of cyclin D1 requires phosphorylation of both cyclin D1 and Fbx4 by GSK3β. GSK3β-mediated phosphorylation of Fbx4 Ser12 during the G1/S transition regulates Fbx4 dimerization, which in turn governs Fbx4-driven E3 ligase activity. In esophageal carcinomas that overexpress cyclin D1, Fbx4 is subject to inactivating mutations that specifically disrupt dimerization, highlighting the biological significance of this regulatory mechanism. In an effort to elucidate mechanisms that regulate dimerization, we sought to identify proteins that differentially bind to wild type Fbx4 versus a cancer-derived dimerization deficient mutant. We provide evidence that phosphorylation of Ser-12 generates a docking site for 14-3-3ε. 14-3-3ε binds to endogenous Fbx4 and this association is impaired by mutations that target either Ser-8 or Ser-12 in Fbx4, suggesting that this N-terminal motif in Fbx4 directs its interaction with 14-3-3ε. Knockdown of 14-3-3ε inhibited Fbx4 dimerization, reduced SCFFbx4 E3 ligase activity, and stabilized cyclin D1. Collectively, the current results suggest a model wherein 14-3-3 binds to Ser-12 phosphorylated Fbx4 to mediate dimerization and function.
Cyclin D1 elicits transcriptional effects through inactivation of the retinoblastoma protein and direct association with transcriptional regulators. The current work reveals a molecular relationship between cyclin D1/CDK4 kinase and protein arginine methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5), an enzyme associated with histone methylation and transcriptional repression. Primary tumors of a mouse lymphoma model exhibit increased PRMT5 methyltransferase activity and histone arginine methylation. Analyses demonstrate that MEP50, a PRMT5 co-regulatory factor, is a CDK4 substrate, and phosphorylation increases PRMT5/MEP50 activity. Increased PRMT5 activity mediates key events associated with cyclin D1-dependent neoplastic growth including CUL4 repression, CDT1 overexpression, and DNA re-replication. Importantly, human cancers harboring mutations in Fbx4, the cyclin D1 E3 ligase, exhibit nuclear cyclin D1 accumulation and increased PRMT5 activity.
Cyclin D1; CDK4; CUL4; CDT1; PRMT5; MEP50; Arginine Methylation
Exposure of cells to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress leads to activation of PKR-like ER kinase (PERK), eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) phosphorylation, repression of cyclin D1 translation, and subsequent cell cycle arrest in G1 phase. However, whether PERK is solely responsible for regulating cyclin D1 accumulation after unfolded protein response pathway (UPR) activation has not been assessed. Herein, we demonstrate that repression of cyclin D1 translation after UPR activation occurs independently of PERK, but it remains dependent on eIF2α phosphorylation. Although phosphorylation of eIF2α in PERK–/– fibroblasts is attenuated in comparison with wild-type fibroblasts, it is not eliminated. The residual eIF2α phosphorylation correlates with the kinetics of cyclin D1 loss, suggesting that another eIF2α kinase functions in the absence of PERK. In cells harboring targeted deletion of both PERK and GCN2, cyclin D1 loss is attenuated, suggesting GCN2 functions as the redundant kinase. Consistent with these results, cyclin D1 translation is also stabilized in cells expressing a nonphosphorylatable allele of eIF2α; in contrast, repression of global protein translation still occurs in these cells, highlighting a high degree of specificity in transcripts targeted for translation inhibition by phosphorylated eIF2α. Our results demonstrate that PERK and GCN2 function to cooperatively regulate eIF2α phosphorylation and cyclin D1 translation after UPR activation.
