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1.  Deciphering the Mechanisms of Tumorigenesis in Human Pancreatic Ductal Epithelial Cells 
The most common genetic lesions in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) have been identified. However, significant gaps still exist in our understanding of how such genetic alterations act in concert to induce PDAC development. In this study, we investigated the mechanism of tumorigenic transformation in the immortalized human pancreatic ductal epithelial (HPDE) cell line by sequentially introducing PDAC signature alterations into this cell line.
Experimental Design
The phenotype for stable expression of mutant K-ras, Her2, p16/p14shRNA, and Smad4shRNA in HPDE cells was examined by assays for cell proliferation, migration, invasion; soft agar; and orthotopic tumorigenesis. The mechanisms of tumorigenic transformation were further explored by gene expression profiling and pathway analyses.
The transformed cells exhibited enhanced proliferation, migration, and invasion; displayed anchorage-independent growth in soft agar; and grew orthotopic tumors with some histopathological features of PDAC. We found that Smad4 played key roles in the tumorigenic transformation of HPDE cells. We further found that MDM2 and Bmi-1 were overexpressed in the tumorigenic HPDE cells and that Bmi-1 overexpression was regulated by Smad4. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software analysis of microarray data revealed that dysregulation of integrin-linked kinase (ILK) signaling and the cell cycle were the most significant changes involved in tumorigenic transformation. Altogether, this cell culture model closely recapitulated human pancreatic carcinogenesis from gene lesions, activation of specific signaling pathways, and some histopathological features.
The combination of activated K-ras and Her2 with inactivated p16/p14 and Smad4 was sufficient and essential to transform HPDE cells, thus revealing the potential tumorigenic mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3576034  PMID: 23340292
human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma; tumorigenic transformation; human pancreatic ductal epithelial cell line; Smad4
2.  ERK kinase phosphorylates and destabilizes the tumor suppressor FBW7 in pancreatic cancer 
Cell Research  2015;25(5):561-573.
F-box and WD repeat domain-containing 7 (FBW7) is the substrate recognition component of the Skp1-Cul1-F-box (SCF) ubiquitin ligase complex and functions as a major tumor suppressor by targeting various oncoproteins for degradation. Genomic deletion or mutation of FBW7 has frequently been identified in many human cancers but not in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Thus it is important to know how the tumor suppressive function of FBW7 is impaired in pancreatic cancer. In this study, we first observed that low FBW7 expression correlated significantly with ERK activation in pancreatic cancer clinical samples, primarily due to KRAS mutations in pancreatic cancer. We further showed that ERK directly interacted with FBW7 and phosphorylated FBW7 at Thr205, which sequentially promoted FBW7 ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation. Furthermore, the phospho-deficient T205A FBW7 mutant is resistant to ERK activation and could significantly suppress pancreatic cancer cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. These results collectively demonstrate how the oncogenic KRAS mutation inhibits the tumor suppressor FBW7, thus revealing an important function of KRAS mutations in promoting pancreatic cancer progression.
PMCID: PMC4423074  PMID: 25753158
KRAS; pancreatic cancer; ERK; FBW7
3.  SMAD4 Regulates Cell Motility through Transcription of N-Cadherin in Human Pancreatic Ductal Epithelium 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107948.
Expression of the cellular adhesion protein N-cadherin is a critical event during epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The SMAD4 protein has been identified as a mediator of transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily signaling, which regulates EMT, but the mechanisms linking TGF-β signaling to N-cadherin expression remain unclear. When the TGF-β pathway is activated, SMAD proteins, including the common mediator SMAD4, are subsequently translocated into the nucleus, where they influence gene transcription via SMAD binding elements (SBEs). Here we describe a mechanism for control of CDH2, the gene encoding N-cadherin, through the canonical TGFβ–SMAD4 pathway. We first identified four previously undescribed SBEs within the CDH2 promoter. Using telomerase immortalized human pancreatic ductal epithelium, we found that TGF-β stimulation prompted specific SMAD4 binding to all four SBEs. Luciferase reporter and SMAD4-knockdown experiments demonstrated that specific SMAD4 binding to the SBE located at −3790 bp to −3795 bp within the promoter region of CDH2 was necessary for TGF-β-stimulated transcription. Expression of N-cadherin on the surface of epithelial cells facilitates motility and invasion, and we demonstrated that knockdown of SMAD4 causes decreased N-cadherin expression, which results in diminished migration and invasion of human pancreatic ductal epithelial cells. Similar reduction of cell motility was produced after CDH2 knockdown. Together, these findings suggest that SMAD4 is critical for the TGF-β-driven upregulation of N-cadherin and the resultant invasive phenotype of human pancreatic ductal epithelial cells during EMT.
