Cetuximab, a monoclonal blocking antibody against the epidermal growth factor receptor EGFR, has been approved for the treatment of squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC). However, only few patients display long-term responses, prompting the search for cetuximab resistance mechanisms and new therapeutic options enhancing cetuximab effectiveness.
Cetuximab-sensitive HNSCC cells were retro-engineered to express PIK3CA and RAS oncogenes. These cells and HNSCC cells harboring endogenous PIK3CA and RAS oncogenes were xenografted into mice (n = 10 per group) and studied for their biochemical, antitumor, antiangiogenic, and antilymphangiogenic responses to cetuximab and mTOR targeting agents. All P values are two-sided.
Cetuximab treatment of PIK3CA- and RAS-expressing HNSCC xenografts promoted an initial antitumor response, but all tumors relapsed within few weeks. In these tumors, cetuximab did not decrease the activity of mTOR, a downstream signaling target of EGFR, PIK3CA, and RAS. The combined administration of cetuximab and mTOR inhibitors exerted a remarkably increased antitumor activity, particularly in HNSCC cells that are resistant to cetuximab as a single agent. Indeed, cotargeting mTOR together with cetuximab caused a rapid tumor collapse of both PIK3CA- and RAS-expressing HNSCC xenografts (P < .001), concomitant with reduced proliferation (P < .001) and lymphangiogenesis (P < .001).
The presence of PIK3CA and RAS mutations and other alterations affecting the mTOR pathway activity in HNSCC could be exploited to predict the potential resistance to cetuximab, and to select the patients that may benefit the most from the concomitant administration of cetuximab and PI3K and/or mTOR inhibitors as a precision molecular therapeutic option for HNSCC patients.
G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) represent the largest family of cell surface molecules involved in signal transduction. Surprisingly, open reading frames for multiple GPCRs were hijacked in the process of co-evolution between herpesviridae family viruses and their human and mammalian hosts. Virally encoded GPCRs (vGPCRs) evolved as parts of viral genomes, which allowed harnessing the power of host GPCR signaling circuitries to ensure viral replicative success. Although vGPCRs are phylogenetically related to human chemokine receptors, they feature a number of unique characteristics. Here, we describe the molecular mechanisms underlying vGPCR-mediated viral pathogenesis which include constitutive activity, aberrant coupling to human G-proteins and β-arrestins, binding and activation by human chemokines, and dimerization with human GPCRs expressed in infected cells. The likely structural basis for these molecular events is described for the two closest viral homologs of human GPCRs. This information can be exploited for developing novel targeted therapeutic strategies against viral diseases.
Signal Transduction; Structure; Viral-Associated Malignancies; Chemokine Receptors; Constitutive Activity; Human Viruses
Activating mutations in GNAQ and GNA11, encoding members of the Gαq family of G protein α subunits, are the driver uveal melanoma oncogenes, while mutations in Gq-linked G proteincoupled receptors (GPCRs) have been identified recently in numerous human malignancies. How Gαq and its coupled receptors transduce mitogenic signals is still unclear, due to the complexity of signaling events perturbed upon Gq activation. Using of a synthetic biology approach and a genome-wide RNAi screen, we found that a highly conserved guanine nucleotide exchange factor, Trio, is essential to activate Rho- and Rac-regulated signaling pathways acting on JNK and p38, thereby transducing proliferative signals from Gαq to the nucleus independently of PLC-β. Indeed, while many biological responses elicited by Gq depend on the transient activation of second messenger system, Gq utilizes a hardwired protein-protein interaction-based signaling circuitry to achieve the sustained stimulation of proliferative pathways, thereby controlling normal and aberrant cell growth.
MAPK; JNK; p38; Rho GTPases; Signal Transduction; G Proteins; Cancer
Strong epidemiologic evidence links smoking and cancer. An increased understanding of the molecular biology of tobacco-related cancers could advance progress toward improving smoking cessation and patient management. Knowledge gaps between tobacco addiction, tumorigenesis, and cancer brought an interdisciplinary group of investigators together to discuss “The Biology of Nicotine and Tobacco: Bench to Bedside.” Presentations on the signaling pathways and pathogenesis in tobacco-related cancers, mouse models of addiction, imaging and regulation of nicotinic receptors, the genetic basis for tobacco carcinogenesis and development of lung cancer, and molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis were heard. Importantly, new opportunities to use molecular biology to identify and abrogate tobacco-mediated carcinogenesis and to identify high-risk individuals were recognized.
