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1.  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
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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
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.  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
12.  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
14.  Genetic ablation of caveolin-2 sensitizes mice to bleomycin-induced injury 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(14):2248-2254.
Caveolar domains act as platforms for the organization of molecular complexes involved in signal transduction. Caveolin proteins, the principal structural components of caveolae, have been involved in many cellular processes. Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) and caveolin-2 (Cav-2) are highly expressed in the lung. Cav-1-deficient mice (Cav-1−/−) and Cav-2-deficient mice (Cav-2−/−) exhibit severe lung dysfunction attributed to a lack of Cav-2 expression. Recently, Cav-1 has been shown to regulate lung fibrosis in different models. Here, we show that Cav-2 is also involved in modulation of the fibrotic response, but through distinct mechanisms. Treatment of wild-type mice with the pulmonary fibrosis-inducer bleomycin reduced the expression of Cav-2 and its phosphorylation at tyrosine 19. Importantly, Cav-2−/− mice, but not Cav-1−/− mice, were more sensitive to bleomycin-induced lung injury in comparison to wild-type mice. Bleomycin-induced lung injury was characterized by alveolar thickening, increase in cell density, and extracellular matrix deposition. The lung injury observed in bleomycin-treated Cav-2−/− mice was not associated with alterations in the TGF-β signaling pathway and/or in the ability to produce collagen. However, apoptosis and proliferation were more prominent in lungs of bleomycin-treated Cav-2−/− mice. Since Cav-1−/− mice also lack Cav-2 expression and show a different outcome after bleomycin treatment, we conclude that Cav-1 and Cav-2 have distinct roles in bleomycin induced-lung fibrosis, and that the balance of both proteins determines the development of the fibrotic process.
PMCID: PMC3755075  PMID: 24067367
caveolin; caveolae; fibrosis; bleomycin; lung
15.  Inhibition of the Prostaglandin Transporter PGT Lowers Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Rats and Mice 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0131735.
Inhibiting the synthesis of endogenous prostaglandins with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs exacerbates arterial hypertension. We hypothesized that the converse, i.e., raising the level of endogenous prostaglandins, might have anti-hypertensive effects. To accomplish this, we focused on inhibiting the prostaglandin transporter PGT (SLCO2A1), which is the obligatory first step in the inactivation of several common PGs. We first examined the role of PGT in controlling arterial blood pressure blood pressure using anesthetized rats. The high-affinity PGT inhibitor T26A sensitized the ability of exogenous PGE2 to lower blood pressure, confirming both inhibition of PGT by T26A and the vasodepressor action of PGE2 T26A administered alone to anesthetized rats dose-dependently lowered blood pressure, and did so to a greater degree in spontaneously hypertensive rats than in Wistar-Kyoto control rats. In mice, T26A added chronically to the drinking water increased the urinary excretion and plasma concentration of PGE2 over several days, confirming that T26A is orally active in antagonizing PGT. T26A given orally to hypertensive mice normalized blood pressure. T26A increased urinary sodium excretion in mice and, when added to the medium bathing isolated mouse aortas, T26A increased the net release of PGE2 induced by arachidonic acid, inhibited serotonin-induced vasoconstriction, and potentiated vasodilation induced by exogenous PGE2. We conclude that pharmacologically inhibiting PGT-mediated prostaglandin metabolism lowers blood pressure, probably by prostaglandin-induced natriuresis and vasodilation. PGT is a novel therapeutic target for treating hypertension.
PMCID: PMC4488299  PMID: 26121580
16.  Compartment-specific activation of PPARγ governs breast cancer tumor growth, via metabolic reprogramming and symbiosis 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(9):1360-1370.