PMCID: PMC4180072  PMID: 25264609
4.  Modulation of Pancreatic Cancer Chemoresistance by Inhibition of TAK1 
TGF-β-activated kinase-1 (TAK1), a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase, functions in the activation of nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) and activator protein-1, which can suppress proapoptotic signaling pathways and thus promote resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. However, it is not known if inhibition of TAK1 is effective in reducing chemoresistance to therapeutic drugs against pancreatic cancer.
NF-κB activity was measured by luciferase reporter assay in human pancreatic cancer cell lines AsPc-1, PANC-1, and MDAPanc-28, in which TAK1 expression was silenced by small hairpin RNA. TAK1 kinase activity was targeted in AsPc-1, PANC-1, MDAPanc-28, and Colo357FG cells with exposure to increasing doses of a selective small-molecule inhibitor, LYTAK1, for 24 hours. To test the effect of LYTAK1 in combination with chemotherapeutic agents, AsPc-1, PANC-1, MDAPanc-28 cells, and control cells were treated with increasing doses of oxaliplatin, SN-38, or gemcitabine in combination with LYTAK1. In vivo activity of oral LYTAK1 was evaluated in an orthotopic nude mouse model (n = 40, 5 per group) with luciferase-expressing AsPc-1 pancreatic cancer cells. The results of in vitro proliferation were analyzed for statistical significance of differences by nonlinear regression analysis; differences in mouse survival were determined using a log-rank test. All statistical tests were two-sided.
AsPc-1 and MDAPanc-28 TAK1 knockdown cells had a statistically significantly lower NF-κB activity than did their respective control cell lines (relative luciferase activity: AsPc-1, mean = 0.18, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.10 to 0.27; control, mean = 3.06, 95% CI = 2.31 to 3.80; MDAPanc-28, mean = 0.30, 95% CI = 0.13 to 0.46; control, mean = 4.53, 95% CI = 3.43 to 5.63; both P < .001). TAK1 inhibitor LYTAK1 had potent in vitro cytotoxic activity in AsPc-1, PANC-1, MDAPanc-28, and Colo357FG cells, with IC50 between 5 and 40 nM. LYTAK1 also potentiated the cytotoxicity of chemotherapeutic agents oxaliplatin, SN-38, and gemcitabine in AsPc-1, PANC-1, and MDAPanc-28 cells compared with control cells (P < .001). In nude mice, oral administration of LYTAK1 plus gemcitabine statistically significantly reduced tumor burden (gemcitabine vs gemcitabine plus LYTAK1, P = .03) and prolonged survival duration (median survival: gemcitabine, 82 days vs gemcitabine plus LYTAK1, 122 days; hazard ratio = 0.334, 95% CI = 0.027 to 0.826, P = .029).
The results of this study suggest that genetic silencing or inhibition of TAK1 kinase activity in vivo is a potential therapeutic approach to reversal of the intrinsic chemoresistance of pancreatic cancer.
PMCID: PMC3149044  PMID: 21743023
5.  Cooperativity of Oncogenic K-Ras and Downregulated p16/INK4A in Human Pancreatic Tumorigenesis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e101452.
Activation of K-ras and inactivation of p16 are the most frequently identified genetic alterations in human pancreatic epithelial adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Mouse models engineered with mutant K-ras and deleted p16 recapitulate key pathological features of PDAC. However, a human cell culture transformation model that recapitulates the human pancreatic molecular carcinogenesis is lacking. In this study, we investigated the role of p16 in hTERT-immortalized human pancreatic epithelial nestin-expressing (HPNE) cells expressing mutant K-ras (K-rasG12V). We found that expression of p16 was induced by oncogenic K-ras in these HPNE cells and that silencing of this induced p16 expression resulted in tumorigenic transformation and development of metastatic PDAC in an orthotopic xenograft mouse model. Our results revealed that PI3K/Akt, ERK1/2 pathways and TGFα signaling were activated by K-ras and involved in the malignant transformation of human pancreatic cells. Also, p38/MAPK pathway was involved in p16 up-regulation. Thus, our findings establish an experimental cell-based model for dissecting signaling pathways in the development of human PDAC. This model provides an important tool for studying the molecular basis of PDAC development and gaining insight into signaling mechanisms and potential new therapeutic targets for altered oncogenic signaling pathways in PDAC.
