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1.  Ki-67 is required for maintenance of cancer stem cells but not cell proliferation 
Oncotarget  2016;7(5):6281-6293.
Ki-67 expression is correlated with cell proliferation and is a prognostic marker for various cancers; however, its function is unknown. Here we demonstrate that genetic disruption of Ki-67 in human epithelial breast and colon cancer cells depletes the cancer stem cell niche. Ki-67 null cells had a proliferative disadvantage compared to wildtype controls in colony formation assays and displayed increased sensitivity to various chemotherapies. Ki-67 null cancer cells showed decreased and delayed tumor formation in xenograft assays, which was associated with a reduction in cancer stem cell markers. Immunohistochemical analyses of human breast cancers revealed that Ki-67 expression is maintained at equivalent or greater levels in metastatic sites of disease compared to matched primary tumors, suggesting that maintenance of Ki-67 expression is associated with metastatic/clonogenic potential. These results elucidate Ki-67's role in maintaining the cancer stem cell niche, which has potential diagnostic and therapeutic implications for human malignancies.
PMCID: PMC4868756  PMID: 26823390
Ki-67; cancer stem cells; proliferation; clonogenicity; tumorigenicity
2.  TMSB4Y is a candidate tumor suppressor on the Y chromosome and is deleted in male breast cancer 
Oncotarget  2015;6(42):44927-44940.
Male breast cancer comprises less than 1% of breast cancer diagnoses. Although estrogen exposure has been causally linked to the development of female breast cancers, the etiology of male breast cancer is unclear. Here, we show via fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) that the Y chromosome was clonally lost at a frequency of ~16% (5/31) in two independent cohorts of male breast cancer patients. We also show somatic loss of the Y chromosome gene TMSB4Y in a male breast tumor, confirming prior reports of loss at this locus in male breast cancers. To further understand the function of TMSB4Y, we created inducible cell lines of TMSB4Y in the female human breast epithelial cell line MCF-10A. Expression of TMSB4Y resulted in aberrant cellular morphology and reduced cell proliferation, with a corresponding reduction in the fraction of metaphase cells. We further show that TMSB4Y interacts directly with β-actin, the main component of the actin cytoskeleton and a cell cycle modulator. Taken together, our results suggest that clonal loss of the Y chromosome may contribute to male breast carcinogenesis, and that the TMSB4Y gene has tumor suppressor properties.
PMCID: PMC4792601  PMID: 26702755
male breast cancer; Y chromosome; TMSB4Y; tumor suppressor; cancer genetics
3.  Single copies of mutant KRAS and mutant PIK3CA cooperate in immortalized human epithelial cells to induce tumor formation 
Cancer research  2013;73(11):3248-3261.
The selective pressures leading to cancers with mutations in both KRAS and PIK3CA are unclear. Here we demonstrate that somatic cell knock in of both KRAS G12V and oncogenic PIK3CA mutations in human breast epithelial cells results in cooperative activation of the PI3 Kinase and MAP Kinase pathways in vitro, and leads to tumor formation in immunocompromised mice. Xenografts from double knock in cells retain single copies of mutant KRAS and PIK3CA suggesting that tumor formation does not require increased copy number of either oncogene, and these results were also observed in human colorectal cancer specimens. Mechanistically, the cooperativity between mutant KRAS and PIK3CA is mediated in part by Ras/p110α binding, as inactivating point mutations within the Ras binding domain of PIK3CA significantly abates pathway signaling. In addition, Pdk1 activation of the downstream effector p90RSK is also increased by the combined presence of mutant KRAS and PIK3CA. These results provide new insights into mutant KRAS function and its role in carcinogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3674106  PMID: 23580570
Tumorigenicity; cancer; KRAS; PIK3CA
4.  Omics and therapy – A basis for precision medicine 
Molecular oncology  2012;6(2):128-139.
PMCID: PMC3779147  PMID: 22445068
5.  Androgen receptor as a targeted therapy for breast cancer 
Breast cancer occurs at a high frequency in women and, given this fact, a primary focus of breast cancer research has been the study of estrogen receptor α (ER) signaling. However, androgens are known to play a role in normal breast physiology and therefore androgen receptor (AR) signaling is becoming increasingly recognized as an important contributor towards breast carcinogenesis. Moreover, the high frequency of AR expression in breast cancer makes it an attractive therapeutic target, but the ability to exploit AR for therapy has been difficult. Here we review the historical use of androgen/anti-androgen therapies in breast cancer, the challenges of accurately modeling nuclear hormone receptor signaling in vitro, and the presence and prognostic significance of AR in breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3410582  PMID: 22860233
Androgen receptor; MAP kinase; breast cancer; p21; androgens
6.  The growth response to androgen receptor signaling in ERα-negative human breast cells is dependent on p21 and mediated by MAPK activation 
Although a high frequency of androgen receptor (AR) expression in human breast cancers has been described, exploiting this knowledge for therapy has been challenging. This is in part because androgens can either inhibit or stimulate cell proliferation in pre-clinical models of breast cancer. In addition, many breast cancers co-express other steroid hormone receptors that can affect AR signaling, further obfuscating the effects of androgens on breast cancer cells.
