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1.  Induction of Tumor Cell Apoptosis by a Proteasome Deubiquitinase Inhibitor Is Associated with Oxidative Stress 
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling  2014;21(17):2271-2285.
Aims: b-AP15 is a recently described inhibitor of the USP14/UCHL5 deubiquitinases (DUBs) of the 19S proteasome. Exposure to b-AP15 results in blocking of proteasome function and accumulation of polyubiquitinated protein substrates in cells. This novel mechanism of proteasome inhibition may potentially be exploited for cancer therapy, in particular for treatment of malignancies resistant to currently used proteasome inhibitors. The aim of the present study was to characterize the cellular response to b-AP15-mediated proteasome DUB inhibition. Results: We report that b-AP15 elicits a similar, but yet distinct, cellular response as the clinically used proteasome inhibitor bortezomib. b-AP15 induces a rapid apoptotic response, associated with enhanced induction of oxidative stress and rapid activation of Jun-N-terminal kinase 1/2 (JNK)/activating protein-1 signaling. Scavenging of reactive oxygen species and pharmacological inhibition of JNK reduced b-AP15-induced apoptosis. We further report that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is induced by b-AP15 and is involved in apoptosis induction. In contrast to bortezomib, ER stress is associated with induction of α-subunit of eukaryotic initiation factor 2 phosphorylation. Innovation: The findings establish that different modes of proteasome inhibition result in distinct cellular responses, a finding of potential therapeutic importance. Conclusion: Our data show that enhanced oxidative stress and ER stress are major determinants of the strong apoptotic response elicited by the 19S DUB inhibitor b-AP15. Antioxid. Redox Signal. 21, 2271–2285.
PMCID: PMC4241954  PMID: 24011031
2.  Elevation of Proteasomal Substrate Levels Sensitizes Cells to Apoptosis Induced by Inhibition of Proteasomal Deubiquitinases 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e108839.
Inhibitors of the catalytic activity of the 20S proteasome are cytotoxic to tumor cells and are currently in clinical use for treatment of multiple myeloma, whilst the deubiquitinase activity associated with the 19S regulatory subunit of the proteasome is also a valid target for anti-cancer drugs. The mechanisms underlying the therapeutic efficacy of these drugs and their selective toxicity towards cancer cells are not known. Here, we show that increasing the cellular levels of proteasome substrates using an inhibitor of Sec61-mediated protein translocation significantly increases the extent of apoptosis that is induced by inhibition of proteasomal deubiquitinase activity in both cancer derived and non-transformed cell lines. Our results suggest that increased generation of misfolded proteasome substrates may contribute to the mechanism(s) underlying the increased sensitivity of tumor cells to inhibitors of the ubiquitin-proteasome system.
PMCID: PMC4186810  PMID: 25286379
3.  Acidic extracellular pH neutralizes the autophagy-inhibiting activity of chloroquine: implications for cancer therapies 
Autophagy  2014;10(4):562-571.
Acidic pH is an important feature of tumor microenvironment and a major determinant of tumor progression. We reported that cancer cells upregulate autophagy as a survival mechanism to acidic stress. Inhibition of autophagy by administration of chloroquine (CQ) in combination anticancer therapies is currently evaluated in clinical trials. We observed in 3 different human cancer cell lines cultured at acidic pH that autophagic flux is not blocked by CQ. This was consistent with a complete resistance to CQ toxicity in cells cultured in acidic conditions. Conversely, the autophagy-inhibiting activity of Lys-01, a novel CQ derivative, was still detectable at low pH. The lack of CQ activity was likely dependent on a dramatically reduced cellular uptake at acidic pH. Using cell lines stably adapted to chronic acidosis we could confirm that CQ lack of activity was merely caused by acidic pH. Moreover, unlike CQ, Lys-01 was able to kill low pH-adapted cell lines, although higher concentrations were required as compared to cells cultured at normal pH conditions. Notably, buffering medium pH in low pH-adapted cell lines reverted CQ resistance. In vivo analysis of tumors treated with CQ showed that accumulation of strong LC3 signals was observed only in normoxic areas but not in hypoxic/acidic regions. Our observations suggest that targeting autophagy in the tumor environment by CQ may be limited to well-perfused regions but not achieved in acidic regions, predicting possible limitations in efficacy of CQ in antitumor therapies.
PMCID: PMC3984580  PMID: 24492472
autophagy; chloroquine; tumor acidosis; cancer therapy; pH
4.  Label-free detection and dynamic monitoring of drug-induced intracellular vesicle formation enabled using a two-dimensional matched filter 
Autophagy  2013;10(1):10.4161/auto.26678.