PMCID: PMC4100754  PMID: 25029561
6.  LY2109761, a novel transforming growth factor β receptor type I and type II dual inhibitor, as a therapeutic approach to suppressing pancreatic cancer metastasis 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2008;7(4):829-840.
Most pancreatic cancer patients present with inoperable disease or develop metastases after surgery. Conventional therapies are usually ineffective in treating metastatic disease. It is evident that novel therapies remain to be developed. Transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) plays a key role in cancer metastasis, signaling through the TGF-β type I/II receptors (TβRI/II). We hypothesized that targeting TβRI/II kinase activity with the novel inhibitor LY2109761 would suppress pancreatic cancer metastatic processes. The effect of LY2109761 has been evaluated on soft agar growth, migration, invasion using a fibroblast coculture model, and detachment-induced apoptosis (anoikis) by Annexin V flow cytometric analysis. The efficacy of LY2109761 on tumor growth, survival, and reduction of spontaneous metastasis have been evaluated in an orthotopic murine model of metastatic pancreatic cancer expressing both luciferase and green fluorescence proteins (L3.6pl/GLT). To determine whether pancreatic cancer cells or the cells in the liver microenvironment were involved in LY2109761-mediated reduction of liver metastasis, we used a model of experimental liver metastasis. LY2109761 significantly inhibited the L3.6pl/GLT soft agar growth, suppressed both basal and TGF-β1–induced cell migration and invasion, and induced anoikis. In vivo, LY2109761, in combination with gemcitabine, significantly reduced the tumor burden, prolonged survival, and reduced spontaneous abdominal metastases. Results from the experimental liver metastasis models indicate an important role for targeting TβRI/II kinase activity on tumor and liver microenvironment cells in suppressing liver metastasis. Targeting TβRI/II kinase activity on pancreatic cancer cells or the cells of the liver microenvironment represents a novel therapeutic approach to prevent pancreatic cancer metastasis.
PMCID: PMC3088432  PMID: 18413796
7.  TrkBT1 Induces Liver Metastasis of Pancreatic Cancer Cells by Sequestering Rho GDP Dissociation Inhibitor and Promoting RhoA Activation 
Cancer research  2009;69(19):7851-7859.
Many genetic and molecular alterations, such as K-ras mutation and NF-κB activation, have been identified in pancreatic cancer. However, the mechanisms by which pancreatic cancer metastasizes still remain to be determined. Although we previously showed that the tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) was significantly correlated with the development of liver metastasis, its function in pancreatic cancer metastasis remained unresolved. In the present study, we showed that overexpressed TrkB is an alternatively spliced transcript variant of TrkB (TrkBT1) with a unique COOH-terminal 12–amino acid sequence and is mainly localized in the cytoplasm. Our results showed that overexpression of Flag-tagged TrkBT1 but not a Flag-tagged TrkBT1 COOH-terminal deletion mutant (Flag-TrkBT1ΔC) in nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer cells enhanced cell proliferation, promoted formation of colonies in soft agar, stimulated tumor cell invasion, and induced liver metastasis in an orthotopic xenograft mouse model of pancreatic cancer. TrkBT1 interacted with Rho GDP dissociation inhibitor (GDI) in vivo, but Flag-TrkBT1ΔC did not. Furthermore, overexpression of Flag-TrkBT1 and knockdown of RhoGDI expression by RhoGDI short hairpin RNAs promoted RhoA activation, but Flag-TrkBT1ΔC overexpression did not. Therefore, our results showed that TrkBT1 overexpression induces liver metastasis of pancreatic cancer and uncovered a unique signaling mechanism by which TrkBT1 sequesters GDI and activates RhoA signaling.
PMCID: PMC3087630  PMID: 19773448
8.  Oral poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 inhibitor BSI-401 has antitumor activity and synergizes with oxaliplatin against pancreatic cancer, preventing acute neurotoxicity 
Development of novel agents and drug combinations are urgently needed for treatment of pancreatic cancer. Oxaliplatin belongs to an important class of DNA-damaging organoplatinum agents, useful in pancreatic cancer therapy. However, increased ability of cancer cells to recognize and repair DNA damage enables resistance to these agents. PARP-1 is a sensor of DNA damage with key roles in DNA repair. Here we report the therapeutic activity of the PARP-1 inhibitor BSI-401, as a single agent and in combination with oxaliplatin in orthotopic nude mouse models of pancreatic cancer, and its effect on oxaliplatin-induced acute neurotoxicity.