The overexpression of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 is a frequent event in squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (HNSCC), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are potent inhibitors of COX-1 and COX-2, exert chemopreventive effects on HNSCC cancer development. COX-2 promotes the release of the pro-inflammatory mediator prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), which acts on its cell surface G protein-coupled receptors EP1, EP2, EP3, and EP4. Here, we investigated the role of PGE2 and its receptors in cellular proliferation in HNSCC. The expression of COX-2 and EP1-4 was examined in immortalized oral epithelial cells and in a representative panel of HNSCC cell lines, and based on these data EP1-EP3 and COX-2 expression were evaluated by immunohistochemistry in a large clinical sample collection using HNSCC tissue microarrays. The ability of selective COX-2 inhibition to block PGE2 secretion was measured by ELISA specific assays. The effects of PGE2 on cell proliferation were evaluated using PGE2, its stable analog, and EP2 and EP3-specific synthetic agonists. The results presented here show that HNSCC tumoral lesions and their derived cell lines constitutively express COX-2 and the EP1, EP2 and EP3 receptors for PGE2. HNSCC cells secrete PGE2, which can be suppressed by low concentrations of COX-2 selective inhibitors, without inhibiting cell proliferation. Exogenously added stable PGE2 and EP3-specific agonists induce DNA synthesis in all HNSCC cell lines tested. Overall, our study supports the emerging notion that PGE2 produced in the tumor microenvironment by the overexpression of COX-2 in tumoral and inflammatory cells may promote the growth of HNSCC cells in an autocrine and paracrine fashion by acting on PGE2 receptors that are widely expressed in most HNSCC cancer cells. In particular, our findings suggest that EP3 receptor may play a more prominent role in HNSCC cell growth promotion, thus providing a rationale for the future evaluation of this PGE2 receptor as a target for HNSCC prevention strategies.
Head and neck cancer; Cyclooxygenase; Prostaglandin E2; PGE2 receptors; EP1; EP2; EP3; EP4; G protein-coupled receptors; Oral cancer
LDL-related protein 6 (LRP6) is a coreceptor of WNTs and a key regulator of the WNT/β-catenin pathway. Upon activation, LRP6 is phosphorylated within its intracellular PPPS/TP motifs. These phosphorylated motifs are required to recruit axin and to inhibit glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3), two basic components of the β-catenin destruction complex. On the basis of a kinome-wide small interfering RNA (siRNA) screen and confirmative biochemical analysis, we show that several proline-directed mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), such as p38, ERK1/2, and JNK1 are sufficient and required for the phosphorylation of PPPS/TP motifs of LRP6. External stimuli, which control the activity of MAPKs, such as phorbol esters and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) control the choice of the LRP6-PPPS/TP kinase and regulate the amplitude of LRP6 phosphorylation and WNT/β-catenin-dependent transcription. Our findings suggest that cells not only recruit one dedicated LRP6 kinase but rather select their LRP6 kinase depending on cell type and the external stimulus. Moreover, direct phosphorylation of LRP6 by MAPKs provides a unique point for convergence between WNT/β-catenin signaling and mitogenic pathways.
Uveal melanoma is the most common intraocular malignancy though it is a rare subset of all melanomas. Uveal melanoma has distinct biology relative to cutaneous melanoma, with widely divergent patient outcomes. Patients diagnosed with a primary uveal melanoma can be stratified for risk of metastasis by cytogenetics or gene expression profiling, with approximately half of patients developing metastatic disease, predominately hepatic in location, over a 15 year period. Historically, no systemic therapy has been associated with a clear clinical benefit for patients with advanced disease and median survival remains poor. Here, as a joint effort between CURE OM and the National Cancer Institute, the current understanding of the molecular and immunobiology of uveal melanoma is reviewed, and on-going laboratory research into the disease is highlighted. Finally, recent investigations relevant to clinical management via targeted and immunotherpies are reviewed and next steps in the development of clinical therapeutics are discussed.