Analysis of vesicle formation and degradation is a central issue in autophagy research and microscopy imaging is revolutionizing the study of such dynamic events inside living cells. A limiting factor is the need for labeling techniques that are labor intensive, expensive and not always completely reliable. To enable label-free analyses we introduce a generic computational algorithm, the label-free vesicle detector (LFVD), which relies on a matched filter designed to identify circular vesicles within cells using only phase-contrast microscopy images. First, the usefulness of the LFVD is illustrated by presenting successful detections of autophagy modulating drugs found by analyzing the human colorectal carcinoma cell line HCT116 exposed to each substance among 1266 pharmacologically active compounds. Some top hits were characterized with respect to their activity as autophagy modulators using independent in vitro labeling of acidic organelles, detection of LC3-II protein and analysis of the autophagic flux. Selected detection results for two additional cell lines (DLD1 and RKO) demonstrate the generality of the method. In a second experiment, label-free monitoring of dose-dependent vesicle formation kinetics is demonstrated by recorded detection of vesicles over time at different drug concentrations. In conclusion, label-free detection and dynamic monitoring of vesicle formation during autophagy is enabled using the LFVD approach introduced.
PMCID: PMC3872480  PMID: 24169509
phase-contrast microscopy; automated microscopy; vesicle detection; autophagy; image processing
5.  Screening for phenotype selective activity in multidrug resistant cells identifies a novel tubulin active agent insensitive to common forms of cancer drug resistance 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:374.
Drug resistance is a common cause of treatment failure in cancer patients and encompasses a multitude of different mechanisms. The aim of the present study was to identify drugs effective on multidrug resistant cells.
The RPMI 8226 myeloma cell line and its multidrug resistant subline 8226/Dox40 was screened for cytotoxicity in response to 3,000 chemically diverse compounds using a fluorometric cytotoxicity assay (FMCA). Follow-up profiling was subsequently performed using various cellular and biochemical assays.
One compound, designated VLX40, demonstrated a higher activity against 8226/Dox40 cells compared to its parental counterpart. VLX40 induced delayed cell death with apoptotic features. Mechanistic exploration was performed using gene expression analysis of drug exposed tumor cells to generate a drug-specific signature. Strong connections to tubulin inhibitors and microtubule cytoskeleton were retrieved. The mechanistic hypothesis of VLX40 acting as a tubulin inhibitor was confirmed by direct measurements of interaction with tubulin polymerization using a biochemical assay and supported by demonstration of G2/M cell cycle arrest. When tested against a broad panel of primary cultures of patient tumor cells (PCPTC) representing different forms of leukemia and solid tumors, VLX40 displayed high activity against both myeloid and lymphoid leukemias in contrast to the reference compound vincristine to which myeloid blast cells are often insensitive. Significant in vivo activity was confirmed in myeloid U-937 cells implanted subcutaneously in mice using the hollow fiber model.
The results indicate that VLX40 may be a useful prototype for development of novel tubulin active agents that are insensitive to common mechanisms of cancer drug resistance.
PMCID: PMC3751689  PMID: 23919498
Screening; Myeloma cell lines; Primary cultures; Drug resistance; Tubulin inhibition
6.  Combining [11C]-AnxA5 PET Imaging with Serum Biomarkers for Improved Detection in Live Mice of Modest Cell Death in Human Solid Tumor Xenografts 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42151.
In vivo imaging using Annexin A5-based radioligands is a powerful technique for visualizing massive cell death, but has been less successful in monitoring the modest cell death typically seen in solid tumors after chemotherapy. Here we combined dynamic positron emission tomography (PET) imaging using Annexin A5 with a serum-based apoptosis marker, for improved sensitivity and specificity in assessment of chemotherapy-induced cell death in a solid tumor model.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Modest cell death was induced by doxorubicin in a mouse xenograft model with human FaDu head and neck cancer cells. PET imaging was based on 11C-labeled Sel-tagged Annexin A5 ([11C]-AnxA5-ST) and a size-matched control. 2-deoxy-2-[18F]fluoro-D-glucose ([18F]-FDG) was utilized as a tracer of tissue metabolism. Serum biomarkers for cell death were ccK18 and K18 (M30 Apoptosense® and M65). Apoptosis in tissue sections was verified ex vivo for validation. Both PET imaging using [11C]-AnxA5-ST and serum ccK18/K18 levels revealed treatment-induced cell death, with ccK18 displaying the highest detection sensitivity. [18F]-FDG uptake was not affected by this treatment in this tumor model. [11C]-AnxA5-ST gave robust imaging readouts at one hour and its short half-life made it possible to perform paired scans in the same animal in one imaging session.