Insulin-like growth factor-binding protein (IGFBP)-3 is overexpressed frequently in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Yet, the role of IGFBP3 in esophageal tumor biology remains to be elucidated. We find that IGFBP3 facilitates transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1-mediated epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in transformed human esophageal epithelial cells, EPC2–hTERT–EGFR–p53R175H. In organotypic 3D culture, a form of human tissue engineering, laser-capture microdissection revealed concurrent upregulation of TGF-β target genes, IGFBP3 and EMT-related genes in the cells invading into the stromal compartment. IGFBP3 enhanced TGF-β1-mediated EMT as well as transcription factors essential in EMT by allowing persistent SMAD2 and SMAD3 phosphorylation. TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion were enhanced by ectopically expressed IGFBP3 and suppressed by RNA interference directed against IGFBP3. The IGFBP3 knockdown effect was rescued by IGFBP3I56G/L80G/L81G, a mutant IGFBP3 lacking an insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-binding capacity. Thus, IGFBP3 can regulate TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion in an IGF or insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor-independent manner. IGFBP3I56G/L80G/L81G also promoted EMT in vivo in a Ras-transformed human esophageal cell line T-TeRas upon xenograft transplantation in nude mice. In aggregate, IGFBP3 may have a novel IGF-binding independent biological function in regulation of TGF-β1-mediated EMT and cell invasion.
HIF-2α promotes von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) deficient renal clear cell carcinoma (RCC) tumorigenesis, while HIF-1α inhibits RCC growth. As HIF-1α antagonizes c-Myc function, we hypothesized that HIF-2α might enhance c-Myc activity. We demonstrate here that HIF-2α promotes cell cycle progression in hypoxic RCCs and multiple other cell lines. This correlates with enhanced c-Myc promoter binding, transcriptional effects on both activated and repressed target genes, and interactions with Sp1, Mizl and Max. Finally, HIF-2α augments c-Myc transformation of primary mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs). Enhanced c-Myc activity likely contributes to HIF-2α mediated neoplastic progression following loss of the VHL tumor suppressor, and influences the behavior of hypoxic tumor cells.
Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β is a potent inducer of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). However, it remains elusive as to which molecular mechanisms determine the cellular capacity to undergo EMT in response to TGF-β. We have found that both epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) overexpression and mutant p53 tumor suppressor genes contribute to enrichment of an EMT-competent cellular subpopulation amongst telomerase-immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells during malignant transformation. EGFR overexpression triggers oncogene-induced senescence, accompanied by induction of cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p15INK4B, p16INK4A and p21. Interestingly, a subpopulation of cells emerges by negating senescence without loss of EGFR overexpression. Such cell populations express increased levels of zinc finger E-box binding (ZEB) transcription factors ZEB1 and ZEB2, and undergo EMT upon TGF-β stimulation. Enrichment of EMT-competent cells was more evident in the presence of p53 mutation, which diminished EGFR-induced senescence. RNA interference directed against ZEB resulted in induction of p15INK4B and p16INK4A, reactivating the EGFR-dependent senescence program. Importantly, TGF-β-mediated EMT did not take place when cellular senescence programs were activated by either ZEB knockdown or activation of wild-type p53 function. Thus, senescence checkpoint functions activated by EGFR and p53 may be evaded through the induction of ZEB, thereby allowing expansion of an EMT-competent unique cellular subpopulation, providing novel mechanistic insights into the role of ZEB in esophageal carcinogenesis.
EGFR; EMT; senescence; ZEB1; ZEB2
Variable drug responses among malignant cells within individual tumors may represent a barrier to their eradication using chemotherapy. Carcinoma cells expressing mesenchymal markers resist conventional and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-targeted chemotherapy. Here we evaluated whether mesenchymal-like subpopulations within human squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) with predominantly epithelial features contribute to overall therapy resistance. We identified a mesenchymal-like subset expressing low E-cadherin (Ecad-lo) and high vimentin (Vim-hi) within upper aerodigestive tract SCCs. This subset was both isolated from cell lines and identified in xenografts and primary clinical specimens. The Ecad-lo subset contained more low-turnover cells, correlating with resistance to the conventional chemotherapeutic paclitaxel in vitro. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) induced less stimulation of the MAP kinase and PI3-kinase pathways in Ecad-lo cells, which was likely due to lower EGFR expression in this subset and correlated with in vivo resistance to the EGFR-targeted antibody cetuximab. The Ecad-lo and high E-cadherin (Ecad-hi) subsets were dynamic in phenotype, showing the capacity to repopulate each other from single cell clones. Taken together, these results provide evidence for a low-turnover, mesenchymal-like subpopulation in SCCs with diminished EGFR pathway function and intrinsic resistance to conventional and EGFR-targeted chemotherapies.
EMT; squamous cell carcinoma; head and neck; chemotherapy resistance; tumor heterogeneity