Experimental Design
We determined in vitro the effect of BSI-401 and its synergism with oxaliplatin on the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Activity of different dosages of parenteral and oral BSI-401, alone and in combination with oxaliplatin, was evaluated in orthotopic nude mouse models with luciferase-expressing pancreatic cancer cells. The effect of BSI-401 in preventing oxaliplatin-induced acute cold allodynia was measured in rats using a temperature-controlled plate.
BSI-401 alone and in synergism with oxaliplatin significantly inhibited the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in vitro. In nude mice, intraperitoneal (200 mg/kg QW×4) and oral (400 mg/kg [QD5+R2]×4) administration of BSI-401 significantly reduced tumor burden and prolonged survival (46 vs. 144 days, P = 0.0018; 73 vs. 194 days, P= 0.0017) compared with no treatment. BSI-401 combined with oxaliplatin had potent synergistic antitumor activity (46 vs. 132 days, P = 0.0063), and significantly (P= 0.0148) prevented acute oxaliplatin-induced neurotoxicity.
BSI-401, alone or in combination with oxaliplatin, is a promising new therapeutic agent that warrants further evaluation for treatment of pancreatic cancer.
PMCID: PMC2989607  PMID: 19808866
PARP-1; pancreatic cancer; oxaliplatin; neurotoxicity
9.  Secreted Interleukin-1α Induces a Metastatic Phenotype in Pancreatic Cancer by Sustaining a Constitutive Activation of Nuclear Factor-κB 
Molecular cancer research : MCR  2009;7(5):624-633.
Transcription factor nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) is constitutively activated in most pancreatic cancer tissues and cell lines but not in normal pancreas nor in immortalized/nontumorigenic human pancreatic ductal epithelial cells. Inhibition of constitutive NF-κB activation in pancreatic cancer cell lines suppresses tumorigenesis and tumor metastasis. Recently, we identified autocrine secretion of proinflammatory cytokine interleukin (IL)-1α as the mechanism of constitutive NF-κB activation in metastatic pancreatic cancer cell lines. However, the role of IL-1α in determining the metastatic potential of pancreatic tumor remains to be further investigated. In the current study, we stably expressed IL-1α in the nonmetastatic, IL-1α–negative MiaPaCa-2 cell lines. Our results showed that the secretion of IL-1α in MiaPaCa-2 cells constitutively activated NF-κB and increased the expression of NF-κB downstream genes involved in the different steps of the metastatic cascade, such as urokinase-type plasminogen activator, vascular endothelial growth factor, and IL-8. MiaPaCa-2/IL-1α cells showed an enhanced cell invasion in vitro compared with parental MiaPaCa-2 cells and induced liver metastasis in an orthotopic mouse model. The metastatic phenotype induced by IL-1α was inhibited by the expression of phosphorylation-defective IκB (IκB S32, 36A), which blocked NF-κB activation. Consistently, silencing the expression of IL-1α by short hairpin RNA in the highly metastatic L3.6pl pancreatic cancer cells completely suppressed their metastatic spread. In summary, these findings showed that IL-1α plays key roles in pancreatic cancer metastatic behavior through the constitutive activation of NF-κB. Our findings further support the possible link between inflammation and cancer and suggest that IL-1α may be a potential therapeutic target for treating pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
PMCID: PMC2856954  PMID: 19435817
10.  Study Human Pancreatic Cancer in Mice: How Close Are They? 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2012;1835(1):110-118.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths and is characterized by dismal prognosis. Xenograft and genetically engineered mouse (GEM) models have recapitulated critical elements of human pancreatic cancer, providing useful tools to probe the underlying cause of cancer etiology. In this review, we provide a brief description of the common genetic lesions that occur during the development of pancreatic cancer. Next, we describe the strengths and weaknesses of these two models and highlight key discoveries each has made. Although the relative merits of GEM and xenograft pancreatic cancer mouse models are subject to debate, both systems have and will continue to yield essential insights in understanding pancreatic cancer etiology. This information is critical for the development of new methods to screen, treat, and prevent pancreatic cancer.
PMCID: PMC3538146  PMID: 23147198
pancreatic cancer; animal model; gene function; tumor microenvironment Zhang and Chen contributed equally
11.  EGFR-induced and PKCε monoubiquitylation-dependent NF-κB activation upregulates PKM2 expression and promotes turmorigenesis 
Molecular cell  2012;48(5):771-784.