The combined use of dynamic PET with [11C]-AnxA5-ST, showing specific increases in tumor binding potential upon therapy, with ccK18/K18 serum measurements, as highly sensitive markers for cell death, enabled effective assessment of modest therapy-induced cell death in this mouse xenograft model of solid human tumors.
PMCID: PMC3411630  PMID: 22870292
7.  Inhibition of protein translocation at the endoplasmic reticulum promotes activation of the unfolded protein response 
Biochemical Journal  2012;442(Pt 3):639-648.
Selective small-molecule inhibitors represent powerful tools for the dissection of complex biological processes. ESI (eeyarestatin I) is a novel modulator of ER (endoplasmic reticulum) function. In the present study, we show that in addition to acutely inhibiting ERAD (ER-associated degradation), ESI causes production of mislocalized polypeptides that are ubiquitinated and degraded. Unexpectedly, our results suggest that these non-translocated polypeptides promote activation of the UPR (unfolded protein response), and indeed we can recapitulate UPR activation with an alternative and quite distinct inhibitor of ER translocation. These results suggest that the accumulation of non-translocated proteins in the cytosol may represent a novel mechanism that contributes to UPR activation.
PMCID: PMC3286858  PMID: 22145777
eeyarestatin; endoplasmic reticulum; non-translocated protein; Sec61; unfolded protein response; CHX, cycloheximide; cpd A, translocation inhibitor compound A; DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; DTT, dithiothreitol; eIF2α, eukaryotic initiation factor 2α; EndoH, endoglycosidase H; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; EDEM-1, ER degradation-enhancing α-mannosidase-like 1; ERAD, ER-associated degradation; ES, eeyarestatin; HEK, human embryonic kidney; IP, immunoprecipitation; IRE1, inositol-requiring enzyme 1; PDI, protein disulfide-isomerase; PERK, PKR (double-stranded-RNA-dependent protein kinase)-like ER kinase; PS2, proteasome inhibitor 2; RT, reverse transcription; TCRα, T-cell receptor α subunit; UPR, unfolded protein response; UPS, ubiquitin–proteasome system; XBP1, X-box-binding protein 1
8.  Identification of a Novel Topoisomerase Inhibitor Effective in Cells Overexpressing Drug Efflux Transporters 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(10):e7238.
Natural product structures have high chemical diversity and are attractive as lead structures for discovery of new drugs. One of the disease areas where natural products are most frequently used as therapeutics is oncology.
Method and Findings
A library of natural products (NCI Natural Product set) was screened for compounds that induce apoptosis of HCT116 colon carcinoma cells using an assay that measures an endogenous caspase-cleavage product. One of the apoptosis-inducing compounds identified in the screen was thaspine (taspine), an alkaloid from the South American tree Croton lechleri. The cortex of this tree is used for medicinal purposes by tribes in the Amazonas basin. Thaspine was found to induce conformational activation of the pro-apoptotic proteins Bak and Bax, mitochondrial cytochrome c release and mitochondrial membrane permeabilization in HCT116 cells. Analysis of the gene expression signature of thaspine-treated cells suggested that thaspine is a topoisomerase inhibitor. Inhibition of both topoisomerase I and II was observed using in vitro assays, and thaspine was found to have a reduced cytotoxic effect on a cell line with a mutated topoisomerase II enzyme. Interestingly, in contrast to the topoisomerase II inhibitors doxorubicin, etoposide and mitoxantrone, thaspine was cytotoxic to cell lines overexpressing the PgP or MRP drug efflux transporters. We finally show that thaspine induces wide-spread apoptosis in colon carcinoma multicellular spheroids and that apoptosis is induced in two xenograft mouse models in vivo.
The alkaloid thaspine from the cortex of Croton lechleri is a dual topoisomerase inhibitor effective in cells overexpressing drug efflux transporters and induces wide-spread apoptosis in multicellular spheroids.
PMCID: PMC2749935  PMID: 19798419
9.  Conditional drug screening shows that mitotic inhibitors induce AKT/PKB-insensitive apoptosis 
Journal of Chemical Biology  2009;2(2):81-87.
The phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT pathway is frequently upregulated in human cancer. Activation of this pathway has been reported to be associated with resistance to various chemotherapeutical agents. We here used a chemical biology/chemical informatic approach to identify apoptotic mechanisms that are insensitive to activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Mechanistic Set drug library was screened for agents that induce apoptosis in colon carcinoma cells expressing a constitutively active form of AKT1. The cytotoxicity screening data available as self-organized maps at the Developmental Therapeutics Program (DTP) of the NCI was then used to classify the identified compounds according to mechanism of action. The results showed that drugs that interfere with the mitotic process induce apoptosis which is comparatively insensitive to constitutive AKT1 activity. The conditional screening approach described here is expected to be useful for identifying relationships between the state of activation of signaling pathways and sensitivity to anticancer agents.
PMCID: PMC2701489  PMID: 19568785
Chemical biology; Apoptosis; AKT; Microtubuli-interacting agents
10.  Charting calcium-regulated apoptosis pathways using chemical biology: role of calmodulin kinase II 
Intracellular free calcium ([Ca2+]i) is a key element in apoptotic signaling and a number of calcium-dependent apoptosis pathways have been described. We here used a chemical biology strategy to elucidate the relative importance of such different pathways.
A set of 40 agents ("bioprobes") that induce apoptosis was first identified by screening of a chemical library. Using p53, AP-1, NFAT and NF-κB reporter cell lines, these bioprobes were verified to induce different patterns of signaling. Experiments using the calcium chelator BAPTA-AM showed that Ca2+ was involved in induction of apoptosis by the majority of the bioprobes and that Ca2+ was in general required several hours into the apoptosis process. Further studies showed that the calmodulin pathway was an important mediator of the apoptotic response. Inhibition of calmodulin kinase II (CaMKII) resulted in more effective inhibition of apoptosis compared to inhibition of calpain, calcineurin/PP2B or DAP kinase. We used one of the bioprobes, the plant alkaloid helenalin, to study the role of CaMKII in apoptosis. Helenalin induced CaMKII, ASK1 and Jun-N-terminal kinase (JNK) activity, and inhibition of these kinases inhibited apoptosis.
Our study shows that calcium signaling is generally not an early event during the apoptosis process and suggests that a CaMKII/ASK1 signaling mechanism is important for sustained JNK activation and apoptosis by some types of stimuli.
PMCID: PMC2518916  PMID: 18673549
11.  Loss of Cell Membrane Integrity in Puumala Hantavirus-Infected Patients Correlates with Levels of Epithelial Cell Apoptosis and Perforin 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(16):8279-8282.
Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are two diseases caused by hantaviruses. Capillary leakage is a hallmark of hantavirus infection. Pathogenic hantaviruses are not cytotoxic, but elevated levels of serum lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), indicative of cellular damage, are observed in patients. We report increased levels of serum perforin, granzyme B, and the epithelial cell apoptosis marker caspase-cleaved cytokeratin-18 during Puumala hantavirus infection. Significant correlation was observed between the levels of LDH and perforin and the levels of LDH and caspase-cleaved cytokeratin-18, suggesting that tissue damage is due to an immune reaction and that epithelial apoptosis contributed significantly to the damage.
PMCID: PMC1563790  PMID: 16873286
12.  Is translational research compatible with preclinical publication strategies? 
The term "translational research" is used to describe the transfer of basic biological knowledge into practical medicine, a process necessary for motivation of public spending. In the area of cancer therapeutics, it is becoming increasingly evident that results obtained in vitro and in animal models are difficult to translate into clinical medicine. We here argue that a number of factors contribute to making the translation process inefficient. These factors include the use of sensitive cell lines and fast growing experimental tumors as targets for novel therapies, and the use of unrealistic drug concentrations and radiation doses. We also argue that aggressive interpretation of data, successful in hypothesis-building biological research, does not form a solid base for development of clinically useful treatment modalities. We question whether "clean" results obtained in simplified models, expected for publication in high-impact journals, represent solid foundations for improved treatment of patients. Open-access journals such as Radiation Oncology have a large mission to fulfill by publishing relevant data to be used for making actual progress in translational cancer research.
PMCID: PMC1459183  PMID: 16722592
13.  Calpain-Mediated Bid Cleavage and Calpain-Independent Bak Modulation: Two Separate Pathways in Cisplatin-Induced Apoptosis 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2002;22(9):3003-3013.