Ocular; Uveal; Melanoma; MEK; GNAQ; GNA11; metastasis; cancer
The molecular circuitries controlling the process of skin wound healing have gained new significant insights in recent years. This knowledge is built on landmark studies on skin embryogenesis, maturation, and differentiation. Furthermore, the identification, characterization, and elucidation of the biological roles of adult skin epithelial stem cells and their influence in tissue homeostasis have provided the foundation for the overall understanding of the process of skin wound healing and tissue repair. Among numerous signaling pathways associated with epithelial functions, the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling route has gained substantial attention with the generation of animal models capable of dissecting individual components of the pathway, thereby providing a novel insight into the molecular framework underlying skin homeostasis and tissue regeneration. In this review we focus on recent findings regarding the mechanisms involved in wound healing associated with the upregulation of the activity of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR circuitry. This review highlights critical findings on the molecular mechanisms controlling the activation of mTOR, a downstream component of the PI3K-PTEN pathway, which is directly involved in epithelial migration and proliferation. We discuss how this emerging information can be exploited for the development of novel pharmacological intervention strategies to accelerate the healing of critical size wounds.
PTEN; TSC1/TSC2; AKT; oral wound; wound therapy
Epidermal integrity is a complex process established during embryogenesis and maintained throughout the organism lifespan by epithelial stem cells. While Wnt regulates normal epithelial stem cell renewal, aberrant Wnt signaling can contribute to cancerous growth. Here, we explored the consequences of persistent expressing Wnt1 in an epidermal compartment that includes the epithelial stem cells. Surprisingly, Wnt caused the rapid growth of the hair follicles, but this was followed by epithelial cell senescence, disappearance of the epidermal stem cell compartment, and progressive hair loss. While Wnt1 induced the activation of β-catenin and the mTOR pathway, both hair follicle hyperproliferation and stem cell exhaustion were strictly dependent on mTOR function. These findings suggest that whereas activation of β-catenin contributes to tumor growth, epithelial stem cells may be endowed with a protective mechanism that results in cell senescence upon the persistent stimulation of proliferative pathways that activate mTOR, ultimately suppressing tumor formation.
Stem cell; mTOR; Wnt; aging; cancer; signal transduction
Most proangiogenic polypeptide growth factors and chemokines enhance vascular permeability, including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), the main target for anti-angiogenic-based therapies, and interleukin-8 (IL-8), a potent proinflammatory mediator. Here, we show that in endothelial cells IL-8 initiates a signaling route that converges with that deployed by VEGF at the level of the small GTPase Rac1 and that both act through the p21-activated kinase to promote the phosphorylation and internalization of VE-cadherin. However, whereas VEGF activates Rac1 through Src-related kinases, IL-8 specifically signals to Rac1 through its cognate G protein-linked receptor, CXCR2, and the stimulation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase γ (PI3Kγ) catalytic isoform, thereby providing a specific molecular targeted intervention in vascular permeability. These results prompted us to investigate the potential role of IL-8 signaling in a mouse model for retinal vascular hyperpermeability. Importantly, we observed that IL-8 is upregulated upon laser-induced retinal damage, which recapitulates enhanced vascularization, leakage, and inflammatory responses. Moreover, blockade of CXCR2 and PI3Kγ was able to limit neovascularization and choroidal edema, as well as macrophage infiltration, therefore contributing to reduce retinal damage. These findings indicate that the CXCR2 and PI3Kγ signaling pathway may represent a suitable target for the development of novel therapeutic strategies for human diseases characterized by vascular leakage.
Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is an oncogenic virus and the culprit behind the human disease Kaposi sarcoma (KS), an AIDS-defining malignancy. KSHV encodes a viral G-protein-coupled receptor (vGPCR) critical for the initiation and progression of KS. In this study, we identified that YAP/TAZ, two homologous oncoproteins inhibited by the Hippo tumor suppressor pathway, are activated in KSHV infected cells in vitro, KS-like mouse tumors, and clinical human KS specimens. The KSHV-encoded vGPCR acts through Gq/11 and G12/13 to inhibit the Hippo pathway kinases Lats1/2, promoting the activation of YAP/TAZ. Furthermore, depletion of YAP/TAZ blocks vGPCR-induced cell proliferation and tumorigenesis in a xenograft mouse model. The vGPCR-transformed cells are sensitive to pharmacological inhibition of YAP. Our study establishes a pivotal role of the Hippo pathway in mediating the oncogenic activity of KSHV and development of KS, and also suggests a potential of using YAP inhibitors for KS intervention.
