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1.  Bedaquiline, an FDA-approved antibiotic, inhibits mitochondrial function and potently blocks the proliferative expansion of stem-like cancer cells (CSCs) 
Aging (Albany NY)  2016;8(8):1593-1606.
Bedaquiline (a.k.a., Sirturo) is an anti-microbial agent, which is approved by the FDA for the treatment of multi-drug resistant pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). Bedaquiline is a first-in-class diaryl-quinoline compound, that mechanistically inhibits the bacterial ATP-synthase, and shows potent activity against both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB. Interestingly, eukaryotic mitochondria originally evolved from engulfed aerobic bacteria. Thus, we hypothesized that, in mammalian cells, bedaquiline might also target the mitochondrial ATP-synthase, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction and ATP depletion. Here, we show that bedaquiline has anti-cancer activity, directed against Cancer Stem-like Cells (CSCs). More specifically, we demonstrate that bedaquiline treatment of MCF7 breast cancer cells inhibits mitochondrial oxygen-consumption, as well as glycolysis, but induces oxidative stress. Importantly, bedaquiline significantly blocks the propagation and expansion of MCF7-derived CSCs, with an IC-50 of approx. 1-μM, as determined using the mammosphere assay. Similarly, bedaquiline also reduces both the CD44+/CD24low/− CSC and ALDH+ CSC populations, under anchorage-independent growth conditions. In striking contrast, bedaquiline significantly increases oxygen consumption in normal human fibroblasts, consistent with the fact that it is well-tolerated in patients treated for TB infections. As such, future pre-clinical studies and human clinical trials in cancer patients may be warranted. Interestingly, we also highlight that bedaquiline shares certain structural similarities with trans-piceatannol and trans-resveratrol, which are known natural flavonoid inhibitors of the mitochondrial ATP-synthase (complex V) and show anti-aging properties.
PMCID: PMC5032685  PMID: 27344270
bedaquiline; mitochondria; tumor-initiating cells (TICs); cancer stem-like cells (CSCs); drug repurposing
2.  Repurposing atovaquone: Targeting mitochondrial complex III and OXPHOS to eradicate cancer stem cells 
Oncotarget  2016;7(23):34084-34099.
Atovaquone is an FDA-approved anti-malarial drug, which first became clinically available in the year 2000. Currently, its main usage is for the treatment of pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) and/or toxoplasmosis in immune-compromised patients. Atovaquone is a hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone analogue of ubiquinone, also known as Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). It is a well-tolerated drug that does not cause myelo-suppression. Mechanistically, it is thought to act as a potent and selective OXPHOS inhibitor, by targeting the CoQ10-dependence of mitochondrial complex III. Here, we show for the first time that atovaquone also has anti-cancer activity, directed against Cancer Stem-like Cells (CSCs). More specifically, we demonstrate that atovaquone treatment of MCF7 breast cancer cells inhibits oxygen-consumption and metabolically induces aerobic glycolysis (the Warburg effect), as well as oxidative stress. Remarkably, atovaquone potently inhibits the propagation of MCF7-derived CSCs, with an IC-50 of 1 μM, as measured using the mammosphere assay. Atovaquone also maintains this selectivity and potency in mixed populations of CSCs and non-CSCs. Importantly, these results indicate that glycolysis itself is not sufficient to maintain the proliferation of CSCs, which is instead strictly dependent on mitochondrial function. In addition to targeting the proliferation of CSCs, atovaquone also induces apoptosis in both CD44+/CD24low/− CSC and ALDH+ CSC populations, during exposure to anchorage-independent conditions for 12 hours. However, it has no effect on oxygen consumption in normal human fibroblasts and, in this cellular context, behaves as an anti-inflammatory, consistent with the fact that it is well-tolerated in patients treated for infections. Future studies in xenograft models and human clinical trials may be warranted, as the IC-50 of atovaquone's action on CSCs (1 μM) is >50 times less than its average serum concentration in humans.
PMCID: PMC5085139  PMID: 27136895
atovaquone; tumor-initiating cells (TICs); mitochondria; OXPHOS; cancer stem-like cells (CSCs)
3.  Repurposing of FDA-approved drugs against cancer – focus on metastasis 
Aging (Albany NY)  2016;8(4):567-568.
PMCID: PMC4925811  PMID: 27038638
tumor metastasis; repurposing; antibiotics; aspirin
4.  Cancer stem cell metabolism 
Cancer is now viewed as a stem cell disease. There is still no consensus on the metabolic characteristics of cancer stem cells, with several studies indicating that they are mainly glycolytic and others pointing instead to mitochondrial metabolism as their principal source of energy. Cancer stem cells also seem to adapt their metabolism to microenvironmental changes by conveniently shifting energy production from one pathway to another, or by acquiring intermediate metabolic phenotypes. Determining the role of cancer stem cell metabolism in carcinogenesis has become a major focus in cancer research, and substantial efforts are conducted towards discovering clinical targets.
PMCID: PMC4879746  PMID: 27220421
5.  The Endogenous Cell-Fate Factor Dachshund restrains Prostate Epithelial Cell Migration via Repression of Cytokine Secretion via a CXCL Signaling Module 
Cancer research  2015;75(10):1992-2004.
Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second leading form of cancer death in men. In a subset of PCa patients increased chemokine signaling IL-8 and IL-6 correlates with androgen therapy-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). IL-8 and IL-6 are produced by prostate epithelial cells and promote PCa cell invasion, however the mechanisms restraining prostate epithelial cell cytokine secretion are poorly understood. Herein the cell-fate determinant factor DACH1 inhibited androgen therapy-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) tumor growth in mice. Using Dach1fl/fl/Probasin-Cre bi-transgenic mice, we show IL-8 and IL-6 secretion was altered ~1000 fold by endogenous Dach1. Endogenous Dach1 is shown to serve as a key endogenous restraint to prostate epithelial cell growth and restrains migration via CXCL signaling. DACH1 inhibited expression, transcription and secretion of the CXCL genes (IL-8, IL-6) by binding to their promoter regulatory regions in chromatin. DACH1 is thus a newly defined determinant of benign and malignant prostate epithelium cellular growth, migration and cytokine abundance in vivo.
PMCID: PMC4433595  PMID: 25769723
prostate cancer; cell fate; Dach1
6.  Distinct cathepsins control necrotic cell death mediated by pyroptosis inducers and lysosome-destabilizing agents 
Cell Cycle  2015;14(7):964-972.
Necrotic cell death triggers a range of biological responses including a strong adaptive immune response, yet we know little about the cellular pathways that control necrotic cell death. Inhibitor studies suggest that proteases, and in particular cathepsins, drive necrotic cell death. The cathepsin B-selective inhibitor CA-074-Me blocks all forms of programmed necrosis by an unknown mechanism. We found that cathepsin B deficiency does not prevent induction of pyroptosis and lysosome-mediated necrosis suggesting that CA-074-Me blocks necrotic cell death by targeting cathepsins other than cathepsin B. A single cathepsin, cathepsin C, drives necrotic cell death mediated by the lysosome-destabilizing agent Leu-Leu-OMe (LLOMe). Here we present evidence that cathepsin C-deficiency and CA-074-Me block LLOMe killing in a distinct and cell type-specific fashion. Cathepsin C-deficiency and CA-074-Me block LLOMe killing of all myeloid cells, except for neutrophils. Cathepsin C-deficiency, but not CA-074-Me, blocks LLOMe killing of neutrophils suggesting that CA-074-Me does not target cathepsin C directly, consistent with inhibitor studies using recombinant cathepsin C. Unlike other cathepsins, cathepsin C lacks endoproteolytic activity, and requires activation by other lysosomal proteases, such as cathepsin D. Consistent with this theory, we found that lysosomotropic agents and cathepsin D downregulation by siRNA block LLOMe-mediated necrosis. Our findings indicate that a proteolytic cascade, involving cathepsins C and D, controls LLOMe-mediated necrosis. In contrast, cathepsins C and D were not required for pyroptotic cell death suggesting that distinct cathepsins control pyroptosis and lysosome-mediated necrosis.
PMCID: PMC4614982  PMID: 25830414
Caspase-1; inflammasome; lysosome rupture; necrosis; pyroptosis
7.  Mitochondrial mass, a new metabolic biomarker for stem-like cancer cells: Understanding WNT/FGF-driven anabolic signaling 
Oncotarget  2015;6(31):30453-30471.
Here, we developed an isogenic cell model of “stemness” to facilitate protein biomarker discovery in breast cancer. For this purpose, we used knowledge gained previously from the study of the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV). MMTV initiates mammary tumorigenesis in mice by promoter insertion adjacent to two main integration sites, namely Int-1 (Wnt1) and Int-2 (Fgf3), which ultimately activates Wnt/β-catenin signaling, driving the propagation of mammary cancer stem cells (CSCs). Thus, to develop a humanized model of MMTV signaling, we over-expressed WNT1 and FGF3 in MCF7 cells, an ER(+) human breast cancer cell line. We then validated that MCF7 cells over-expressing both WNT1 and FGF3 show a 3.5-fold increase in mammosphere formation, and that conditioned media from these cells is also sufficient to promote stem cell activity in untransfected parental MCF7 and T47D cells, as WNT1 and FGF3 are secreted factors. Proteomic analysis of this model system revealed the induction of i) EMT markers, ii) mitochondrial proteins, iii) glycolytic enzymes and iv) protein synthesis machinery, consistent with an anabolic CSC phenotype. MitoTracker staining validated the expected WNT1/FGF3-induced increase in mitochondrial mass and activity, which presumably reflects increased mitochondrial biogenesis. Importantly, many of the proteins that were up-regulated by WNT/FGF-signaling in MCF7 cells, were also transcriptionally over-expressed in human breast cancer cells in vivo, based on the bioinformatic analysis of public gene expression datasets of laser-captured patient samples. As such, this isogenic cell model should accelerate the discovery of new biomarkers to predict clinical outcome in breast cancer, facilitating the development of personalized medicine.
Finally, we used mitochondrial mass as a surrogate marker for increased mitochondrial biogenesis in untransfected MCF7 cells. As predicted, metabolic fractionation of parental MCF7 cells, via MitoTracker staining, indicated that high mitochondrial mass is a new metabolic biomarker for the enrichment of anabolic CSCs, as functionally assessed by mammosphere-forming activity. This observation has broad implications for understanding the role of mitochondrial biogenesis in the propagation of stem-like cancer cells. Technically, this general metabolic approach could be applied to any cancer type, to identify and target the mitochondrial-rich CSC population.
