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1.  Hippo coactivator YAP1 upregulates SOX9 and endows stem-like properties to esophageal cancer cells 
Cancer research  2014;74(15):4170-4182.
Cancer stem cells are proposed to initiate and maintain tumor growth. Deregulation of normal stem cell signaling may lead to the generation of cancer stem cells (CSCs); however, the molecular determinants of this process remain poorly understood. Here we show that the transcriptional co-activator YAP1 is a major determinant of CSC properties in non-transformed cells and in esophageal cancer cells by direct upregulation of SOX9. YAP1 regulates the transcription of SOX9 through a conserved TEAD binding site in the SOX9 promoter. Expression of exogenous YAP1 in vitro or inhibition of its upstream negative regulators in vivo results in elevated SOX9 expression accompanied by the acquisition of CSCs properties. Conversely, shRNA-mediated knockdown of YAP1 or SOX9 in transformed cells attenuates CSC phenotypes in vitro and tumorigenecity in vivo. The small molecule inhibitor of YAP1, Verteporfin (VP) significantly blocks CSCs properties in cells with high YAP1 and a high proportion of ALDH1+. Our findings identify YAP1 driven SOX9 expression is a critical event in acquisition of CSC properties, suggesting that YAP1 inhibition may offer an effective means of therapeutically targeting the CSC population.
PMCID: PMC4136429  PMID: 24906622
Hippo; YAP1; SOX9; Cancer stem cells and Esophageal Cancer
2.  EGFR Modulates DNA Synthesis and Repair through Tyr Phosphorylation of Histone H4 
Developmental cell  2014;30(2):224-237.
Posttranslational modifications of histones play fundamental roles in many biological functions. Specifically, histone H4-K20 methylation is critical in DNA synthesis and repair. However, little is known about how these functions are regulated by the upstream stimuli. Here, we identify a tyrosine phosphorylation site at Y72 of histone H4, which facilitates recruitment of histone methyltransferases (HMTases), SET8 and SUV4-20H, to enhance its K20 methylation, thereby promoting DNA synthesis and repair. Phosphorylation-defective histone H4 mutant is deficient in K20 methylation, leading to reduced DNA synthesis, delayed cell cycle progression, and decreased DNA repair ability. Disrupting the interaction between epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and histone H4 by Y72 peptide significantly reduced tumor growth. Furthermore, EGFR expression clinically correlates with histone H4-Y72 phosphorylation, H4-K20 mono-methylation, and the Ki-67 proliferation marker. These findings uncover a mechanism by which EGFR transduces signal to chromatin to regulate DNA synthesis and repair.
PMCID: PMC4149291  PMID: 25073158
3.  Targeted BikDD expression kills androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancer cells 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2014;13(7):1813-1825.
Targeted gene therapy is a promising approach for treating prostate cancer after the discovery of prostate cancer-specific promoters such as prostate-specific antigen, rat probasin, and human glandular kallikrein. However, these promoters are androgen-dependent, and after castration or androgen ablation therapy, they become much less active or sometimes inactive. Importantly, the disease will inevitably progress from androgen-dependent (ADPC) to castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) at which treatments fail and high mortality ensues. Therefore, it is critical to develop a targeted gene therapy strategy that is effective in both ADPC and CRPC to eradicate recurrent prostate tumors. The human telomerase reverse transcriptase-VP16-Gal4-WPRE integrated systemic amplifier composite (T-VISA) vector we previously developed which targets transgene expression in ovarian and breast cancer is also active in prostate cancer. To further improve its effectiveness based on androgen response in ADPC progression, the ARR2 element (two copies of androgen response region from rat probasin promoter) was incorporated into T-VISA to produce AT-VISA. Under androgen analog (R1881) stimulation, the activity of AT-VISA was increased to a level greater than or comparable to the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter in ADPC and CRPC cells, respectively. Importantly, AT-VISA demonstrated little or no expression in normal cells. Systemic administration of AT-VISA-BikDD encapsulated in liposomes repressed prostate tumor growth and prolonged mouse survival in orthotopic animal models as well as in the transgenic adenocarcinoma mouse prostate model, indicating that AT-VISA-BikDD has therapeutic potential to treat ADPC and CRPC safely and effectively in preclinical setting.