Calpain is a ubiquitous protease with potential involvement in apoptosis. We report that in human melanoma cells, cisplatin-induced calpain activation occurs early in apoptosis. Calpain activation and subsequent apoptosis were inhibited by calpeptin and PD150606, two calpain inhibitors with different modes of action. Furthermore, cisplatin induced cleavage of the BH3-only protein Bid, yielding a 14-kDa fragment similar to proapoptotic, caspase-cleaved Bid. However, Bid cleavage was inhibited by inhibitors of calpain, but not by inhibitors of caspases or of cathepsin L. Recombinant Bid was cleaved in vitro by both recombinant calpain and by lysates of cisplatin-treated cells. Cleavage was calpeptin sensitive, and the cleavage site was mapped between Gly70 and Arg71. Calpain-cleaved Bid induced cytochrome c release from isolated mitochondria. While calpeptin did not affect cisplatin-induced modulation of Bak to its proapoptotic conformation, a dominant-negative mutant of MEKK1 (dnMEKK) inhibited Bak modulation. dnMEKK did not, however, block Bid cleavage. The combination of dnMEKK and calpeptin had an additive inhibitory effect on apoptosis. In summary, calpain-mediated Bid cleavage is important in drug-induced apoptosis, and cisplatin induces at least two separate apoptotic signaling pathways resulting in Bid cleavage and Bak modulation, respectively.
PMCID: PMC133754  PMID: 11940658
14.  Cisplatin Induces the Proapoptotic Conformation of Bak in a ΔMEKK1-Dependent Manner 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(11):3684-3691.
In a panel of four human melanoma cell lines, equitoxic doses of cisplatin induced the proapoptotic conformation of the Bcl-2 family protein Bak prior to the execution phase of apoptosis. Because cisplatin-induced modulation of the related Bax protein was seen in only one cell line, a degree of specificity in the signal to Bak is indicated. Little is known about upstream regulation of Bak activity. In this study, we examined whether the apoptosis-specific pathway mediated by a kinase fragment of MEKK1 (ΔMEKK1) is involved in the observed Bak modulation. We report that expression of a kinase-inactive fragment of MEKK1 (dominant negative MEKK [dnMEKK]) efficiently blocked cisplatin-induced modulation of Bak and cytochrome c release and consequently also reduced DEVDase activation and nuclear fragmentation. Accordingly, expression of a kinase-active MEKK1 fragment (dominant positive MEKK) was sufficient to induce modulation of Bak in three cell lines and to induce apoptosis in two of these. dnMEKK did not block cisplatin-induced c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) activation, in agreement with a specifically proapoptotic role for the ΔMEKK1 pathway. Finally, we show that reduction of Bak expression by antisense Bak reduced cisplatin-induced loss of mitochondrial integrity and caspase cleavage activity in breast cancer cell lines. In summary, we have identified Bak as a cisplatin-regulated component downstream in a proapoptotic, JNK-independent ΔMEKK1 pathway.
PMCID: PMC86999  PMID: 11340162
15.  Two Novel Adenovirus Vector Systems Permitting Regulated Protein Expression in Gene Transfer Experiments 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(10):8358-8361.
Two new adenovirus vector systems based on the tetracycline-regulated Tet-ON- (Gossen, M., et al., Science 268:1766–1769, 1995) and the RU 486-regulated progesterone antagonist (Wang, Y., et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91:8180–8184, 1994)-induced gene expression systems are described. We show that both systems permit a tight control of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase reporter gene expression in a variety of cell types, with induction levels of approximately 1,800-fold (Tet-ON system) and 600-fold (RU 486-regulated system), respectively. A significant advantage of our vector systems is that reporter protein expression can be adjusted over a wide range by varying the amount of inducer. The Tet-ON system is also shown to permit an efficient control of reporter gene expression in mice.
PMCID: PMC110212  PMID: 9733884
16.  Induction of mitochondrial dysfunction as a strategy for targeting tumour cells in metabolically compromised microenvironments 
Nature Communications  2014;5:3295.
Abnormal vascularization of solid tumours results in the development of microenvironments deprived of oxygen and nutrients that harbour slowly growing and metabolically stressed cells. Such cells display enhanced resistance to standard chemotherapeutic agents and repopulate tumours after therapy. Here we identify the small molecule VLX600 as a drug that is preferentially active against quiescent cells in colon cancer 3-D microtissues. The anticancer activity is associated with reduced mitochondrial respiration, leading to bioenergetic catastrophe and tumour cell death. VLX600 shows enhanced cytotoxic activity under conditions of nutrient starvation. Importantly, VLX600 displays tumour growth inhibition in vivo. Our findings suggest that tumour cells in metabolically compromised microenvironments have a limited ability to respond to decreased mitochondrial function, and suggest a strategy for targeting the quiescent populations of tumour cells for improved cancer treatment.
Quiescent sub-populations of cells in tumours are resistant to traditional chemotherapeutics and are responsible for tumour recurrence. Here, Zhang et al. identify a compound that kills quiescent tumour cells in solid tumour tissue by inducing mitochondrial dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC3929804  PMID: 24548894

Results 1-16 (16)