Kaposi sarcoma; KSHV; vGPCR; Hippo; YAP; TAZ
The adenoviral gene E1a is known to enhance the antitumor effect of cisplatin, one of the cornerstones of the current cancer chemotherapy. Here we study the molecular basis of E1a mediated sensitivity to cisplatin in an experimental model of Non-small cell lung cancer. Our data show how E1a blocks the induction of autophagy triggered by cisplatin and promotes the apoptotic response in resistant cells. Interestingly, at the molecular level, we present evidences showing how the phosphatase MKP1 is a major determinant of cisplatin sensitivity and its upregulation is strictly required for the induction of chemosensitivity mediated by E1a. Indeed, E1a is almost unable to promote sensitivity in H460, in which the high expression of MKP1 remains unaffected by E1a. However, in resistant cell as H1299, H23 or H661, which display low levels of MKP1, E1a expression promotes a dramatic increase in the amount of MKP1 correlating with cisplatin sensitivity. Furthermore, effective knock down of MKP1 in H1299 E1a expressing cells restores resistance to a similar extent than parental cells.
In summary, the present work reinforce the critical role of MKP1 in the cellular response to cisplatin highlighting the importance of this phosphatase in future gene therapy approach based on E1a gene.
E1a; MKP1; cisplatin; chemotherapy; lung cancer
Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and tumor associated macrophages (TAMs) play key roles in the tumor immune suppressive network and tumor progression. However, precise roles of programmed death-1 (PD-1) in immunological functions of MDSCs and TAMs in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) have not been clearly elucidated. In the present study, we show that PD-1 and PD-L1 levels were significantly higher in human HNSCC specimen than in normal oral mucosa. MDSCs and TAMs were characterized in mice and human HNSCC specimen, correlated well with PD-1 and PD-L1 expression. αPD-1 treatment was well tolerated and significantly reduced tumor growth in the HNSCC mouse model along with significant reduction in MDSCs and TAMs in immune organs and tumors. Molecular analysis suggests a reduction in the CD47/SIRPα pathway by PD-1 blockade, which regulates MDSCs, TAMs, dendritic cell as well as effector T cells. Hence, these data identify that PD-1/PD-L1 axis is significantly increased in human and mouse HNSCC. Adoptive αPD-1 immunotherapy may provide a novel therapeutic approach to modulate the micro- and macro- environment in HNSCC.
HNSCC; myeloid-derived suppressor cell; tumor associated macrophagy; PD-1
Genomic alterations in GNAS, the gene coding for the Gαs heterotrimeric G-protein, are associated with a large number human of diseases. Here, we explored the role of Gαs on stem cell fate decisions by using the mouse epidermis as a model system. Conditional epidermal deletion of Gnas or repression of PKA signaling caused a remarkable expansion of the stem cell compartment, resulting in rapid basal cell carcinoma formation. In contrast, inducible expression of active Gαs in the epidermis caused hair follicle stem cell exhaustion and hair loss. Mechanistically, we found that Gαs-PKA disruption promotes the cell autonomous Sonic Hedgehog pathway stimulation and Hippo signaling inhibition, resulting in the non-canonical activation of GLI and YAP1. Our study highlights an important tumor suppressive function of Gαs-PKA, limiting the proliferation of epithelial stem cells and maintaining proper hair follicle homeostasis. These findings can have broad implications in multiple pathophysiological conditions, including cancer.
Histamine-induced vascular leakage is an integral component of many highly prevalent human diseases, including allergies, asthma, and anaphylaxis. Yet, how histamine induces the disruption of the endothelial barrier is not well defined. By using genetically modified animal models, pharmacologic inhibitors, and a synthetic biology approach, here we show that the small GTPase RhoA mediates histamine-induced vascular leakage. Histamine causes the rapid formation of focal adherens junctions, disrupting the endothelial barrier by acting on H1R Gαq-coupled receptors, which is blunted in endothelial Gαq/11 KO mice. Interfering with RhoA and ROCK function abolishes endothelial permeability, while phospholipase Cβ plays a limited role. Moreover, endothelial-specific RhoA gene deletion prevents vascular leakage and passive cutaneous anaphylaxis in vivo, and ROCK inhibitors protect from lethal systemic anaphylaxis. This study supports a key role for the RhoA signaling circuitry in vascular permeability, thereby identifying novel pharmacological targets for many human diseases characterized by aberrant vascular leakage.
Exogenous administration of cholecystokinin (CCK) induces hypertrophy and hyperplasia of the pancreas with an increase in DNA content. We hypothesized that endogenous CCK is involved with the malignant progression of pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN) lesions and the fibrosis associated with pancreatic cancer.
The presence of CCK receptors in early PanIN lesions was examined by immunohistochemistry in mouse and human pancreas. Pdx1-Cre/LSL-KrasG12D transgenic mice were randomized to receive either untreated drinking water or water supplemented with a CCK-receptor antagonist (proglumide, 0.1mg/ml). Pancreas from mice were removed and examined histologically for number and grade of PanINs after 1, 2 or 4 months of antagonist therapy.