To create better-defined models of AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells, we took estrogen receptor (ER)-α-negative and progesterone receptor (PR)-negative human breast epithelial cell lines, both cancerous and non-cancerous, and engineered them to express AR, thus allowing the unambiguous study of AR signaling. We cloned a full-length cDNA of human AR, and expressed this transgene in MCF-10A non-tumorigenic human breast epithelial cells and MDA-MB-231 human breast-cancer cells. We characterized the responses to AR ligand binding using various assays, and used isogenic MCF-10A p21 knock-out cell lines expressing AR to demonstrate the requirement for p21 in mediating the proliferative responses to AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells.
We found that hyperactivation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway from both AR and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling resulted in a growth-inhibitory response, whereas MAPK signaling from either AR or EGFR activation resulted in cellular proliferation. Additionally, p21 gene knock-out studies confirmed that AR signaling/activation of the MAPK pathway is dependent on p21.
These studies present a new model for the analysis of AR signaling in human breast epithelial cells lacking ERα/PR expression, providing an experimental system without the potential confounding effects of ERα/PR crosstalk. Using this system, we provide a mechanistic explanation for previous observations ascribing a dual role for AR signaling in human breast cancer cells. As previous reports have shown that approximately 40% of breast cancers can lack p21 expression, our data also identify potential new caveats for exploiting AR as a target for breast cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3496145  PMID: 22321971
7.  PIK3CA mutations and EGFR overexpression predict for lithium sensitivity in human breast epithelial cells 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2011;11(3):358-367.
A high frequency of somatic mutations has been found in breast cancers within the gene encoding the catalytic p110α subunit of PI3K, PIK3CA. Using isogenic human breast epithelial cells, we have previously demonstrated that oncogenic PIK3CA “hotspot” mutations predict for response to the toxic effects of lithium. However, other somatic genetic alterations occur within this pathway in breast cancers, and it is possible that these changes may also predict for lithium sensitivity. We overexpressed the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) into the non-tumorigenic human breast epithelial cell line MCF-10A, and compared these cells to isogenic cell lines previously created via somatic cell gene targeting to model Pten loss, PIK3CA mutations, and the invariant AKT1 mutation, E17K. EGFR overexpressing clones were capable of cellular proliferation in the absence of EGF and were sensitive to lithium similar to the results previously seen with cells harboring PIK3CA mutations. In contrast, AKT1 E17K cells and PTEN−/− cells displayed resistance or partial sensitivity to lithium, respectively. Western blot analysis demonstrated that lithium sensitivity correlated with significant decreases in both PI3K and MAPK signaling that were observed only in EGFR overexpressing and mutant PIK3CA cell lines. These studies demonstrate that EGFR overexpression and PIK3CA mutations are predictors of response to lithium, whereas Pten loss and AKT1 E17K mutations do not predict for lithium sensitivity. Our findings may have important implications for the use of these genetic lesions in breast cancer patients as predictive markers of response to emerging PI3K pathway inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3047087  PMID: 21124076
breast cancer; AKT; PI3K; Pten; EGFR
8.  Knock in of the AKT1 E17K mutation in human breast epithelial cells does not recapitulate oncogenic PIK3CA mutations 
Oncogene  2010;29(16):2337-2345.
An oncogenic mutation (G49A:E17K) in the AKT1 gene has been described recently in human breast, colon and ovarian cancers. The low frequency of this mutation and perhaps other selective pressures have prevented the isolation of human cancer cell lines that harbor this mutation thereby limiting functional analysis. Here we create a physiologic in vitro model to study the effects of this mutation by employing somatic cell gene targeting using the nontumorigenic human breast epithelial cell line, MCF10A. Surprisingly, knock in of E17K into the AKT1 gene had minimal phenotypic consequences and importantly, did not recapitulate the biochemical and growth characteristics seen with somatic cell knock in of PIK3CA hotspot mutations. These results suggest that mutations in critical genes within the PI3K pathway are not functionally equivalent, and that other cooperative genetic events may be necessary to achieve oncogenic PI3K pathway activation in cancers that contain the AKT1 E17K mutation.
PMCID: PMC3042798  PMID: 20101210
Akt1; oncogene; knock in; gene targeting; breast epithelial cells

Results 1-8 (8)