Many types of human tumor cells have overexpressed pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2). However, the mechanism underlying this increased PKM2 expression remains to be defined. We demonstrate here that EGFR activation induces PLCγ1-dependent PKCε monoubiquitylation at Lys321 mediated by RINCK1 ubiquitin ligase. Monoubiquitylated PKCε interacts with a ubiquitin-binding domain in NEMO zinc finger and recruits the cytosolic IKK complex to the plasma membrane, where PKCε phosphorylates IKKβ at Ser177 and activates IKKβ. Activated RelA interacts with HIF1α, which is required for RelA to bind the PKM2 promoter. PKCε- and NF-κB-dependent PKM2 upregulation is required for EGFR-promoted glycolysis and tumorigenesis. In addition, PKM2 expression correlates with EGFR and IKKβ activity in human glioblastoma specimens and with grade of glioma malignancy. These findings highlight the distinct regulation of NF-κB by EGF, in contrast to TNFα, and the importance of the metabolic cooperation between the EGFR and NF-κB pathways in PKM2 upregulation and tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3526114  PMID: 23123196
EGFR; PKM2; PKCε; NF-κB; RelA; NEMO; IKKβ; HIF1α; monoubiquitylation; phosphorylation; glycolysis; tumorigenesis
12.  Oncogenic K-Ras and Loss of Smad4 Mediate Invasion by Activating an EGFR/NF-κB Axis That Induces Expression of MMP9 and uPA in Human Pancreas Progenitor Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e82282.
Activating K-Ras mutations and inactivating mutations of Smad4 are two common genetic alterations that occur in the development and progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC). To further study the individual and combinatorial roles of these two mutations in the pathogenesis of PDAC, immortalized human pancreas nestin postive cells (HPNE) were genetically modified by either expressing oncogenic K-Ras (HPNE/K-Ras), by shRNA knock down of Smad4 (HPNE/ShSmad4) or by creating both alterations in the same cell line (HPNE/K-Ras/ShSmad4). We previously found that expression of oncogenic K-Ras caused an increase in expression of EGFR and loss of Smad4 further enhanced the up regulation in expression of EGFR and that this increase in EGFR was sufficient to induce invasion. Here we further investigated the mechanism that links mutational alterations and EGFR expression with invasion. The increase in EGFR signaling was associated with up regulation of MMP9 and uPA protein and activity. Moreover, the increase in EGFR signaling promoted a nuclear translocation and binding of RelA (p65), a subunit of NF-κB, to the promoters of both MMP-9 and uPA. Treatment of HPNE/K-Ras/ShSmad4 cells with an inhibitor of EGFR reduced EGF-mediated NF-κB nuclear translocation and inhibitors of either EGFR or NF-κB reduced the increase in MMP-9 or uPA expression. In conclusion, this study provides the mechanism of how a combination of oncogenic K-Ras and loss of Smad4 causes invasion and provides the basis for new strategies to inhibit metastases.
PMCID: PMC3855364  PMID: 24340014
13.  A novel epigenetic CREB-miR-373 axis mediates ZIP4-induced pancreatic cancer growth 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2013;5(9):1322-1334.
Changes in the intracellular levels of the essential micronutrient zinc have been implicated in multiple diseases including pancreatic cancer; however, the molecular mechanism is poorly understood. Here, we report a novel mechanism where increased zinc mediated by the zinc importer ZIP4 transcriptionally induces miR-373 in pancreatic cancer to promote tumour growth. Reporter, expression and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrate that ZIP4 activates the zinc-dependent transcription factor CREB and requires this transcription factor to increase miR-373 expression through the regulation of its promoter. miR-373 induction is necessary for efficient ZIP4-dependent enhancement of cell proliferation, invasion, and tumour growth. Further analysis of miR-373 in vivo oncogenic function reveals that it is mediated through its negative regulation of TP53INP1, LATS2 and CD44. These results define a novel ZIP4-CREB-miR-373 signalling axis promoting pancreatic cancer growth, providing mechanistic insights explaining in part how a zinc transporter functions in cancer cells and may have broader implications as inappropriate regulation of intracellular zinc levels plays an important role in many other diseases.
PMCID: PMC3799489  PMID: 23857777
microRNA-373; pancreatic cancer; zinc; ZIP4
14.  K-rasG12V transformation leads to mitochondrial dysfunction and a metabolic switch from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis 
Cell Research  2011;22(2):399-412.