Both CCK-A and CCK-B receptors were identified in early stage PanINs from mouse and human pancreas. The grade of PanIN lesions was reversed and progression to advanced lesions arrested in mice treated with proglumide compared to controls (p=0.004). Furthermore, pancreatic fibrosis was significantly reduced in antagonist-treated animals compared to vehicle (pitalic>0.001).
These findings demonstrate that endogenous CCK is in part responsible for the development and progression of pancreatic cancer. Use of CCK-receptor antagonists may have a role in cancer prophylaxis in high risk subjects, and may reduce fibrosis in the microenvironment.
Transgenic; proglumide; Kras; PanIN lesions; fibrosis
Small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) often features the up-regulation of the Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) pathway leading to activation of Gli transcription factors. SCLC cells secrete bombesin (BBS)-like neuropeptides (BLPs) that act as autocrine growth factors. Here, we show that SCLC tumour samples feature co-expression of Shh and BBS-cognate receptor (Gastrin-Releasing Peptide Receptor: GRPR). We also demonstrate that BBS activates Gli in SCLC cells, which is crucial for BBS-mediated SCLC proliferation because cyclopamine, an inhibitor of the Shh pathway, hampered the BBS-mediated effects. BBS binding to GRPR stimulated Gli through its downstream Gαq and Gα12/13 GTPases, and consistently, other Gαq and Gα13 coupled receptors (such as muscarinic receptor, m1, and thrombin receptor, PAR-1) and constitutively active GαqQL and Gα12/13QL mutants stimulated Gli. By using cells null for Gαq and Gα12/13, we demonstrate that these G proteins are strictly necessary for Gli activation by BBS. Moreover, by using constitutively active Rho small G-protein (Rho QL) as well as its inhibitor, C3 toxin, we show that Rho mediates GPCR-, Gαq- and Gα12/13-dependent Gli stimulation. At the molecular level, BBS caused a significant increase in Shh gene transcription and protein secretion that was dependent on BBS-induced GPCR/Gαq-12/13/Rho mediated activation of NFκB, which can stimulate a NFκB response element in the Shh gene promoter. Our data identify a novel molecular network acting in SCLC linking autocrine BBS and Shh circuitries, and suggest Shh inhibitors as novel therapeutic strategies against this aggressive cancer type.
SCLC; neuropeptide; sonic hedgehog; G-protein
The membrane-anchored serine protease, matriptase, is consistently dysregulated in a range of human carcinomas, and high matriptase activity correlates with poor prognosis. Furthermore, matriptase is unique among tumor-associated proteases in that epithelial stem cell expression of the protease suffices to induce malignant transformation. Here, we use genetic epistasis analysis to identify proteinase-activated receptor (PAR)-2-dependent inflammatory signaling as an essential component of matriptase-mediated oncogenesis. In cell-based assays, matriptase was a potent activator of PAR-2, and PAR-2 activation by matriptase caused robust induction of NFκB through Gαi. Importantly, genetic elimination of PAR-2 from mice completely prevented matriptase-induced pre-malignant progression, including inflammatory cytokine production, inflammatory cell recruitment, epidermal hyperplasia, and dermal fibrosis. Selective ablation of PAR-2 from bone marrow-derived cells did not prevent matriptase-driven pre-malignant progression, indicating that matriptase activates keratinocyte stem cell PAR-2 to elicit its pro-inflammatory and pro-tumorigenic effects. When combined with previous studies, our data suggest that dual induction of PAR-2-NFκB inflammatory signaling and PI3K-Akt-mTor survival/proliferative signaling underlies the transforming potential of matriptase and may contribute to pro-tumorigenic signaling in human epithelial carcinogenesis.
epithelial carcinogenesis; inflammation; keratinocyte stem cells; pericellular proteolysis
Mutually exclusive activating mutations in the GNAQ and GNA11 oncogenes, encoding heterotrimeric Gαq family members, have been identified in ~83% and ~6% of uveal and skin melanomas, respectively. However, the molecular events underlying these GNAQ-driven malignancies are not yet defined, thus limiting the ability to develop cancer-targeted therapies. Here, we focused on the transcriptional co-activator YAP, a critical component of the Hippo signaling pathway that controls organ size. We found that Gαq stimulates YAP through a Trio-Rho/Rac signaling circuitry promoting actin polymerization, independently of PLCβ and the canonical Hippo pathway. Furthermore, we show that Gαq promotes the YAP-dependent growth of uveal melanoma cells, thereby identifying YAP as a suitable therapeutic target in uveal melanoma, the first described GNAQ/GNA11-initiated human malignancy.