PMCID: PMC4120838  PMID: 24785255
4.  Proteasome inhibition enhances the killing effect of BikDD gene therapy 
BikDD, a phosphorylation-mimic mutant of pro-apoptotic protein Bik, elicits strong apoptosis in cancer cells when introduced via an expression platform termed VP16-GAL4-WPRE integrated systemic amplifier (VISA) under the control of a cancer-specific promoter both in vitro and in vivo. C-VISA-BikDD expression plasmid encapsulated in liposomes is currently in the process to initiate a phase I clinical trial for pancreatic cancer. In this study, we report a potential combination approach of BikDD with proteasome inhibitors on the basis of our findings that exogenously expressed BikDD protein undergoes proteasome-mediated degradation via both ubiquitin-dependent and -independent pathways. Inhibition of proteasome increases the protein stability of BikDD, enhancing the apoptotic effect of BikDD. Hence, high proteasome activity may be a mechanism by which intrinsic and acquired resistance occurs in BikDD gene therapy, and a combination therapy with current clinically approved proteasome inhibitor may overcome resistance.
PMCID: PMC4399095  PMID: 25901200
BikDD; proteasome inhibition; apoptosis; combinational therapy
5.  Activation of Keap1/Nrf2 signaling pathway by nuclear epidermal growth factor receptor in cancer cells 
Nuclear translocation of EGFR has been shown to be important for tumor cell growth, survival, and therapeutic resistance. Previously, we detected the association of EGFR with Keap1 in the nucleus. Keap1 is a Kelch-like ECH-associated protein, which plays an important role in cellular response to chemical and oxidative stress by regulating Nrf2 protein stability and nuclear translocation. In this study, we investigate the role of EGFR in regulating Keap1/Nrf2 cascade in the nucleus and provide evidence to show that nuclear EGFR interacts with and phosphorylates nuclear Keap1 to reduce its nuclear protein level. The reduction of nuclear Keap1 consequently stabilizes nuclear Nrf2 and increases its transcriptional activity in cancer cells, which contributes to tumor cell resistance to chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4297334  PMID: 25628777
EGFR; Keap1; Nrf2; cancer; ubiquitination
6.  S6K1 promotes invasiveness of breast cancer cells in a model of metastasis of triple-negative breast cancer 
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of oncology-related death in US women. Of all invasive breast cancers, patients with tumors lacking expression of the estrogen and progesterone hormone receptors and overexpression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 have the poorest clinical prognosis. These referred to as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) represent an aggressive form of disease that is marked by early-onset metastasis, high tumor recurrence rate, and low overall survival during the first three years post-diagnosis. In this report, we discuss a novel model of early-onset TNBC metastasis to bone and lungs, derived from MDA-MB-231 cells. Breast cancer cells injected intravenously produced rapid, osteolytic metastases in long bones and spines of athymic nude mice, with concurrent metastasis to lungs, liver, and soft tissues. From the bone metastases, we developed a highly metastatic luciferase-tagged cell line variant named MDA-231-LUC Met. In this report, we demonstrate that the Akt/mTOR/S6K1 axis is hyperactivated in these cells, leading to a dramatic increase in phosphorylation of S6 ribosomal protein at Ser235/236. Lastly, we provide evidence that inhibition of the furthest downstream kinase in the mTOR pathway, S6K1, with a highly specific inhibitor PF-4708671 inhibits cell migration, and thus may provide a potent anti-metastatic adjuvant therapy approach.
PMCID: PMC4113498  PMID: 25075253
TNBC; metastasis; bone; S6K1; S6
7.  Regulation and Role of EZH2 in Cancer 
Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is the epigenetic regulator that induces histone H3 lysine 27 methylation (H3K27me3) and silences specific gene transcription. Enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) is an enzymatic subunit of PRC2, and evidence shows that EZH2 plays an essential role in cancer initiation, development, progression, metastasis, and drug resistance. EZH2 expression is indeed regulated by various oncogenic transcription factors, tumor suppressor miRNAs, and cancer-associated non-coding RNA. EZH2 activity is also controlled by post-translational modifications, which are deregulated in cancer. The canonical role of EZH2 is gene silencing through H3K27me3, but accumulating evidence shows that EZH2 methlyates substrates other than histone and has methylase-independent functions. These non-canonical functions of EZH2 are shown to play a role in cancer progression. In this review, we summarize current information on the regulation and roles of EZH2 in cancer. We also discuss various therapeutic approaches to targeting EZH2.
