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1.  TWIST1 associates with NF-κB subunit RELA via carboxyl-terminal WR domain to promote cell autonomous invasion through IL8 production 
BMC Biology  2012;10:73.
Metastasis is the primary cause of death for cancer patients. TWIST1, an evolutionarily conserved basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor, is a strong promoter of metastatic spread and its expression is elevated in many advanced human carcinomas. However, the molecular events triggered by TWIST1 to motivate dissemination of cancer cells are largely unknown.
Here we show that TWIST1 induces the production of interleukin 8 (IL8), which activates matrix metalloproteinases and promotes invasion of breast epithelial and cancer cells. In this novel mechanism, TWIST1-mediated IL8 transcription is induced through the TWIST1 carboxy-terminal WR (Trp-Arg) domain instead of the classic DNA binding bHLH domain. Co-immunoprecipitation analyses revealed that the WR domain mediates the formation of a protein complex comprised of TWIST1 and the nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB) subunit RELA (p65/NF-κB3), which synergistically activates the transcriptional activity of NF-κB. This activation leads to increased DNA binding affinity of RELA to the IL8 promoter and thus induces the expression of the cytokine. Blockage of IL8 signaling by IL8 neutralizing antibodies or receptor inhibition reduced the invasiveness of both breast epithelial and cancer cells, indicating that TWIST1 induces autonomous cell invasion by establishing an IL8 antocrine loop.
Our data demonstrate that the TWIST1 WR domain plays a critical role in TWIST1-induced IL8 expression through interactions with and activation of NF-κB. The produced IL8 signals through an autocrine loop and promotes extracellular matrix degradation to enable cell invasion across the basement membrane.
PMCID: PMC3482588  PMID: 22891766
TWIST1; WR domain; RELA; NF-κB; IL8
2.  Neural Stem Cells as a Novel Platform for Tumor-Specific Delivery of Therapeutic Antibodies 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e8314.
Recombinant monoclonal antibodies have emerged as important tools for cancer therapy. Despite the promise shown by antibody-based therapies, the large molecular size of antibodies limits their ability to efficiently penetrate solid tumors and precludes efficient crossing of the blood-brain-barrier into the central nervous system (CNS). Consequently, poorly vascularized solid tumors and CNS metastases cannot be effectively treated by intravenously-injected antibodies. The inherent tumor-tropic properties of human neural stem cells (NSCs) can potentially be harnessed to overcome these obstacles and significantly improve cancer immunotherapy. Intravenously-delivered NSCs preferentially migrate to primary and metastatic tumor sites within and outside the CNS. Therefore, we hypothesized that NSCs could serve as an ideal cellular delivery platform for targeting antibodies to malignant tumors.
Methods and Findings
As proof-of-concept, we selected Herceptin™ (trastuzumab), a monoclonal antibody widely used to treat HER2-overexpressing breast cancer. HER2 overexpression in breast cancer is highly correlated with CNS metastases, which are inaccessible to trastuzumab therapy. Therefore, NSC-mediated delivery of trastuzumab may improve its therapeutic efficacy. Here we report, for the first time, that human NSCs can be genetically modified to secrete anti-HER2 immunoglobulin molecules. These NSC-secreted antibodies assemble properly, possess tumor cell-binding affinity and specificity, and can effectively inhibit the proliferation of HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cells in vitro. We also demonstrate that immunoglobulin-secreting NSCs exhibit preferential tropism to tumor cells in vivo, and can deliver antibodies to human breast cancer xenografts in mice.
Taken together, these results suggest that NSCs modified to secrete HER2-targeting antibodies constitute a promising novel platform for targeted cancer immunotherapy. Specifically, this NSC-mediated antibody delivery system has the potential to significantly improve clinical outcome for patients with HER2-overexpressing breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC2789379  PMID: 20016813
3.  Iron Labeling and Pre-Clinical MRI Visualization of Therapeutic Human Neural Stem Cells in a Murine Glioma Model 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e7218.