The implications of our work for understanding the role of mitochondrial metabolism in viral oncogenesis driven by random promoter insertions are also discussed, in the context of MMTV and ALV infections.
PMCID: PMC4741544  PMID: 26421711
mitochondria; MitoTracker; MMTV; WNT; FGF
8.  High mitochondrial mass identifies a sub-population of stem-like cancer cells that are chemo-resistant 
Oncotarget  2015;6(31):30472-30486.
Chemo-resistance is a clinical barrier to more effective anti-cancer therapy. In this context, cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) are thought to be chemo-resistant, resulting in tumor recurrence and distant metastasis. Our hypothesis is that chemo-resistance in CSCs is driven, in part, by enhanced mitochondrial function. Here, we used breast cell lines and metastatic breast cancer patient samples to begin to dissect the role of mitochondrial metabolism in conferring the CSC phenotype. More specifically, we employed fluorescent staining with MitoTracker (MT) to metabolically fractionate these cell lines into mito-high and mito-low sub-populations, by flow-cytometry. Interestingly, cells with high mitochondrial mass (mito-high) were specifically enriched in a number of known CSC markers, such as aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, and they were ESA+/CD24-/low and formed mammospheres with higher efficiency. Large cell size is another independent characteristic of the stem cell phenotype; here, we observed a >2-fold increase in mitochondrial mass in large cells (>12-μm), relative to the smaller cell population (4–8-μm). Moreover, the mito-high cell population showed a 2.4-fold enrichment in tumor-initiating cell activity, based on limiting dilution assays in murine xenografts. Importantly, primary human breast CSCs isolated from patients with metastatic breast cancer or a patient derived xenograft (PDX) also showed the co-enrichment of ALDH activity and mitochondrial mass. Most significantly, our investigations demonstrated that mito-high cells were resistant to paclitaxel, resulting in little or no DNA damage, as measured using the comet assay. In summary, increased mitochondrial mass in a sub-population of breast cancer cells confers a stem-like phenotype and chemo-resistance. As such, our current findings have important clinical implications for over-coming drug resistance, by therapeutically targeting the mito-high CSC population.
PMCID: PMC4741545  PMID: 26421710
mitochondria; MitoTracker; cancer stem cells; tumor metabolism
9.  Dissecting tumor metabolic heterogeneity: Telomerase and large cell size metabolically define a sub-population of stem-like, mitochondrial-rich, cancer cells 
Oncotarget  2015;6(26):21892-21905.
Tumor cell metabolic heterogeneity is thought to contribute to tumor recurrence, distant metastasis and chemo-resistance in cancer patients, driving poor clinical outcome. To better understand tumor metabolic heterogeneity, here we used the MCF7 breast cancer line as a model system to metabolically fractionate a cancer cell population. First, MCF7 cells were stably transfected with an hTERT-promoter construct driving GFP expression, as a surrogate marker of telomerase transcriptional activity. To enrich for immortal stem-like cancer cells, MCF7 cells expressing the highest levels of GFP (top 5%) were then isolated by FACS analysis. Notably, hTERT-GFP(+) MCF7 cells were significantly more efficient at forming mammospheres (i.e., stem cell activity) and showed increased mitochondrial mass and mitochondrial functional activity, all relative to hTERT-GFP(−) cells. Unbiased proteomics analysis of hTERT-GFP(+) MCF7 cells directly demonstrated the over-expression of 33 key mitochondrial proteins, 17 glycolytic enzymes, 34 ribosome-related proteins and 17 EMT markers, consistent with an anabolic cancer stem-like phenotype. Interestingly, MT-CO2 (cytochrome c oxidase subunit 2; Complex IV) expression was increased by >20-fold. As MT-CO2 is encoded by mt-DNA, this finding is indicative of increased mitochondrial biogenesis in hTERT-GFP(+) MCF7 cells. Importantly, most of these candidate biomarkers were transcriptionally over-expressed in human breast cancer epithelial cells in vivo. Similar results were obtained using cell size (forward/side scatter) to fractionate MCF7 cells. Larger stem-like cells also showed increased hTERT-GFP levels, as well as increased mitochondrial mass and function. Thus, this simple and rapid approach for the enrichment of immortal anabolic stem-like cancer cells will allow us and others to develop new prognostic biomarkers and novel anti-cancer therapies, by specifically and selectively targeting this metabolic sub-population of aggressive cancer cells. Based on our proteomics and functional analysis, FDA-approved inhibitors of protein synthesis and/or mitochondrial biogenesis, may represent novel treatment options for targeting these anabolic stem-like cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4673134  PMID: 26323205
hTERT; telomerase; cell size; mitochondrial biogenesis; cancer stem cells; proteomic analysis; tumor metabolism
10.  Graphene oxide selectively targets cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Implications for non-toxic cancer treatment, via “differentiation-based nano-therapy” 
Oncotarget  2015;6(6):3553-3562.