The role of PPARγ in cancer therapy is controversial, with studies showing either pro-tumorigenic or antineoplastic effects. This debate is very clinically relevant, because PPARγ agonists are used as antidiabetic drugs. Here, we evaluated if the effects of PPARγ on tumorigenesis are determined by the cell type in which PPARγ is activated. Second, we examined if the metabolic changes induced by PPARγ, such as glycolysis and autophagy, play any role in the tumorigenic process. To this end, PPARγ was overexpressed in breast cancer cells or in stromal cells. PPARγ-overexpressing cells were examined with respect to (1) their tumorigenic potential, using xenograft models, and (2) regarding their metabolic features. In xenograft models, we show that when PPARγ is activated in cancer cells, tumor growth is inhibited by 40%. However, when PPARγ is activated in stromal cells, the growth of co-injected breast cancer cells is enhanced by 60%. Thus, the effect(s) of PPARγ on tumorigenesis are dependent on the cell compartment in which PPARγ is activated. Mechanistically, stromal cells with activated PPARγ display metabolic features of cancer-associated fibroblasts, with increased autophagy, glycolysis and senescence. Indeed, fibroblasts overexpressing PPARγ show increased expression of autophagic markers, increased numbers of acidic autophagic vacuoles, increased production of L-lactate, cell hypertrophy and mitochondrial dysfunction. In addition, PPARγ fibroblasts show increased expression of CDKs (p16/p21) and β-galactosidase, which are markers of cell cycle arrest and senescence. Finally, PPARγ induces the activation of the two major transcription factors that promote autophagy and glycolysis, i.e., HIF-1α and NFκB, in stromal cells. Thus, PPARγ activation in stromal cells results in the formation of a catabolic pro-inflammatory microenvironment that metabolically supports cancer growth. Interestingly, the tumor inhibition observed when PPARγ is expressed in epithelial cancer cells is also associated with increased autophagy, suggesting that activation of an autophagic program has both pro- or antitumorigenic effects depending on the cell compartment in which it occurs. Finally, when PPARγ is expressed in epithelial cancer cells, the suppression of tumor growth is associated with a modest inhibition of angiogenesis. In conclusion, these data support the “two-compartment tumor metabolism” model, which proposes that metabolic coupling exists between catabolic stromal cells and oxidative cancer cells. Cancer cells induce autophagy, glycolysis and senescence in stromal cells. In return, stromal cells generate onco-metabolites and mitochondrial fuels (L-lactate, ketones, glutamine/aminoacids and fatty acids) that are used by cancer cells to enhance their tumorigenic potential. Thus, as researchers design new therapies, they must be conscious that cancer is not a cell-autonomous disease, but rather a tumor is an ecosystem of many different cell types, which engage in metabolic symbiosis.
PMCID: PMC3674064  PMID: 23574724
CDK inhibitors; PPARγ agonist therapy; Warburg effect; autophagy; cancer associated fibroblasts; catabolism; glycolysis; inflammatory microenvironment; lactate; mitophagy; oncometabolite; p16(INK4A); p21(WAF1/CIP1); premature aging; senescence
17.  Monocytes and macrophages, implications for breast cancer migration and stem cell-like activity and treatment 
Oncotarget  2015;6(16):14687-14699.
Macrophages are a major cellular constituent of the tumour stroma and contribute to breast cancer prognosis. The precise role and treatment strategies to target macrophages remain elusive. As macrophage infiltration is associated with poor prognosis and high grade tumours we used the THP-1 cell line to model monocyte-macrophage differentiation in co-culture with four breast cancer cell lines (MCF7, T47D, MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468) to model in vivo cellular interactions. Polarisation into M1 and M2 subtypes was confirmed by specific cell marker expression of ROS and HLA-DR, respectively. Co-culture with all types of macrophage increased migration of ER-positive breast cancer cell lines, while M2-macrophages increased mammosphere formation, compared to M1-macrophages, in all breast cancer cells lines. Treatment of cells with Zoledronate in co-culture reduced the “pro-tumourigenic” effects (increased mammospheres/migration) exerted by macrophages. Direct treatment of breast cancer cells in homotypic culture was unable to reduce migration or mammosphere formation.