Increased aerobic glycolysis and oxidative stress are important features of cancer cell metabolism, but the underlying biochemical and molecular mechanisms remain elusive. Using a tetracycline inducible model, we show that activation of K-rasG12V causes mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to decreased respiration, elevated glycolysis, and increased generation of reactive oxygen species. The K-RAS protein is associated with mitochondria, and induces a rapid suppression of respiratory chain complex-I and a decrease in mitochondrial transmembrane potential by affecting the cyclosporin-sensitive permeability transition pore. Furthermore, pre-induction of K-rasG12V expression in vitro to allow metabolic adaptation to high glycolytic metabolism enhances the ability of the transformed cells to form tumor in vivo. Our study suggests that induction of mitochondrial dysfunction is an important mechanism by which K-rasG12V causes metabolic changes and ROS stress in cancer cells, and promotes tumor development.
PMCID: PMC3257361  PMID: 21876558
K-ras; mitochondrial dysfunction; glycolysis
15.  K-rasG12V transformation leads to mitochondrial dysfunction and a metabolic switch from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis 
Cell Research  2011;22(2):399-412.
Increased aerobic glycolysis and oxidative stress are important features of cancer cell metabolism, but the underlying biochemical and molecular mechanisms remain elusive. Using a tetracycline inducible model, we show that activation of K-rasG12V causes mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to decreased respiration, elevated glycolysis, and increased generation of reactive oxygen species. The K-RAS protein is associated with mitochondria, and induces a rapid suppression of respiratory chain complex-I and a decrease in mitochondrial transmembrane potential by affecting the cyclosporin-sensitive permeability transition pore. Furthermore, pre-induction of K-rasG12V expression in vitro to allow metabolic adaptation to high glycolytic metabolism enhances the ability of the transformed cells to form tumor in vivo. Our study suggests that induction of mitochondrial dysfunction is an important mechanism by which K-rasG12V causes metabolic changes and ROS stress in cancer cells, and promotes tumor development.
PMCID: PMC3257361  PMID: 21876558
K-ras; mitochondrial dysfunction; glycolysis
16.  Anti-VEGF Treatment Resistant Pancreatic Cancers Secrete Proinflammatory Factors that Contribute to Malignant Progression by Inducing an EMT cell phenotype 
The resistance of tumors to antiangiogenic therapies is becoming increasingly relevant. There are currently no validated predictive biomarkers for selecting which cancer patients will benefit from antiangiogenic therapy. Also lacking are resistance biomarkers that can identify which escape pathways should be targeted after tumors develop resistance to anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) treatment. Recent studies showed that anti-VEGF treatment can make tumor cells more aggressive and metastatic. However, the mechanisms and mediators of this are unidentified. Therefore, we aimed the present study at directly identifying the tumor cell-initiated mechanisms responsible for the resistance of pancreatic cancer to anti-VEGF treatment.
Experimental design
We established and validated two murine models of human pancreatic cancer resistant to the VEGF-specific antibody bevacizumab in vivo. We used a genome-wide analysis to directly identify which tumor-secreted factors were overexpressed by pancreatic cancer cells that were resistant to anti-VEGF treatment.
Rather then direct proangiogenic factors, we identified several proinflammatory factors that were expressed at higher levels in cells resistant to anti-VEGF treatment than in treatment-sensitive control cells. These proinflammatory factors acted in a paracrine manner to stimulate the recruitment of CD11b+ proangiogenic myeloid cells. Also, we found that secreted factors overexpressed by anti-VEGF treatment-resistant pancreatic cancer cells acted in an autocrine manner to induce epithelial- to- mesenchymal transition (EMT) and were thus responsible for increased aggressiveness of bevacizumab-resistant pancreatic tumors.
Our results identified proinflammatory factors and EMT markers as potential biomarkers for selecting patients with pancreatic cancer for antiangiogenic therapy.
PMCID: PMC3178272  PMID: 21737511
anti-VEGF resistance; proinflammatory factors; EMT; pancreatic cancer
17.  KrasG12D-Induced IKK2/β/NF-κB Activation by IL-1α and p62 Feedforward Loops Is Required for Development of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma 
Cancer Cell  2012;21(1):105-120.