PMCID: PMC4132442  PMID: 25038756
EZH2; PRC2; Neoplasms; Genetic transcription; Untranslated RNA; MicroRNAs; Post-translational protein processing
8.  Caspase-independent cell death is involved in the negative effect of EGFR inhibitors on cisplatin in non-small cell lung cancer cells 
Results of multiple clinical trials suggest that EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) exhibit negative effects on platinum-based chemotherapy in lung cancer patients with wild type (wt) EGFR, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are still uncertain. Studies that identify the mechanism of how TKIs negatively affect patients with wt EGFR are important for future development of effective strategies to target lung cancer. Thus, we returned to in vitro study to investigate and determine a possible explanation for this phenomenon.
Experimental Design
We investigated the effects of TKIs and cisplatin on caspase-independent cell death (CID) and the role of CID in the efficacy of each drug and the combination. Furthermore, we studied the mechanism how EGFR signaling pathway is involved in CID. Finally, based on the identified mechanism, we tested the combinational effects of cisplatin plus SAHA or erastin on CID.
We found that gefitinib inhibited cisplatin-induced CID but not caspase-dependent apoptotic cell death. In wt EGFR cells, gefitinib not only inhibited CID but also failed to induce apoptosis, therefore, compromising the efficacy of cisplatin. Inhibition of EGFR-ERK/AKT by gefitinib activates FOXO3a which in turn reduces reactive oxygen species (ROS) and ROS-mediated CID. To overcome this, we showed that SAHA and erastin, the inducers of ROS-mediated CID, strongly enhance the effect of cisplatin in wt EGFR cells.
TKI-mediated inhibition of CID plays an important role of the efficacy of chemotherapy. Moreover, FOXO3a is a key factor in the negative effects of TKI by eliminating cisplatin-induced ROS.
PMCID: PMC3703145  PMID: 23344263
9.  Targeting the IKKβ/mTOR/VEGF Signaling Pathway as a Potential Therapeutic Strategy for Obesity-Related Breast Cancer 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2012;11(10):2212-2221.
Clinical correlation studies have clearly shown that obesity is associated with breast cancer risk and patient survival. Although several potential mechanisms linking obesity and cancers have been proposed, the detailed molecular mechanism of obesity-mediated breast tumorigenesis has not yet been critically evaluated. In this study, we evaluated the effects of obesity on mammary tumor initiation and progression using mice with genetic and diet-induced obesity bearing mammary tumor xenografts and mouse mammary tumor virusneu transgenic mice that were fed a high-fat diet. We show that obesity promoted mammary tumor growth and development in these animal models. Moreover, the expressions of TNFα, VEGF, IKKβ, and mTOR are upregulated in mammary tumors of obese mice, suggesting that the IKKβ/ mTOR/VEGF signaling pathway is activated by TNFα in the tumors of obese mice. More importantly, inhibitors (rapamycin, bevacizumab, and aspirin) that target members of the pathway suppressed tumorigenesis and prolonged survival more effectively in obese mice than in nonobese mice. Here, we not only identified a specific signaling pathway that contributes to mammary tumorigenesis in obese mice but also a strategy for treating obesity-mediated breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3712288  PMID: 22826466
10.  Beyond anti-VEGF: dual-targeting antiangiogenic and antiproliferative therapy 
Antiangiogenesis is a promising antitumor strategy that inhibits tumor vascular formation to suppress tumor growth. Specifically, targeting VEGF has shown therapeutic benefits in many cancer types, leading to its approval as the first antiangiogenic drug by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. It is known, however, that patients will experience unfavorable side effects as the VEGF and/or VEGF receptor signaling pathway is also required for homeostasis in normal tissues. Moreover, due to the cytostatic nature of antiangiogenic, cancer cells that are not killed by these drugs later develop an even more malignant phenotype, resulting in tumor invasion and metastasis. Although there have been many attempts to reduce drug resistance and increase therapeutic efficacy by combining antiangiogenic drugs with chemotherapy, the cumulative toxicity of antiangiogenic combinations limits their feasibility as treatments, as chronic angiogenesis inhibition typically reduces the antitumor effect of the co-administered chemotherapeutics. To overcome these problems, it is critical to explore new strategies that limit tumor resistance and side effects and also increase the exposure of chemotherapy drugs at the tumor site. Here, we review current understanding of antiangiogenic drugs and introduce a new combination strategy that links direct antiangiogenic protein and enzyme prodrug system with dual-targeting antiangiogenic and antiproliferative therapeutic effect in tumor microenvironment. This strategy has the potential to overcome these clinical hindrances and may serve as a paradigm for the next generation of antiangiogenic drugs.