Tumor-initiating cells (TICs), a.k.a. cancer stem cells (CSCs), are difficult to eradicate with conventional approaches to cancer treatment, such as chemo-therapy and radiation. As a consequence, the survival of residual CSCs is thought to drive the onset of tumor recurrence, distant metastasis, and drug-resistance, which is a significant clinical problem for the effective treatment of cancer. Thus, novel approaches to cancer therapy are needed urgently, to address this clinical need. Towards this end, here we have investigated the therapeutic potential of graphene oxide to target cancer stem cells. Graphene and its derivatives are well-known, relatively inert and potentially non-toxic nano-materials that form stable dispersions in a variety of solvents. Here, we show that graphene oxide (of both big and small flake sizes) can be used to selectively inhibit the proliferative expansion of cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types. For this purpose, we employed the tumor-sphere assay, which functionally measures the clonal expansion of single cancer stem cells under anchorage-independent conditions. More specifically, we show that graphene oxide effectively inhibits tumor-sphere formation in multiple cell lines, across 6 different cancer types, including breast, ovarian, prostate, lung and pancreatic cancers, as well as glioblastoma (brain). In striking contrast, graphene oxide is non-toxic for “bulk” cancer cells (non-stem) and normal fibroblasts. Mechanistically, we present evidence that GO exerts its striking effects on CSCs by inhibiting several key signal transduction pathways (WNT, Notch and STAT-signaling) and thereby inducing CSC differentiation. Thus, graphene oxide may be an effective non-toxic therapeutic strategy for the eradication of cancer stem cells, via differentiation-based nano-therapy.
PMCID: PMC4414136  PMID: 25708684
nanomaterials; graphene oxide; cancer stem cells; multiple cancer types: breast; ovarian
11.  Doxycycline and therapeutic targeting of the DNA damage response in cancer cells: old drug, new purpose 
Oncoscience  2015;2(8):696-699.
There is a small proportion of cells within a tumour with self-renewing properties, which is resistant to conventional therapy, and is responsible for tumour initiation, maintenance and metastasis. These cells are known as cancer stem cells (CSCs) or tumour-initiating cells (TICs) [1]. Recent publications identify several antibiotics, such as salinomycin or doxycycline, as selective CSCs inhibitors [2-4]. However, the mechanisms of action of these antibiotics on CSCs are not fully understood.
PMCID: PMC4580062  PMID: 26425660
doxycycline; drug repurposing; DNA-PK; DNA damage response; antibiotics for cancer therapy; cancer stem cells; mitochondria; cancer metabolism
Cancer research  2014;74(14):3959-3970.
The cyclin D1 gene encodes the regulatory subunit of a holoenyzme that phosphorylates the retinoblastoma protein (pRb) and nuclear respiratory factor (NRF1) proteins. The abundance of cyclin D1 determines estrogen-dependent gene expression in the mammary gland of mice. Using estradiol (E2) and an E2-dendrimer conjugate which is excluded from the nucleus, we demonstrate E2 delays the DNA damage response (DDR) via an extranuclear mechanism. The E2-induced DDR required extranuclear cyclin D1 which bound ERα at the cytoplasmic membrane and augmented AKT phosphorylation (Ser473) and γH2AX foci formation. In the nucleus E2 inhibited, whereas cyclin D1 enhanced, homology directed DNA repair. Cyclin D1 was recruited to γH2AX foci by E2 and induced Rad51 expression. Cyclin D1 governs an essential role in the E2-dependent DNA-damage response via a novel extranuclear function. The dissociable cytoplasmic function to delay the E2 mediated-DDR together with the nuclear enhancement of DNA repair uncovers a novel extranuclear function of cyclin D1 that may contribute to the role of E2 in breast tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC4102655  PMID: 24830723
Cyclin D1; DNA damage repair; Estrogen; Cell-cycle
13.  Nutrient Restriction and Radiation Therapy for Cancer Treatment: When Less Is More 
The Oncologist  2013;18(1):97-103.
The laboratory and clinical evidence that exists for calorie restriction is reviewed, showing compelling evidence through the molecular pathways calorie restriction induces about how it may be used as a treatment in tandem with radiation therapy to improve rates of disease control.
CME Learning Objectives
Identify molecular pathways that are potential targets of calorie restriction combined with radiation therapy.Identify cancer patients for whom calorie restriction would be contraindicated.
Calorie restriction (CR), or a diet modification aiming to reduce the total intake of calories by 20%–40%, has been shown to increase longevity across multiple species. Recently, there has been growing interest in investigating the potential role of CR as a treatment intervention for age-related diseases, such as cancer, because an increasing body of literature has demonstrated a metabolic component to both carcinogenesis and tumor progression. In fact, many of the molecular pathways that are altered with CR are also known to be altered in cancer. Therefore, manipulation of these pathways using CR can render cancer cells, and most notably breast cancer cells, more susceptible to standard cytotoxic treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. In this review article we demonstrate the laboratory and clinical evidence that exists for CR and show compelling evidence through the molecular pathways CR induces about how it may be used as a treatment in tandem with radiation therapy to improve our rates of disease control.
PMCID: PMC3556263  PMID: 23299773
Calorie restriction; Intermittent fasting; Radiotherapy; Cancer
14.  Mitochondrial biogenesis is required for the anchorage-independent survival and propagation of stem-like cancer cells 
Oncotarget  2015;6(17):14777-14795.