Macrophages promote “pro-tumourigenic” cellular characteristics of breast cancer cell migration and stem cell activity. Zoledronate targets macrophages within the microenvironment which in turn, reduces the “pro-tumourigenic” characteristics of breast cancer cells. Zoledronate offers an exciting new treatment strategy for both primary and metastatic breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC4546497  PMID: 26008983
macrophage; breast; stem-cells; migration
18.  Cigarette smoke metabolically promotes cancer, via autophagy and premature aging in the host stromal microenvironment 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(5):818-825.
Cigarette smoke has been directly implicated in the disease pathogenesis of a plethora of different human cancer subtypes, including breast cancers. The prevailing view is that cigarette smoke acts as a mutagen and DNA damaging agent in normal epithelial cells, driving tumor initiation. However, its potential negative metabolic effects on the normal stromal microenvironment have been largely ignored. Here, we propose a new mechanism by which carcinogen-rich cigarette smoke may promote cancer growth, by metabolically “fertilizing” the host microenvironment. More specifically, we show that cigarette smoke exposure is indeed sufficient to drive the onset of the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype via the induction of DNA damage, autophagy and mitophagy in the tumor stroma. In turn, cigarette smoke exposure induces premature aging and mitochondrial dysfunction in stromal fibroblasts, leading to the secretion of high-energy mitochondrial fuels, such as L-lactate and ketone bodies. Hence, cigarette smoke induces catabolism in the local microenvironment, directly fueling oxidative mitochondrial metabolism (OXPHOS) in neighboring epithelial cancer cells, actively promoting anabolic tumor growth. Remarkably, these autophagic-senescent fibroblasts increased breast cancer tumor growth in vivo by up to 4-fold. Importantly, we show that cigarette smoke-induced metabolic reprogramming of the fibroblastic stroma occurs independently of tumor neo-angiogenesis. We discuss the possible implications of our current findings for the prevention of aging-associated human diseases and, especially, common epithelial cancers, as we show that cigarette smoke can systemically accelerate aging in the host microenvironment. Finally, our current findings are consistent with the idea that cigarette smoke induces the “reverse Warburg effect,” thereby fueling “two-compartment tumor metabolism” and oxidative mitochondrial metabolism in epithelial cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3610729  PMID: 23388463
carcinogens; cigarette smoke; cancer prevention; autophagy; senescence; premature aging; mitochondrial dysfunction; lactate; ketone bodies; breast cancer; tumor growth; microenvironment
19.  Chemotherapy induces the cancer-associated fibroblast phenotype, activating paracrine Hedgehog-GLI signalling in breast cancer cells 
Oncotarget  2015;6(13):10728-10745.
Cancer cells recruit normal cells such as fibroblasts to establish reactive microenvironments. Via metabolic stress, catabolism and inflammation, these cancer-associated fibroblasts set up a synergistic relationship with tumour cells, that contributes to their malignancy and resistance to therapy. Given that chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, the possibility that healthy cell damage affects the metastatic risk or the prospect of developing a second malignancy becomes relevant. Here, we demonstrate that standard chemotherapies phenotypically and metabolically transform stromal fibroblasts into cancer-associated fibroblasts, leading to the emergence of a highly glycolytic, autophagic and pro-inflammatory microenvironment. This catabolic microenvironment, in turn, activates stemness (Sonic hedgehog/GLI signalling), antioxidant response and interferon-mediated signalling, in adjacent breast cancer cells. Thus, we propose a model by which chemotherapy-induced catabolism in healthy fibroblasts constitutes a source of energy-rich nutrients and inflammatory cytokines that would activate stemness in adjacent epithelial cells, possibly triggering new tumorigenic processes. In this context, immune cell recruitment would be also stimulated to further support malignancy.