PMCID: PMC3665913  PMID: 23724163
Antiangiogenesis; bevacizumab; chemotherapy; 5-fluorouracil; endothelial cell-targeting
11.  Exogenous expression of human SGLT1 exhibits aggregations in sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis 
Sodium/glucose co-transporter 1 (SGLT1), which actively and energy-dependently uptakes glucose, plays critical roles in the development of various diseases including diabetes mellitus and cancer, and has been viewed as a promising therapeutic target for these diseases. Protein-protein interaction with EGFR has been shown to regulate the expression and activity of SGLT1. Exogenous expression of SGLT1 is one of the essential approaches to characterize its functions; however, exogenously expressed SGLT1 is not firmly detectable by Western blot at its calculated molecular weight, which creates a hurdle for further understanding the molecular events by which SGLT1 is regulated. In this study, we demonstrated that exogenous SGLT1 functions in glucose-uptake normally but is consistently detected near the interface between stacking gel and running gel rather than at the calculated molecular weight in Western blot analysis, suggesting that the overexpressed SGLT1 forms SDS-resistant aggregates, which cannot be denatured and effectively separated on SDS-PAGE. Co-expression of EGFR enhances both the glucose-uptake activity and protein level of the SGLT1. However, fusion with Flag or HA tag at its carboxy- but not its amino-terminus abolished the glucose-uptake activity of exogenous SGLT1 without affecting its protein level. Furthermore, the solubility of SGLT1 aggregates was not affected by other detergents but was partially improved by inhibition of o-link glycosylation. These findings suggested exogenous overexpression of SGLT1 can function normally but may not be consistently detectable at its formula weight due to its gel-shift behavior by forming the SDS-resistant aggregates.
PMCID: PMC3665917  PMID: 23724167
Sodium/glucose cotranspoter 1; epidermal growth factor receptor; protein aggregation; glucose uptake; o-link glycosylation
12.  EZH2: a pivotal regulator in controlling cell differentiation 
Epigenetic regulation plays an important role in stem cell self-renewal, maintenance and lineage differentiation. The epigenetic profiles of stem cells are related to their transcriptional signature. Enhancer of Zeste homlog 2 (EZH2), a catalytic subunit of epigenetic regulator Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), has been shown to be a key regulator in controlling cellular differentiation. EZH2 is a histone methyltransferase that not only methylates histone H3 on Lys 27 (H3K27me3) but also interacts with and recruits DNA methyltransferases to methylate CpG at certain EZH2 target genes to establish firm repressive chromatin structures, contributing to tumor progression and the regulation of development and lineage commitment both in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and adult stem cells. In addition to its well-recognized epigenetic gene silencing function, EZH2 also directly methylates nonhistone targets such as the cardiac transcription factor, GATA4, resulting in attenuated GATA4 transcriptional activity and gene repression. This review addresses recent progress toward the understanding of the biological functions and regulatory mechanisms of EZH2 and its targets as well as their roles in stem cell maintenance and cell differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3493026  PMID: 23145205
EZH2; polycomb repressive complex; embryonic stem cells; adult stem cells; chromatin modification; methylation
13.  Dual Targeting of Tumor Angiogenesis and Chemotherapy by Endostatin-Cytosine Deaminase-Uracil Phosphoribosyl Transferase 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2011;10(8):1327-1336.