Here, we show that new mitochondrial biogenesis is required for the anchorage independent survival and propagation of cancer stem-like cells (CSCs). More specifically, we used the drug XCT790 as an investigational tool, as it functions as a specific inhibitor of the ERRα-PGC1 signaling pathway, which governs mitochondrial biogenesis. Interestingly, our results directly demonstrate that XCT790 efficiently blocks both the survival and propagation of tumor initiating stem-like cells (TICs), using the MCF7 cell line as a model system. Mechanistically, we show that XCT790 suppresses the activity of several independent signaling pathways that are normally required for the survival of CSCs, such as Sonic hedgehog, TGFβ-SMAD, STAT3, and Wnt signaling. We also show that XCT790 markedly reduces oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) and that XCT790-mediated inhibition of CSC propagation can be prevented or reversed by Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), a mitochondrial fuel. Consistent with our findings, over-expression of ERRα significantly enhances the efficiency of mammosphere formation, which can be blocked by treatment with mitochondrial inhibitors. Similarly, mammosphere formation augmented by FOXM1, a downstream target of Wnt/β-catenin signaling, can also be blocked by treatment with three different classes of mitochondrial inhibitors (XCT790, oligomycin A, or doxycycline). In this context, our unbiased proteomics analysis reveals that FOXM1 drives the expression of >90 protein targets associated with mitochondrial biogenesis, glycolysis, the EMT and protein synthesis in MCF7 cells, processes which are characteristic of an anabolic CSC phenotype. Finally, doxycycline is an FDA-approved antibiotic, which is very well-tolerated in patients. As such, doxycycline could be re-purposed clinically as a ‘safe’ mitochondrial inhibitor, to target FOXM1 and mitochondrial biogenesis in CSCs, to prevent tumor recurrence and distant metastasis, thereby avoiding patient relapse.
PMCID: PMC4558115  PMID: 26087310
XCT790; doxycycline; drug repurposing; ERR-α; PGC1-α/β
15.  Doxycycline down-regulates DNA-PK and radiosensitizes tumor initiating cells: Implications for more effective radiation therapy 
Oncotarget  2015;6(16):14005-14025.
DNA-PK is an enzyme that is required for proper DNA-repair and is thought to confer radio-resistance in cancer cells. As a consequence, it is a high-profile validated target for new pharmaceutical development. However, no FDA-approved DNA-PK inhibitors have emerged, despite many years of drug discovery and lead optimization. This is largely because existing DNA-PK inhibitors suffer from poor pharmacokinetics. They are not well absorbed and/or are unstable, with a short plasma half-life. Here, we identified the first FDA-approved DNA-PK inhibitor by “chemical proteomics”. In an effort to understand how doxycycline targets cancer stem-like cells (CSCs), we serendipitously discovered that doxycycline reduces DNA-PK protein expression by nearly 15-fold (> 90%). In accordance with these observations, we show that doxycycline functionally radio-sensitizes breast CSCs, by up to 4.5-fold. Moreover, we demonstrate that DNA-PK is highly over-expressed in both MCF7- and T47D-derived mammospheres. Interestingly, genetic or pharmacological inhibition of DNA-PK in MCF7 cells is sufficient to functionally block mammosphere formation. Thus, it appears that active DNA-repair is required for the clonal expansion of CSCs. Mechanistically, doxycycline treatment dramatically reduced the oxidative mitochondrial capacity and the glycolytic activity of cancer cells, consistent with previous studies linking DNA-PK expression to the proper maintenance of mitochondrial DNA integrity and copy number. Using a luciferase-based assay, we observed that doxycycline treatment quantitatively reduces the anti-oxidant response (NRF1/2) and effectively blocks signaling along multiple independent pathways normally associated with stem cells, including STAT1/3, Sonic Hedgehog (Shh), Notch, WNT and TGF-beta signaling. In conclusion, we propose that the efficacy of doxycycline as a DNA-PK inhibitor should be tested in Phase-II clinical trials, in combination with radio-therapy. Doxycycline has excellent pharmacokinetics, with nearly 100% oral absorption and a long serum half-life (18–22 hours), at a standard dose of 200-mg per day. In further support of this idea, we show that doxycycline effectively inhibits the mammosphere-forming activity of primary breast cancer samples, derived from metastatic disease sites (pleural effusions or ascites fluid). Our results also have possible implications for the radio-therapy of brain tumors and/or brain metastases, as doxycycline is known to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier. Further studies will be needed to determine if other tetracycline family members also confer radio-sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC4546447  PMID: 26087309
doxycycline; mitochondrial biogenesis; radiation resistance; proteomic analysis; DNA-PK
16.  Oncogenes induce the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(17):2723-2732.
Metabolic coupling, between mitochondria in cancer cells and catabolism in stromal fibroblasts, promotes tumor growth, recurrence, metastasis, and predicts anticancer drug resistance. Catabolic fibroblasts donate the necessary fuels (such as L-lactate, ketones, glutamine, other amino acids, and fatty acids) to anabolic cancer cells, to metabolize via their TCA cycle and oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). This provides a simple mechanism by which metabolic energy and biomass are transferred from the host microenvironment to cancer cells. Recently, we showed that catabolic metabolism and “glycolytic reprogramming” in the tumor microenvironment are orchestrated by oncogene activation and inflammation, which originates in epithelial cancer cells. Oncogenes drive the onset of the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype in adjacent normal fibroblasts via paracrine oxidative stress. This oncogene-induced transition to malignancy is “mirrored” by a loss of caveolin-1 (Cav-1) and an increase in MCT4 in adjacent stromal fibroblasts, functionally reflecting catabolic metabolism in the tumor microenvironment. Virtually identical findings were obtained using BRCA1-deficient breast and ovarian cancer cells. Thus, oncogene activation (RAS, NFkB, TGF-β) and/or tumor suppressor loss (BRCA1) have similar functional effects on adjacent stromal fibroblasts, initiating “metabolic symbiosis” and the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype. New therapeutic strategies that metabolically uncouple oxidative cancer cells from their glycolytic stroma or modulate oxidative stress could be used to target this lethal subtype of cancers. Targeting “fibroblast addiction” in primary and metastatic tumor cells may expose a critical Achilles’ heel, leading to disease regression in both sporadic and familial cancers.