PMCID: PMC4484415  PMID: 25915429
chemotherapy; metabolism; second primary tumours; tumour microenvironment
20.  Creating a tumor-resistant microenvironment 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(3):480-490.
Here, we provide the necessary proof of concept, that it is possible to metabolically create a non-permissive or “hostile” stromal microenvironment, which actively prevents tumor engraftment in vivo. We developed a novel genetically engineered fibroblast cell line that completely prevents tumor formation in mice, with a 100% protection rate. No host side effects were apparent. This could represent a viable cellular strategy for preventing and treating a variety of human cancers. More specifically, we examined the autocrine and paracrine effects of the cellular delivery of TNFα on breast cancer tumor growth and cancer metabolism. For this purpose, we recombinantly overexpressed TNFα in human breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-231) or human immortalized fibroblasts (hTERT-BJ1). Our results directly show that TNFα functions as a potent tumor suppressor. Remarkably, TNFα-expressing breast cancer cells were viable, without any significant increases in their basal apoptotic rate. However, after 4 weeks post-implantation, TNFα-expressing breast cancer cells failed to form any tumors in xenografted mice (0 tumors/10 injections), ultimately conferring 100% protection against tumorigenesis. Similarly, TNFα-overexpressing fibroblasts were also viable, without any increases in apoptosis. Significantly, complete tumor suppression was obtained by co-injecting TNFα expressing stromal fibroblasts with human breast cancer cells, indicating that paracrine cell-mediated delivery of TNFα can also prevent tumor engraftment and growth (0 tumors/10 injections). Mechanistically, TNFα induced autophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction in both epithelial cancer cells and stromal fibroblasts, preventing energy transfer from the tumor microenvironment, likely “starving” the cancer cells to death. In addition, via qRT-PCR analysis of MDA-MB-231 cells, we observed that TNFα mediated the upregulation of gene transcripts associated with inflammation and senescence [IL-1-β, IL-6, IL-8, MCP-1, COX-2, p21(WAF1/CIP1)] and downregulated known tumor-promoting genes (collagen VI and MMP2). Recombinant overexpression of TNFα receptor(s) in MDA-MB-231 cells also significantly reduced tumor growth, but was not as effective as the TNFα ligand itself in preventing tumor growth. Thus, we propose that stromal cell-mediated delivery of TNFα to human tumors [using transfected fibroblasts or mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs)] may be a novel and effective strategy for the prevention and treatment of human cancers.
PMCID: PMC3587449  PMID: 23292149
tumor necrosis factor (TNF); cancer prevention; cellular therapy; fibroblast mediated delivery; mitochondrial dysfunction; breast cancer; tumor growth; tumor cell engraftment; autophagy; apoptosis
21.  Endothelial caveolin-1 plays a major role in the development of atherosclerosis 
Cell and tissue research  2014;356(1):147-157.
Clinical studies have established the important impact of atherosclerotic disease in Western societies. This disease is characterized by the accumulation of lipids and the migration of various cell types in the sub-endothelial space of blood vessels. As demonstrated by many studies, endothelial cells play an essential role in the development of this disease. The endothelium acts as a gatekeeper of blood vessel integrity and cardiovascular health status. For instance, the transfer of lipids via the transport of lipoproteins in the arterial intima is believed to be mediated by endothelial cells through a process termed transcytosis. In addition, lipoproteins that accumulate in the sub-endothelial space may also be modified, in a process that can direct the activation of endothelial cells. These steps are essential for the initiation of an atherosclerotic plaque and may be mediated, at least in part, by caveolae and their associated protein caveolin-1. In the present study, we evaluate the role of caveolin-1/caveolae in the regulation of these two steps in endothelial cells. Our data clearly demonstrate that caveolin-1 is involved in the regulation of lipoprotein transcytosis across endothelial cells and in the regulation of vascular inflammation.
PMCID: PMC4410024  PMID: 24390341
Caveolae; Caveolin; Lipoprotein; LDL; Cholesterol
22.  Kinase-independent role of cyclin D1 in chromosomal instability and mammary tumorigenesis 
Oncotarget  2015;6(11):8525-8538.