Several antiangiogenic drugs targeting VEGF/VEGFR approved by the FDA for many cancer types including colorectal and lung cancer can effectively reduce tumor growth. However, targeting the VEGF signaling pathway will likely influence the normal function of endothelial cells in maintaining homeostasis and cause unwanted adverse effects. Indeed, emerging experimental evidence suggests that VEGF-targeting therapy induced less tumor cell–specific cytotoxicity, allowing residual cells to become more resistant and eventually develop a more malignant phenotype. We report an antitumor therapeutic EndoCD fusion protein developed by linking endostatin (Endo) to cytosine deaminase and uracil phosphoribosyl transferase (CD). Specifically, Endo possesses tumor antiangiogenesis activity that targets tumor endothelial cells, followed by CD, which converts the nontoxic prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC) to the cytotoxic antitumor drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in the local tumor area. Moreover, selectively targeting of tumor sites allows an increasing local intratumoral concentration of 5-FU, thus providing high levels of cytotoxic activity. We demonstrated that treatment with EndoCD plus 5-FC, compared with bevacizumab plus 5-FU treatment significantly increased the 5-FU concentration around tumor sites and suppressed tumor growth and metastasis in human breast and colorectal orthotropic animal models. In addition, in contrast to treatment with bevacizumab/5-FU, EndoCD/5-FC did not induce cardiotoxicity leading to heart failure in mice after long-term treatment. Our results showed that compared with currently used antiangiogenic drugs, EndoCD possesses potent anticancer activity with virtually no toxic effects and does not increase tumor invasion or metastasis. Together, these findings suggest that EndoCD/5-FC could become an alternative option for future antiangiogenesis therapy.
PMCID: PMC3155219  PMID: 21610170
antiangiogenesis; bevacizumab; chemotherapy; 5-fluorouracil; endothelial cell-targeting
14.  Nuclear ErbB-2 Enhances Translation and Cell Growth by activating transcription of rRNA genes 
Cancer research  2011;71(12):4269-4279.
Aberrant regulation of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesis and translation control can facilitate tumorigenesis. The ErbB2 growth factor receptor is overexpressed in many human tumors and has been detected in the nucleus, but the role of nuclear ErbB2 is obscure. In this study, we defined a novel function of nuclear ErbB2 in enhancing rRNA gene transcription by RNA polymerase-I (RNA Pol I). Nuclear ErbB2 physically associates with β-actin and RNA Pol I, coinciding with active RNA Pol I transcription sites in nucleoli. RNAi-mediated knockdown of ErbB2 reduced pre-rRNA and protein synthesis. In contrast, wild-type ErbB2 augmented pre-rRNA level, protein production and cell size/cell growth, but not by an ErbB2 mutant which is defective in nuclear translocation. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays revealed that ErbB2 enhances binding of RNA Pol I to rDNA. Additionally, ErbB2 associated with rDNA, RNA Pol I and β-actin, suggesting how it could stimulate rRNA production, protein synthesis and increased cell size and cell growth. Lastly, ErbB2-potentiated RNA Pol I transcription could be stimulated by ligand and was not substantially repressed by inhibition of PI3-K and MEK/ERK, the main ErbB2 effector signaling pathways. Together, our findings indicate that nuclear ErbB2 functions as a regulator of rRNA synthesis and cellular translation, which may contribute to tumor development and progression.
PMCID: PMC3117049  PMID: 21555369
ErbB-2; ribosomal RNA; RNA polymerase I; translation
15.  Long non-coding RNAs: versatile master regulators of gene expression and crucial players in cancer 
With rapid development of sequencing technologies such as deep sequencing and whole genome high-density tiling array, we now know that most of the “junk” genomic sequences are transcribed as non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). A large number of long ncRNA transcripts (> 200bp) have been identified, and these long ncRNAs (LncRNAs) are found to be crucial regulators for epigenetic modulation, transcription, and translation. In this review, we briefly summarize the regulatory function of LncRNAs with a particular focus on the underlying mechanisms of LncRNAs in oncogenesis, tumor metastasis and suppression.