GNAQ; GNA11; G proteins; YAP; Rho; Rac; Hippo pathway; melanoma
Resistance to chemotherapy is the primary cause of treatment failure in over 90% of cancer patients in the clinic. Research in nanotechnology-based therapeutic alternatives has helped provide innovative and promising strategies to overcome multidrug resistance (MDR). By targeting CD44-overexpressing MDR cancer cells, we have developed in a single-step a self-assembled, self-targetable, therapeutic semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotube (sSWCNT) drug delivery system that can deliver chemotherapeutic agents to both drug-sensitive OVCAR8 and resistant OVCAR8/ADR cancer cells. The novel nanoformula with a cholanic acid-derivatized hyaluronic acid (CAHA) biopolymer wrapped around a sSWCNT and loaded with doxorubicin (DOX), CAHA-sSWCNT-DOX, is much more effective in killing drug-resistant cancer cells compared to the free DOX and phospholipid PEG (PL-PEG)-modified sSWCNT formula, PEG-sSWCNT-DOX. The CAHA-sSWCNT-DOX affects the viscoelastic property more than free DOX and PL-PEG-sSWCNT-DOX, which in turn allows more drug molecules to be internalized. Intravenous injection of CAHA-sSWCNT-DOX (12 mg/kg DOX equivalent) followed by 808 nm laser irradiation (1 W/cm2, 90 s) led to complete tumor eradication in a subcutaneous OVCAR8/ADR drug-resistant xenograft model, while free DOX alone failed to delay tumor growth. Our newly developed CAHA-sSWCNT-DOX nanoformula, which delivers therapeutics and acts as a sensitizer to influence drug uptake and induce apoptosis with minimal resistance factor, provides a novel effective means of counteracting the phenomenon of multidrug resistance.
semiconducting carbon nanotube; hyaluronic acid; doxorubicin; multidrug resistance; viscoelasticity; live cell imaging; quartz-crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D)
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) play a central role in signal transmission, thereby controlling many facets of cellular function. Overwhelming evidence now implicates GPCRs, G proteins and their downstream signaling targets in cancer initiation and progression, where they can influence aberrant cell growth and survival, largely through activation of AKT/mTOR, MAPKs, and Hippo signaling pathways. GPCRs also play critical roles in the invasion and metastasis of cancer cells via activation of Rho GTPases and cytoskeletal changes, and angiogenesis to supply the tumor with nutrients and provide routes for metastasis. Lastly, GPCRs contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a permissive tumor microenvironment. Understanding GPCR involvement in cancer malignancy may help identify novel therapeutic opportunities for cancer prevention and treatment.
Two studies published in this issue of Cancer Discovery describe the emerging mutational landscape of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC) and their genomic and epigenetic alterations, thus identifying novel actionable cancer drivers and predictive biomarkers for targeted therapies. Most genomic alterations in HNSCC converge in a handful of molecular pathways resulting in cell cycle deregulation, genomic instability, cell differentiation defects, and persistent mitogenic signaling, the latter involving aberrant PI3K/mTOR pathway activation thereby rendering HNSCC responsive to PI3K/mTOR inhibitors.
The ionotropic glutamate receptors (NMDAR) are composed of large complexes of multi-protein subunits creating ion channels in the cell plasma membranes that allow for influx or efflux of mono- or divalent cations (e.g., Ca2+) important for synaptic transmissions, cellular migration and survival. Recently, we discovered the high prevalence of somatic mutations within one of the ionotropic glutamate receptors, GRIN2A, in malignant melanoma. Functional characterization of a subset of GRIN2A mutants demonstrated a loss of NMDAR complex formation between GRIN1 and GRIN2A, increased anchorage-independent growth in soft agar, and increased migration. Somatic mutation of GRIN2A results in a dominant negative effect inhibiting the tumor suppressive phenotype of wild type GRIN2A in melanoma. Depletion of endogenous GRIN2A in melanoma cells expressing wild-type GRIN2A resulted in increased proliferation compared to control. In contrast, shRNA depletion of GRIN2A in mutant cell lines slightly reduced proliferation. Our data shows that somatic mutation of GRIN2A results in increased survival and is the first such report to demonstrate the functional importance of GRIN2A mutations in melanoma and the significance ionotropic glutamate receptor signaling plays in malignant melanoma.