Treatment strategies for the highly invasive brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, require that cells which have invaded into the surrounding brain be specifically targeted. The inherent tumor-tropism of neural stem cells (NSCs) to primary and invasive tumor foci can be exploited to deliver therapeutics to invasive brain tumor cells in humans. Use of the strategy of converting prodrug to drug via therapeutic transgenes delivered by immortalized therapeutic NSC lines have shown efficacy in animal models. Thus therapeutic NSCs are being proposed for use in human brain tumor clinical trials. In the context of NSC-based therapies, MRI can be used both to non-invasively follow dynamic spatio-temporal patterns of the NSC tumor targeting allowing for the optimization of treatment strategies and to assess efficacy of the therapy. Iron-labeling of cells allows their presence to be visualized and tracked by MRI. Thus we aimed to iron-label therapeutic NSCs without affecting their cellular physiology using a method likely to gain United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
For human use, the characteristics of therapeutic Neural Stem Cells must be clearly defined with any pertubation to the cell including iron labeling requiring reanalysis of cellular physiology. Here, we studied the effect of iron-loading of the therapeutic NSCs, with ferumoxide-protamine sulfate complex (FE-Pro) on viability, proliferation, migratory properties and transgene expression, when compared to non-labeled cells. FE-Pro labeled NSCs were imaged by MRI at tumor sites, after intracranial administration into the hemisphere contralateral to the tumor, in an orthotopic human glioma xenograft mouse model.
FE-Pro labeled NSCs retain their proliferative status, tumor tropism, and maintain stem cell character, while allowing in vivo cellular MRI tracking at 7 Tesla, to monitor their real-time migration and distribution at brain tumor sites. Of significance, this work directly supports the use of FE-Pro-labeled NSCs for real-time tracking in the clinical trial under development: “A Pilot Feasibility Study of Oral 5-Fluorocytosine and Genetically modified Neural Stem Cells Expressing Escherichia coli Cytosine Deaminase for Treatment of Recurrent High-Grade Gliomas”.
PMCID: PMC2746284  PMID: 19787043
5.  NRAGE Mediates p38 Activation and Neural Progenitor Apoptosis via the Bone Morphogenetic Protein Signaling Cascade 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2005;25(17):7711-7724.
Understanding the molecular events that govern neural progenitor lineage commitment, mitotic arrest, and differentiation into functional progeny are germane to our understanding of neocortical development. Members of the family of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) play pivotal roles in regulating neural differentiation and apoptosis during neurogenesis through combined actions involving Smad and TAK1 activation. We demonstrate that BMP signaling is required for the induction of apoptosis of neural progenitors and that NRAGE is a mandatory component of the signaling cascade. NRAGE possesses the ability to bind and function with the TAK1-TAB1-XIAP complex facilitating the activation of p38. Disruption of NRAGE or any other member of the noncanonical signaling cascaded is sufficient to block p38 activation and thus the proapoptotic signals generated through BMP exposure. The function of NRAGE is independent of Smad signaling, but the introduction of a dominant-negative Smad5 also rescues neural progenitor apoptosis, suggesting that both canonical and noncanonical pathways can converge and regulate BMP-mediated apoptosis. Collectively, these results establish NRAGE as an integral component in BMP signaling and clarify its role during neural progenitor development.
PMCID: PMC1190310  PMID: 16107717
6.  Cellular Host Responses to Gliomas 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35150.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive type of malignant primary brain tumors in adults. Molecular and genetic analysis has advanced our understanding of glioma biology, however mapping the cellular composition of the tumor microenvironment is crucial for understanding the pathology of this dreaded brain cancer. In this study we identified major cell populations attracted by glioma using orthotopic rodent models of human glioma xenografts. Marker-specific, anatomical and morphological analyses revealed a robust influx of host cells into the main tumor bed and tumor satellites.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Human glioma cell lines and glioma spheroid orthotopic implants were used in rodents. In both models, the xenografts recruited large numbers of host nestin-expressing cells, which formed a ‘network’ with glioma. The host nestin-expressing cells appeared to originate in the subventricular zone ipsilateral to the tumor, and were clearly distinguishable from pericytes that expressed smooth muscle actin. These distinct cell populations established close physical contact in a ‘pair-wise’ manner and migrated together to the deeper layers of tumor satellites and gave rise to tumor vasculature. The GBM biopsy xenografts displayed two different phenotypes: (a) low-generation tumors (first in vivo passage in rats) were highly invasive and non-angiogenic, and host nestin-positive cells that infiltrated into these tumors displayed astrocytic or elongated bipolar morphology; (b) high-generation xenografts (fifth passage) had pronounced cellularity, were angiogenic with ‘glomerulus-like’ microvascular proliferations that contained host nestin-positive cells. Stromal cell-derived factor-1 and its receptor CXCR4 were highly expressed in and around glioma xenografts, suggesting their role in glioma progression and invasion.
Our data demonstrate a robust migration of nestin-expressing host cells to glioma, which together with pericytes give rise to tumor vasculature. Mapping the cellular composition of glioma microenvironment and deciphering the complex ‘crosstalk’ between tumor and host may ultimately aid the development of novel anti-glioma therapies.
PMCID: PMC3335155  PMID: 22539956

Results 1-6 (6)