PMCID: PMC3353529  PMID: 22611467
Long non-coding RNA (LncRNA); epigenetic regulation; competitive endogenous RNA (ceRNA); oncogenic lncRNA; pseudogene transcript; natural antisense RNA (NAT)
16.  Acetylation of EGF Receptor Contributes to Tumor Cell Resistance to Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors 
Alteration of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is involved in various human cancers and has been intensively investigated. A plethora of evidence demonstrates that posttranslational modifications of EGFR play a pivotal role in controlling its function and metabolism. Here, we show that EGFR can be acetylated by CREB binding protein (CBP) acetyltransferase. Interestingly, EGFR acetylation affects its tyrosine phosphorylation, which may contribute to cancer cell resistance to histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACIs). Since there is an increasing interest in using HDACIs to treat various cancers in the clinic, our current study provides insights and rationale for selecting effective therapeutic regimen. Consistent with the previous reports, we also show that HDACI combined with EGFR inhibitors achieves better therapeutic outcomes and provides a molecular rationale for the enhanced effect of combination therapy. Our results unveil a critical role of EGFR acetylation that regulates EGFR function, which may have an important clinical implication.
PMCID: PMC3049249  PMID: 21094134
17.  Regulation of Ubiquitination-Mediated Protein Degradation by Survival Kinases in Cancer 
The ubiquitin–proteasome system is essential for multiple physiological processes via selective degradation of target proteins and has been shown to plays a critical role in human cancer. Activation of oncogenic factors and inhibition of tumor suppressors have been shown to be essential for cancer development, and protein ubiquitination has been linked to the regulation of oncogenic factors and tumor suppressors. Three kinases, AKT, extracellular signal-regulated kinase, and IκB kinase, we refer to as oncokinases, are activated in multiple human cancers. We and others have identified several key downstream targets that are commonly regulated by these oncokinases, some of which are regulated directly or indirectly via ubiquitin-mediated proteasome degradation, including FOXO3, β-catenin, myeloid cell leukemia-1, and Snail. In this review, we summarize these findings from our and other groups and discuss potential future studies and applications in the clinic.
PMCID: PMC3355968  PMID: 22649777
AKT; ERK; IKK; FOXO3; β-catenin; Mcl-1; snail
18.  APOBEC3G promotes liver metastasis in an orthotopic mouse model of colorectal cancer and predicts human hepatic metastasis 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2011;121(11):4526-4536.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Metastases in the liver, the most common metastatic site for colorectal cancer, are found in one-third of the patients who die of colorectal cancer. Currently, the genes and molecular mechanisms that are functionally critical in modulating colorectal cancer hepatic metastasis remain unclear. Here, we report our studies using functional selection in an orthotopic mouse model of colorectal cancer to identify a set of genes that play an important role in mediating colorectal cancer liver metastasis. These genes included APOBEC3G, CD133, LIPC, and S100P. Clinically, we found these genes to be highly expressed in a cohort of human hepatic metastasis and their primary colorectal tumors, suggesting that it might be possible to use these genes to predict the likelihood of hepatic metastasis. We have further revealed what we believe to be a novel mechanism in which APOBEC3G promotes colorectal cancer hepatic metastasis through inhibition of miR-29–mediated suppression of MMP2. Together, our data elucidate key factors and mechanisms involved in colorectal cancer liver metastasis, which could be potential targets for diagnosis and treatment.
PMCID: PMC3204827  PMID: 21985787
19.  Activation of FOXO3a Is Sufficient to Reverse Mitogen-Activated Protein/Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase Kinase Inhibitor Chemoresistance in Human Cancer 
Cancer research  2010;70(11):4709-4718.
Drug resistance is a central challenge of cancer therapy that ultimately leads to treatment failure. In this study, we characterized a mechanism of drug resistance that arises to AZD6244, an established mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase (MEK) 1/2 inhibitor currently being evaluated in cancer clinical trials. AZD6244 enhanced the expression of transcription factor FOXO3a, which suppressed cancer cell proliferation. In AZD6244-resistant cancer cells, we observed the impaired nuclear localization of FOXO3a, reduced FOXO3a-mediated transcriptional activity, and decreased the expression of FOXO3a target gene Bim after cell treatment with AZD6244. Resistant cells could be sensitized by phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT inhibitors, which are known to enhance FOXO3a nuclear translocation. Our findings define FOXO3a as candidate marker to predict the clinical efficacy of AZD6244. Furthermore, they suggest a mechanism of resistance to MEK inhibitors that may arise in the clinic yet can be overcome by cotreatment with PI3K/AKT inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2895805  PMID: 20484037
20.  The roles of EZH2 in cell lineage commitment 
Enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2), a catalytic component of polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), epigenetically regulates chromatin structure and gene expressions through tri-methylation at histone H3K27 and recruitment of DNA methyltransferases for gene silencing. Despite extensive studies of the role of EZH2 in cancer progression and malignancy, increasing evidence also suggest that EZH2 plays a critical role in stem cells renewal, maintenance, and differentiation into specific cell lineages. Here, we review the updated information regarding how EZH2 contributes to stem cell maintenance, cell lineage determination, including myogenesis, adipogenesis, osteogenesis, neurogenesis, hematopoiesis, lymphopoiesis, epidermal differentiation and hepatogenesis, and how EZH2 is regulated by phosphorylation and microRNAs in these processes.