PMCID: PMC3899185  PMID: 23860382
oncogene; tumor suppressor; RAS; NFkB; TGF-beta; BRCA1; oxidative stress; glycolysis; cancer-associated fibroblast; tumor microenvironment; stromal biomarkers; metabolic symbiosis
17.  CCR5 receptor antagonists block metastasis to bone of v-Src-oncogene-transformed metastatic prostate cancer cell lines 
Cancer research  2014;74(23):7103-7114.
Src family kinases (SFKs) integrate signal transduction for multiple receptors, regulating cellular proliferation invasion and metastasis in human cancer. Although Src is rarely mutated in human prostate cancer, SFK activity is increased in the majority of human prostate cancers. In order to determine the molecular mechanisms governing prostate cancer bone metastasis, FVB murine prostate epithelium was transduced with oncogenic v-Src. The prostate cancer cell lines metastasized in FVB mice to brain and bone. Gene expression profiling of the tumors identified activation of a CCR5 signaling module when the prostate epithelial cells (PEC) lines were grown in vivo vs. tissue cultures. The whole body, bone and brain metastatic prostate cancer burden was reduced by oral CCR5 antagonist. Clinical trials of CCR5 inhibitors may warrant consideration in patients with CCR5 activation in their tumors.
PMCID: PMC4294544  PMID: 25452256
Prostate Cancer; bone metastasis; v-Src; brain metastasis; CCR5
18.  CAPER, a novel regulator of human breast cancer progression 
Cell Cycle  2014;13(8):1256-1264.
CAPER is an estrogen receptor (ER) co-activator that was recently shown to be involved in human breast cancer pathogenesis. Indeed, we reported increased expression of CAPER in human breast cancer specimens. We demonstrated that CAPER was undetectable or expressed at relatively low levels in normal breast tissue and assumed a cytoplasmic distribution. In contrast, CAPER was expressed at higher levels in ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) specimens, where it assumed a predominantly nuclear distribution. However, the functional role of CAPER in human breast cancer initiation and progression remained unknown. Here, we used a lentiviral-mediated gene silencing approach to reduce the expression of CAPER in the ER-positive human breast cancer cell line MCF-7. The proliferation and tumorigenicity of MCF-7 cells stably expressing control or human CAPER shRNAs was then determined via both in vitro and in vivo experiments. Knockdown of CAPER expression significantly reduced the proliferation of MCF-7 cells in vitro. Importantly, nude mice injected with MCF-7 cells harboring CAPER shRNAs developed smaller tumors than mice injected with MCF-7 cells harboring control shRNAs. Mechanistically, tumors derived from mice injected with MCF-7 cells harboring CAPER shRNAs displayed reduced expression of the cell cycle regulators PCNA, MCM7, and cyclin D1, and the protein synthesis marker 4EBP1. In conclusion, knockdown of CAPER expression markedly reduced human breast cancer cell proliferation in both in vitro and in vivo settings. Mechanistically, knockdown of CAPER abrogated the activity of proliferative and protein synthesis pathways.
PMCID: PMC4049962  PMID: 24621503
CAPER; breast cancer; estrogen receptor; proliferation; tumor growth
19.  Antibiotics that target mitochondria effectively eradicate cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types: Treating cancer like an infectious disease 
Oncotarget  2015;6(7):4569-4584.
Here, we propose a new strategy for the treatment of early cancerous lesions and advanced metastatic disease, via the selective targeting of cancer stem cells (CSCs), a.k.a., tumor-initiating cells (TICs). We searched for a global phenotypic characteristic that was highly conserved among cancer stem cells, across multiple tumor types, to provide a mutation-independent approach to cancer therapy. This would allow us to target cancer stem cells, effectively treating cancer as a single disease of “stemness”, independently of the tumor tissue type. Using this approach, we identified a conserved phenotypic weak point – a strict dependence on mitochondrial biogenesis for the clonal expansion and survival of cancer stem cells. Interestingly, several classes of FDA-approved antibiotics inhibit mitochondrial biogenesis as a known “side-effect”, which could be harnessed instead as a “therapeutic effect”. Based on this analysis, we now show that 4-to-5 different classes of FDA-approved drugs can be used to eradicate cancer stem cells, in 12 different cancer cell lines, across 8 different tumor types (breast, DCIS, ovarian, prostate, lung, pancreatic, melanoma, and glioblastoma (brain)). These five classes of mitochondrially-targeted antibiotics include: the erythromycins, the tetracyclines, the glycylcyclines, an anti-parasitic drug, and chloramphenicol. Functional data are presented for one antibiotic in each drug class: azithromycin, doxycycline, tigecycline, pyrvinium pamoate, as well as chloramphenicol, as proof-of-concept. Importantly, many of these drugs are non-toxic for normal cells, likely reducing the side effects of anti-cancer therapy. Thus, we now propose to treat cancer like an infectious disease, by repurposing FDA-approved antibiotics for anti-cancer therapy, across multiple tumor types. These drug classes should also be considered for prevention studies, specifically focused on the prevention of tumor recurrence and distant metastasis. Finally, recent clinical trials with doxycycline and azithromycin (intended to target cancer-associated infections, but not cancer cells) have already shown positive therapeutic effects in cancer patients, although their ability to eradicate cancer stem cells was not yet appreciated.