Cyclin D1 is an important molecular driver of human breast cancer but better understanding of its oncogenic mechanisms is needed, especially to enhance efforts in targeted therapeutics. Currently, pharmaceutical initiatives to inhibit cyclin D1 are focused on the catalytic component since the transforming capacity is thought to reside in the cyclin D1/CDK activity. We initiated the following study to directly test the oncogenic potential of catalytically inactive cyclin D1 in an in vivo mouse model that is relevant to breast cancer. Herein, transduction of cyclin D1−/− mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) with the kinase dead KE mutant of cyclin D1 led to aneuploidy, abnormalities in mitotic spindle formation, autosome amplification, and chromosomal instability (CIN) by gene expression profiling. Acute transgenic expression of either cyclin D1WT or cyclin D1KE in the mammary gland was sufficient to induce a high CIN score within 7 days. Sustained expression of cyclin D1KE induced mammary adenocarcinoma with similar kinetics to that of the wild-type cyclin D1. ChIP-Seq studies demonstrated recruitment of cyclin D1WT and cyclin D1KE to the genes governing CIN. We conclude that the CDK-activating function of cyclin D1 is not necessary to induce either chromosomal instability or mammary tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC4496164  PMID: 25940700
Cyclin D1; breast cancer; chromosomal instability
23.  BRCA1 mutations drive oxidative stress and glycolysis in the tumor microenvironment 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(23):4402-4413.
Mutations in the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene are commonly found in hereditary breast cancer. Similarly, downregulation of BRCA1 protein expression is observed in the majority of basal-like breast cancers. Here, we set out to study the effects of BRCA1 mutations on oxidative stress in the tumor microenvironment. To mimic the breast tumor microenvironment, we utilized an in vitro co-culture model of human BRCA1-mutated HCC1937 breast cancer cells and hTERT-immortalized human fibroblasts. Notably, HCC1937 cells induce the generation of hydrogen peroxide in the fibroblast compartment during co-culture, which can be inhibited by genetic complementation with the wild-type BRCA1 gene. Importantly, treatment with powerful antioxidants, such as NAC and Tempol, induces apoptosis in HCC1937 cells, suggesting that microenvironmental oxidative stress supports cancer cell survival. In addition, Tempol treatment increases the apoptotic rates of MDA-MB-231 cells, which have wild-type BRCA1, but share a basal-like breast cancer phenotype with HCC1937 cells. MCT4 is the main exporter of L-lactate out of cells and is a marker for oxidative stress and glycolytic metabolism. Co-culture with HCC1937 cells dramatically induces MCT4 protein expression in fibroblasts, and this can be prevented by either BRCA1 overexpression or by pharmacological treatment with NAC. We next evaluated caveolin-1 (Cav-1) expression in stromal fibroblasts. Loss of Cav-1 is a marker of the cancer-associated fibroblast (CAF) phenotype, which is linked to high stromal glycolysis, and is associated with a poor prognosis in numerous types of human cancers, including breast cancers. Remarkably, HCC1937 cells induce a loss of Cav-1 in adjacent stromal cells during co-culture. Conversely, Cav-1 expression in fibroblasts can be rescued by administration of NAC or by overexpression of BRCA1 in HCC1937 cells. Notably, BRCA1-deficient human breast cancer samples (9 out of 10) also showed a glycolytic stromal phenotype, with intense mitochondrial staining specifically in BRCA1-deficient breast cancer cells. In summary, loss of BRCA1 function leads to hydrogen peroxide generation in both epithelial breast cancer cells and neighboring stromal fibroblasts, and promotes the onset of a reactive glycolytic stroma, with increased MCT4 and decreased Cav-1 expression. Importantly, these metabolic changes can be reversed by antioxidants, which potently induce cancer cell death. Thus, antioxidant therapy appears to be synthetically lethal with a BRCA1-deficiency in breast cancer cells and should be considered for future cancer prevention trials. In this regard, immunostaining with Cav-1 and MCT4 could be used as cost-effective biomarkers to monitor the response to antioxidant therapy.