PMCID: PMC3102568  PMID: 21654879
EZH2; stem cells; cell lineage; differentiation
21.  TNFα induces HIF-1α expression through activation of IKKβ 
The transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) is regulated by oxygen availability as well as various inflammatory mediators, including tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα). Early work suggested that the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways are involved in TNFα-mediated HIF-1α accumulation and activation under normoxic conditions. Here, we provide evidence showing that IκBkinase β (IKKβ) is required for HIF-1α regulation by TNFα. We found that TNFα enhances HIF-1α protein expression in various breast cancer cell lines under either normoxic or hypoxia-mimicking conditions, but has little effect on the HIF-1α mRNA level. Increased HIF-1α expression was found in IKKβ stable clones and transient transfectants, and depletion of IKKβ consistently reduced the amount of HIF-1α protein. Treatment of cells with the IKKβ inhibitor Bay 11-7082 reduced the TNFα-induced HIF-1α expression, suggesting that IKKβ is required in this signaling pathway. Decreased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a direct target of HIF-1α, was shown in IKKβ-knockout mouse embryonic fibroblast cells. We further demonstrated a positive correlation between IKKβ and VEGF expression in primary human breast cancer specimens. Our findings indicate that TNFα-induced HIF-1α accumulation is IKKβ dependent, and may enable further understanding of the HIF-1α regulation by inflammatory signals.
PMCID: PMC2762003  PMID: 19766100
Tumor necrosis factor α; Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α; IκBkinase β; Vascular endothelial growth factor; Breast cancer
22.  Phosphorylation of ARD1 by IKKβ contributes to its destabilization and degradation 
IκB kinase β (IKKβ), a major kinase downstream of various proinflammatory signals, mediates multiple cellular functions through phosphorylation and regulation of its substrates. On the basis of protein sequence analysis, we identified arrest-defective protein 1 (ARD1), a protein involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation processes in many human cancer cells, as a new IKKβ substrate. We provided evidence showing that ARD1 is indeed a bona fide substrate of IKKβ. IKKβ physically associated with ARD1 and phosphorylated it at Ser209. Phosphorylation by IKKβ destabilized ARD1 and induced its proteasome-mediated degradation. Impaired growth suppression was observed in ARD1 phosphorylation-mimic mutant (S209E)-transfected cells as compared with ARD1 non-phosphorylatable mutant (S209A)-transfected cells. Our findings of molecular interactions between ARD1 and IKKβ may enable further understanding of the upstream regulation mechanisms of ARD1 and of the diverse functions of IKKβ.
PMCID: PMC2753275  PMID: 19716809
Phosphorylation; Arrest-defective protein 1; IκB kinase β; Destabilization; Degradation
23.  A Novel hTERT Promoter-driven E1A Therapeutic for Ovarian Cancer 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2009;8(8):2375-2382.