PMCID: PMC4467100  PMID: 25625193
mitochondria; mitochondrial biogenesis; cancer stem cells; tumor initiating cells; antibiotics
20.  Targeting tumor-initiating cells: Eliminating anabolic cancer stem cells with inhibitors of protein synthesis or by mimicking caloric restriction 
Oncotarget  2015;6(7):4585-4601.
We have used an unbiased proteomic profiling strategy to identify new potential therapeutic targets in tumor-initiating cells (TICs), a.k.a., cancer stem cells (CSCs). Towards this end, the proteomes of mammospheres from two breast cancer cell lines were directly compared to attached monolayer cells. This allowed us to identify proteins that were highly over-expressed in CSCs and/or progenitor cells. We focused on ribosomal proteins and protein folding chaperones, since they were markedly over-expressed in mammospheres. Overall, we identified >80 molecules specifically associated with protein synthesis that were commonly upregulated in mammospheres. Most of these proteins were also transcriptionally upregulated in human breast cancer cells in vivo, providing evidence for their potential clinical relevance. As such, increased mRNA translation could provide a novel mechanism for enhancing the proliferative clonal expansion of TICs. The proteomic findings were functionally validated using known inhibitors of protein synthesis, via three independent approaches. For example, puromycin (which mimics the structure of tRNAs and competitively inhibits protein synthesis) preferentially targeted CSCs in both mammospheres and monolayer cultures, and was ~10-fold more potent for eradicating TICs, than “bulk” cancer cells. In addition, rapamycin, which inhibits mTOR and hence protein synthesis, was very effective at reducing mammosphere formation, at nanomolar concentrations. Finally, mammosphere formation was also markedly inhibited by methionine restriction, which mimics the positive effects of caloric restriction in cultured cells. Remarkably, mammosphere formation was >18-fold more sensitive to methionine restriction and replacement, as directly compared to monolayer cell proliferation. Methionine is absolutely required for protein synthesis, since every protein sequence starts with a methionine residue. Thus, the proliferation and survival of CSCs is very sensitive to the inhibition of protein synthesis, using multiple independent approaches. Our findings have important clinical implications, since they may also explain the positive therapeutic effects of PI3-kinase inhibitors and AKT inhibitors, as they ultimately converge on mTOR signaling and would block protein synthesis. We conclude that inhibition of mRNA translation by pharmacological or protein/methionine restriction may be effective strategies for eliminating TICs. Our data also indicate a novel mechanism by which caloric/protein restriction may reduce tumor growth, by targeting protein synthesis in anabolic tumor-initiating cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4467101  PMID: 25671304
tumor initiating cells; protein synthesis; puromycin; rapamycin; methionine restriction
21.  JNK1 stress signaling is hyper-activated in high breast density and the tumor stroma 
Cell Cycle  2013;13(4):580-599.
Mammography is an important screening modality for the early detection of DCIS and breast cancer lesions. More specifically, high mammographic density is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, the biological processes underlying this phenomenon remain largely unknown. Here, we re-interrogated genome-wide transcriptional profiling data obtained from low-density (LD) mammary fibroblasts (n = 6 patients) and high-density (HD) mammary fibroblasts (n = 7 patients) derived from a series of 13 female patients. We used these raw data to generate a “breast density” gene signature consisting of >1250 transcripts that were significantly increased in HD fibroblasts, relative to LD fibroblasts. We then focused on the genes that were increased by ≥ 1.5-fold (P < 0.05) and performed gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA), using the molecular signatures database (MSigDB). Our results indicate that HD fibroblasts show the upregulation and/or hyper-activation of several key cellular processes, including the stress response, inflammation, stemness, and signal transduction. The transcriptional profiles of HD fibroblasts also showed striking similarities to human tumors, including head and neck, liver, thyroid, lung, and breast cancers. This may reflect functional similarities between cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and HD fibroblasts. This is consistent with the idea that the presence of HD fibroblasts may be a hallmark of a pre-cancerous phenotype. In these biological processes, GSEA predicts that several key signaling pathways may be involved, including JNK1, iNOS, Rho GTPase(s), FGF-R, EGF-R, and PDGF-R-mediated signal transduction, thereby creating a pro-inflammatory, pro-proliferative, cytokine, and chemokine-rich microenvironment. HD fibroblasts also showed significant overlap with gene profiles derived from smooth muscle cells under stress (JNK1) and activated/infected macrophages (iNOS). Thus, HD fibroblasts may behave like activated myofibroblasts and macrophages, to create and maintain a fibrotic and inflammatory microenvironment. Finally, comparisons between the HD fibroblast gene signature and breast cancer tumor stroma revealed that JNK1 stress signaling is the single most significant biological process that is shared between these 2 data sets (with P values between 5.40E-09 and 1.02E-14), and is specifically associated with tumor recurrence. These results implicate “stromal JNK1 signaling” in the pathogenesis of human breast cancers and the transition to malignancy. Augmented TGF-β signaling also emerged as a common feature linking high breast density with tumor stroma and breast cancer recurrence (P = 5.23E-05). Similarities between the HD fibroblast gene signature, wound healing, and the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype were also noted. Thus, this unbiased informatics analysis of high breast density provides a novel framework for additional experimental exploration and new hypothesis-driven breast cancer research, with a focus on cancer prevention and personalized medicine.