PMCID: PMC3552923  PMID: 23172369
hereditary breast cancer; tumor metabolism; BRCA1 mutations; hydrogen peroxide; oxidative stress; MCT4; caveolin-1 (Cav-1); triple-negative breast cancer; synthetic lethality
24.  Mitochondria “fuel” breast cancer metabolism: Fifteen markers of mitochondrial biogenesis label epithelial cancer cells, but are excluded from adjacent stromal cells 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(23):4390-4401.
Here, we present new genetic and morphological evidence that human tumors consist of two distinct metabolic compartments. First, re-analysis of genome-wide transcriptional profiling data revealed that > 95 gene transcripts associated with mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation were significantly elevated in human breast cancer cells, as compared with adjacent stromal tissue. Remarkably, nearly 40 of these upregulated gene transcripts were mitochondrial ribosomal proteins (MRPs), functionally associated with mitochondrial translation of protein components of the OXPHOS complex. Second, during validation by immunohistochemistry, we observed that antibodies directed against 15 markers of mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation (AKAP1, GOLPH3, GOLPH3L, MCT1, MRPL40, MRPS7, MRPS15, MRPS22, NRF1, NRF2, PGC1-α, POLRMT, TFAM, TIMM9 and TOMM70A) selectively labeled epithelial breast cancer cells. These same mitochondrial markers were largely absent or excluded from adjacent tumor stromal cells. Finally, markers of mitochondrial lipid synthesis (GOLPH3) and mitochondrial translation (POLRMT) were associated with poor clinical outcome in human breast cancer patients. Thus, we conclude that human breast cancers contain two distinct metabolic compartments—a glycolytic tumor stroma, which surrounds oxidative epithelial cancer cells—that are mitochondria-rich. The co-existence of these two compartments is indicative of metabolic symbiosis between epithelial cancer cells and their surrounding stroma. As such, epithelial breast cancer cells should be viewed as predatory metabolic “parasites,” which undergo anabolic reprogramming to amplify their mitochondrial “power.” This notion is consistent with the observation that the anti-malarial agent chloroquine may be an effective anticancer agent. New anticancer therapies should be developed to target mitochondrial biogenesis and/or mitochondrial translation in human cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3552922  PMID: 23172368
two-compartment tumor metabolism; mitochondria; oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS); mitochondrial biogenesis; mitochondrial translation; cancer metabolism; metabolic reprogramming
25.  Hereditary ovarian cancer and two-compartment tumor metabolism 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(22):4152-4166.
Mutations in the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene are commonly found in hereditary ovarian cancers. Here, we used a co-culture approach to study the metabolic effects of BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells on adjacent tumor-associated stromal fibroblasts. Our results directly show that BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells produce large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which can be abolished either by administration of simple antioxidants (N-acetyl-cysteine; NAC) or by replacement of the BRCA1 gene. Thus, the BRCA1 gene normally suppresses tumor growth by functioning as an antioxidant. Importantly, hydrogen peroxide produced by BRCA1-null ovarian cancer cells induces oxidative stress and catabolic processes in adjacent stromal fibroblasts, such as autophagy, mitophagy and glycolysis, via stromal NFκB activation. Catabolism in stromal fibroblasts was also accompanied by the upregulation of MCT4 and a loss of Cav-1 expression, which are established markers of a lethal tumor microenvironment. In summary, loss of the BRCA1 tumor suppressor gene induces hydrogen peroxide production, which then leads to metabolic reprogramming of the tumor stroma, driving stromal-epithelial metabolic coupling. Our results suggest that new cancer prevention trials with antioxidants are clearly warranted in patients that harbor hereditary/familial BRCA1 mutations.
PMCID: PMC3524211  PMID: 23047606
BRCA1 mutations; MCT4; NFκB activation; autophagy; caveolin-1 (Cav-1); hereditary ovarian cancer; hydrogen peroxide; mitophagy; oxidative stress; tumor metabolism

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