Currently, an effective gene therapy strategy, which not only retains cancer-specific expression but also limits toxicity, has yet to be developed for ovarian cancer. Mounting reports over the years have shown that human telomerase activity is significantly elevated in cancer cells compared with normal cells. In this study, we evaluated the hTERT promoter and showed that it can direct target gene expression preferentially in ovarian cancer cells. However, its promoter (hTERT) activity is much lower than that of CMV, a commonly used non-specific promoter. To overcome this problem, we have integrated the hTERT promoter into our recently developed VISA system (VP16-Gal4-WPRE integrated systemic amplifier) and dramatically enhanced transgene expression. In addition, to further develop this cancer-specific promoter gene expression system into an applicable therapeutic vector, we expressed E1A (an adenoviral type 5 transcription factor which possesses anti-cancer properties) through this novel VISA platform. We demonstrated that the hTERT-VISA system specifically targeted E1A’s expression to ovarian cancer cells at a level greater than or comparable to the commonly used CMV promoter, yet remained nearly silent in normal cells, and thus making this a suitable gene therapy construct. By using this cancer-specific promoter, which limits target gene expression in normal cells/tissues, potential toxicity induced by the CMV promoter would be prevented. More importantly, we showed significant antitumor activity with much less toxicity in animal models via intravenous delivery of hTERT-VISA-E1A:liposomal nanoparticles, suggesting a promising role of hTERT-VISA-E1A for ovarian cancer treatment under a gene therapy setting.
PMCID: PMC2759534  PMID: 19671744
Human telomerase; gene therapy; non-viral vector; liposome; E1A
24.  A New Fork for Clinical Application:Targeting Forkhead Transcription Factors in Cancer 
Forkhead O transcription factors (FOXO) playa pivotal role in the regulation of a myriad of cellular functions including cell cycle arrest, cell death, and protection from stress stimuli. Activation of cell survival pathways such as phosphoinositide-3-kinase/AKT/IKK or RAS/mitogen-activated protein kinase are known to phosphorylate FOXOs at different sites which cause FOXOs nuclear exclusion and degradation, resulting in the suppression of FOXO's transcriptional activity. Perturbation of FOXO's function leads to deregulated cell proliferation and accumulation of DNA damage, resulting in diseases such as cancer. Emerging evidence shows that active FOXO proteins are crucial for keeping cells in check; and inactivation of FOXO proteins is associated with tumorigenesis, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, glioblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, and leukemia. Moreover, clinically used drugs like paclitaxel, imatinib, and doxorubicin have been shown to achieve their therapeutic effects through activation of FOXO3a and FOXO3a targets. In this review, we will focus the novel functions of FOXOs revealed in recent studies and further highlight FOXOs as new therapeutic targets in a broad spectrum of cancers.
PMCID: PMC2676228  PMID: 19188143
25.  Physiological regulation of Akt activity and stability 
The serine/threonine protein kinase B (PKB, also known as Akt) constitutes an important node in diverse signaling cascades downstream of growth factor receptor tyrosine kinases. Akt plays an essential role in cell survival, growth, migration, proliferation, polarity, and metabolism (lipid and glucose); cell cycle progression; muscle and cardiomyocyte contractility; angiogenesis; and self-renewal of stem cells. Altered Akt activity has been associated with cancer and other disease conditions, such as diabetes mellitus, neurodegenerative diseases, and muscle hypotrophy. In the past decade, the upstream signals that lead to Akt activation, the downstream substrates that exert the effects of Akt, and the secondary binding proteins that regulate Akt activation have been well documented. Recent reports from our group and others have revealed how the stability of Akt protein is regulated through phosphorylation on its Thr-Pro motifs. This literature review details findings of those reports and others relevant to the regulation of Akt activation by its upstream kinases, with a focus on mammalian target of rapamycin complexes (mTORCs) and inactivation by PHLDA3 and the protein phosphatases PP2A and pleckstrin homology domain leucine-rich repeat protein phosphatase (PHLPP). Reports on ubiquitin-dependent Akt degradation, caspase-dependent cleavage, and the roles of molecular chaperone heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) in the regulation of Akt stability are summarized. The highlight will be on the role of “turn motif” phosphorylation and an isomerase, Pin1, in the regulation of Akt stability. We also discuss issues related to the intricate mTORC2-AktmTORC1 loop and the contradictory regulation of Akt phosphorylation and stabilization of Akt by mTORC2. Finally, we offer perspective on potential future directions for investigation, particularly on translating the knowledge we learned on the regulation of Akt stability into therapeutic intervention on human cancer with Akt alteration.
PMCID: PMC2826820  PMID: 20182580
Serine/threonine protein kinase B; PKB; Akt; growth factor receptor; tyrosine kinases; physiological activity regulation; stability; mammalian target of rapamycin complexes; mTORCs; Pin1; caspase; DEPTOR; PP2A; pleckstrin homology domain; PH domain; PHLPPs; PHLDAs; heat shock protein

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