PMCID: PMC3988118  PMID: 24434780
EGF; FGF; JNK; PDGF; SAPK; TGF-beta; breast cancer; cancer-associated fibroblasts; fibrosis; gene signature; inflammation; mammographic density; mammography; microenvironment; stress signaling; tumor stroma; wound healing
22.  Proteomic identification of prognostic tumour biomarkers, using chemotherapy-induced cancer-associated fibroblasts 
Aging (Albany NY)  2015;7(10):816-838.
Cancer cells grow in highly complex stromal microenvironments, which through metabolic remodelling, catabolism, autophagy and inflammation nurture them and are able to facilitate metastasis and resistance to therapy. However, these changes in the metabolic profile of stromal cancer-associated fibroblasts and their impact on cancer initiation, progression and metastasis are not well-known. This is the first study to provide a comprehensive proteomic portrait of the azathioprine and taxol-induced catabolic state on human stromal fibroblasts, which comprises changes in the expression of metabolic enzymes, myofibroblastic differentiation markers, antioxidants, proteins involved in autophagy, senescence, vesicle trafficking and protein degradation, and inducers of inflammation. Interestingly, many of these features are major contributors to the aging process. A catabolic stroma signature, generated with proteins found differentially up-regulated in taxol-treated fibroblasts, strikingly correlates with recurrence, metastasis and poor patient survival in several solid malignancies. We therefore suggest the inhibition of the catabolic state in healthy cells as a novel approach to improve current chemotherapy efficacies and possibly avoid future carcinogenic processes.
PMCID: PMC4637208  PMID: 26539730
chemotherapy; metabolism; catabolism; cancer-associated fibroblasts; second primary tumours; tumour microenvironment; quantitative proteomics; markers; cancer survival
23.  Estrogen related receptor α (ERRα) a promising target for the therapy of adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) 
Oncotarget  2015;6(28):25135-25148.
The pathogenesis of the adrenocortical cancer (ACC) involves integration of molecular signals and the interplay of different downstream pathways (i.e. IGFII/IGF1R, β-catenin, Wnt, ESR1). This tumor is characterized by limited therapeutic options and unsuccessful treatments. A useful strategy to develop an effective therapy for ACC is to identify a common downstream target of these multiple pathways. A good candidate could be the transcription factor estrogen-related receptor alpha (ERRα) because of its ability to regulate energy metabolism, mitochondrial biogenesis and signalings related to cancer progression.
In this study we tested the effect of ERRα inverse agonist, XCT790, on the proliferation of H295R adrenocortical cancer cell line. Results from in vitro and in vivo experiments showed that XCT790 reduced H295R cell growth. The inhibitory effect was associated with impaired cell cycle progression which was not followed by any apoptotic event. Instead, incomplete autophagy and cell death by a necrotic processes, as a consequence of the cell energy failure, induced by pharmacological reduction of ERRα was evidenced.
Our results indicate that therapeutic strategies targeting key factors such as ERRα that control the activity and signaling of bioenergetics processes in high-energy demanding tumors could represent an innovative/alternative therapy for the treatment of ACC.
PMCID: PMC4694820  PMID: 26312764
ERRα; adrenocortical cancer; mitochondria; ATP depletion
24.  Cancer Metabolism: New Validated Targets for Drug Discovery 
Oncotarget  2013;4(8):1309-1316.
Recent studies in cancer metabolism directly implicate catabolic fibroblasts as a new rich source of i) energy and ii) biomass, for the growth and survival of anabolic cancer cells. Conversely, anabolic cancer cells upregulate oxidative mitochondrial metabolism, to take advantage of the abundant fibroblast fuel supply. This simple model of “metabolic-symbiosis” has now been independently validated in several different types of human cancers, including breast, ovarian, and prostate tumors. Biomarkers of metabolic-symbiosis are excellent predictors of tumor recurrence, metastasis, and drug resistance, as well as poor patient survival. New pre-clinical models of metabolic-symbiosis have been generated and they genetically validate that catabolic fibroblasts promote tumor growth and metastasis. Over 30 different stable lines of catabolic fibroblasts and >10 different lines of anabolic cancer cells have been created and are well-characterized. For example, catabolic fibroblasts harboring ATG16L1 increase tumor cell metastasis by >11.5-fold, despite the fact that genetically identical cancer cells were used. Taken together, these studies provide >40 novel validated targets, for new drug discovery and anti-cancer therapy. Since anabolic cancer cells amplify their capacity for oxidative mitochondrial metabolism, we should consider therapeutically targeting mitochondrial biogenesis and OXPHOS in epithelial cancer cells. As metabolic-symbiosis promotes drug-resistance and may represent the escape mechanism during anti-angiogenic therapy, new drugs targeting metabolic-symbiosis may also be effective in cancer patients with recurrent and advanced metastatic disease.
PMCID: PMC3787159  PMID: 23896568
cancer metabolism; therapeutic targets; drug discovery; oncogenes; tumor suppressors; oxidative stress; glycolysis; cancer associated fibroblast; tumor microenvironment; metabolic symbiosis; anti-angiogenic therapy

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