Constitutive Kras and NF-κB activation is identified as signature alterations in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). However, how NF-κB is activated in PDAC is not yet understood. Here, we report that pancreas-targeted IKK2/β inactivation inhibited NF-κB activation and PDAC development in KrasG12D and KrasG12D;Ink4a/ArfF/F mice, demonstrating a mechanistic link between IKK2/β and KrasG12D in PDAC inception. Our findings reveal that KrasG12D-activated AP-1 induces IL-1α, which, in turn, activates NF-κB and its target genes IL-1α and p62, to initiate IL-1α/p62 feedforward loops for inducing and sustaining NF-κB activity. Furthermore, IL-1α overexpression correlates with Kras mutation, NF-κB activity, and poor survival in PDAC patients. Therefore, our findings demonstrate the mechanism by which IKK2/β/NF-κB is activated by KrasG12D through dual feedforward loops of IL-1α/p62.
PMCID: PMC3360958  PMID: 22264792
18.  Disruption of the NF-κB/IκBα Autoinhibitory Loop Improves Cognitive Performance and Promotes Hyperexcitability of Hippocampal Neurons 
Though originally discovered in the immune system as an important mediator of inflammation, NF-κB has recently been shown to play key roles in the central nervous system, such as synaptogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and cognition. NF-κB activity is normally tightly regulated by its primary inhibitor, IκBα, through a unique autoinhibitory loop. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the IκBα autoinhibitory loop ensures optimal levels of NF-κB activity to promote proper brain development and function. To do so, we utilized knock-in mice which possess mutations in the IκBα promoter to disrupt the autoinhibitory loop (IκBαM/M KI mice).
Here, we show that these mutations delay IκBα resynthesis and enhance NF-κB activation in neurons following acute activating stimuli. This leads to improved cognitive ability on tests of hippocampal-dependent learning and memory but no change in hippocampal synaptic plasticity. Instead, hippocampal neurons from IκBαM/M KI mice form more excitatory and less inhibitory synapses in dissociated cultures and are hyperexcitable. This leads to increased burst firing of action potentials and the development of abnormal hypersynchronous discharges in vivo.
These results demonstrate that the IκBα autoinhibitory loop is critical for titrating appropriate levels of endogenous NF-κB activity to maintain proper neuronal function.
PMCID: PMC3141554  PMID: 21663635
19.  14-3-3ζ Cooperates with ErbB2 to Promote Progression of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ to Invasive Breast Cancer by Inducing Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition 
Cancer cell  2009;16(3):195-207.
ErbB2, a metastasis-promoting oncoprotein, is overexpressed in ~25% of invasive/metastatic breast cancers, but in 50–60% of non-invasive ductal carcinomas in situ (DCIS). It has been puzzling how a subset of ErbB2-overexpressing DCIS develops into invasive breast cancer (IBC). We found that co-overexpression of 14-3-3ζ in ErbB2-overexpressing DCIS conferred a higher risk of progression to IBC. ErbB2 and 14-3-3ζ overexpression, respectively, increased cell migration and decreased cell adhesion, two prerequisites of tumor cell invasion. 14-3-3ζ overexpression reduced cell adhesion by activating the TGFβ/Smads pathway that led to ZFHX1B/SIP-1 upregulation, E-cadherin loss, and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Importantly, patients whose breast tumors overexpressed both ErbB2 and 14-3-3ζ had higher rates of metastatic recurrence and death than those whose tumors overexpressed only one.
PMCID: PMC2754239  PMID: 19732720
20.  Bik/NBK accumulation correlates with apoptosis-induction by bortezomib (PS-341, Velcade) and other proteasome inhibitors 
Oncogene  2005;24(31):4993-4999.
Proteasome inhibitors have emerged as promising anticancer therapeutic agents. Bortezomib (PS-341), a specific proteasome inhibitor, exhibits antitumor activity against a wide range of malignancies and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. However, the molecular mechanisms of bortezomib-mediated apoptosis remain unclear. To characterize the mechanisms of apoptosis induction by proteasome inhibitors, we examined levels of Bcl-2 protein family members (Bik/NBK, Bax, Bak, Bcl-2, and Bcl-XL), release of cytochrome C, and activation of caspase-9 and caspase-3 in human colon cancer cell lines DLD-1, LOVO, SW620, and HCT116; human lung cancer cell line H1299; and human ovarian cancer cell line SKOV3 after they were treated with bortezomib. The result showed that bortezomib induced rapid accumulation of Bik/NBK but not other Bcl-2 family members in all six cell lines. Bortezomib-mediated Bik/NBK accumulation and apoptosis were also observed in human embryonic kidney cells 293 and normal human bronchial epithelial cells. Moreover, dramatic Bik/NBK accumulation and apoptosis induction were observed when cells were treated with proteasome inhibitor MG132 and calpain inhibitor I (ALLN). Furthermore, no detectable changes in IκBα levels or in NFκB functionality were found after treatment with bortezomib. Finally, Bik/NBK accumulation was caused by stabilization of the protein from degradation and was associated with bortezomib cytotoxicity and apoptosis induction. Pretreatment of DLD-1 cells with Bik/NBK siRNA reduced bortezomib-mediated Bik/NBK accumulation and cell death. Our results suggested that Bik/NBK is one of mediators of proteasome inhibitor-induced apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC1351116  PMID: 15824729
Proteasome Inhibitor; Apoptosis; Bik; PS-341; Bortezomib; ALLN, Calpain inhibitor I; DMSO, dimethyl sulfoxide; PBS, phosphate-buffered saline; PMSF, Phenylmethylsulphonyl fluoride; XTT, 3-bis-(2-methoxy-4-nitro-5-sulphenyl)-(2H)-tetrazolium-5-carboxanilide
21.  Induction of Apoptosis in Tumor-Associated Endothelial Cells and Therapy of Orthotopic Human Pancreatic Carcinoma in Nude Mice1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2005;7(7):696-704.
Although gemcitabine has been accepted as the first-line chemotherapeutic reagent for advanced pancreatic cancer, improvement of response rate and survival is not sufficient and patients often develop resistance. We hypothesized that the inhibition of phosphorylation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) on tumor cells and tumor-associated endothelial cells, combined with gemcitabine, would overcome the resistance to gemcitabine in orthotopic pancreatic tumor animal model. L3.6pl, human pancreatic cancer cells growing in the pancreas, and tumor-associated endothelial cells in microorgan environment highly expressed phosphorylated EGFR, VEGFR, and Akt, which regulates antiapoptotic mechanism. Oral administration of AEE788 (dual tyrosine kinase inhibitor against EGFR and VEGFR) inhibited the phosphorylation of EGFR, VEGFR, and Akt on tumor-associated endothelial cells as well as tumor cells. Although intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection of gemcitabine showed limited inhibitory effect on tumor growth, combination with AEE788 and gemcitabine produced nearly 95% inhibition of tumor growth in parallel with a high level of apoptosis on tumor cells and tumor-associated endothelial cells, and decreased microvascular density and proliferation rate. Collectively, these data indicate that dual inhibition of phosphorylation of EGFR and VEGFR, in combination with gemcitabine, produces apoptosis of tumor-associated endothelial cells and significantly suppresses human pancreatic cancer in nude mice.
PMCID: PMC1501424  PMID: 16026649
AEE788; EGFR; VEGFR; gemcitabine; pancreatic cancer
22.  Open Access gains attention in scholar communication 
Molecular Cancer  2004;3:23.
PMCID: PMC521494  PMID: 15350204
23.  NF-κB and AP-1 Connection: Mechanism of NF-κB-Dependent Regulation of AP-1 Activity 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(17):7806-7819.
Nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) and activator protein 1 (AP-1) transcription factors regulate many important biological and pathological processes. Activation of NF-κB is regulated by the inducible phosphorylation of NF-κB inhibitor IκB by IκB kinase. In contrast, Fos, a key component of AP-1, is primarily transcriptionally regulated by serum responsive factors (SRFs) and ternary complex factors (TCFs). Despite these different regulatory mechanisms, there is an intriguing possibility that NF-κB and AP-1 may modulate each other, thus expanding the scope of these two rapidly inducible transcription factors. To determine whether NF-κB activity is involved in the regulation of fos expression in response to various stimuli, we analyzed activity of AP-1 and expression of fos, fosB, fra-1, fra-2, jun, junB, and junD, as well as AP-1 downstream target gene VEGF, using MDAPanc-28 and MDAPanc-28/IκBαM pancreatic tumor cells and wild-type, IKK1−/−, and IKK2−/− murine embryonic fibroblast cells. Our results show that elk-1, a member of TCFs, is one of the NF-κB downstream target genes. Inhibition of NF-κB activity greatly decreased expression of elk-1. Consequently, the reduced level of activated Elk-1 protein by extracellular signal-regulated kinase impeded constitutive, serum-, and superoxide-inducible c-fos expression. Thus, our study revealed a distinct and essential role of NF-κB in participating in the regulation of elk-1, c-fos, and VEGF expression.
PMCID: PMC507000  PMID: 15314185

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