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Cancer Research

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Cancer Research


Significant advances have been made in the identification of key molecular pathways that play pivotal roles in the initiation and progression of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Among the common genetic and epigenetic changes, oncogenic mutations in Kras and upregulation of the c-Myc oncogene are frequent events in PDAC. Using genetically defined in vivo models, several studies have recently demonstrated that expression of mutant Kras and c-Myc is equally important for the initiation and maintenance of pancreatic cancer. The targeted downregulation of a single oncogene resulted in cancer cell death at primary and metastatic sites. These findings are very encouraging and provide a strong rationale for the development of targeted therapies against these oncogenic drivers. Despite what seemed to be a complete response to the ablation of the oncogene, a few dormant cancer cells remained present, and it was demonstrated that they are a cellular reservoir for a swift relapse of pancreatic cancer following oncogene reactivation. This review summarizes the basic principles of cancer dormancy and the applicability of the novel genetic models for reversible metastatic PDAC to elucidate the role of cancer stem cells as well as biologic and molecular mechanisms that mediate the survival of dormant tumor cells. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2138–43. ©2014 AACR.

STAT3 promotes the survival, proliferation, metastasis, immune escape, and drug resistance of cancer cells, making its targeting an appealing prospect. However, although multiple inhibitors of STAT3 and its regulatory or effector pathway elements have been developed, bioactive agents have been somewhat elusive. In this report, we report the identification of a specific STAT3-binding peptide (APTSTAT3) through phage display of a novel “aptide” library. APTSTAT3 bound STAT3 with high specificity and affinity (∼231 nmol/L). Addition of a cell-penetrating motif to the peptide to yield APTSTAT3-9R enabled uptake by murine B16F1 melanoma cells. Treatment of various types of cancer cells with APTSTAT3-9R blocked STAT3 phosphorylation and reduced expression of STAT targets, including cyclin D1, Bcl-xL, and survivin. As a result, APTSTAT3-9R suppressed the viability and proliferation of cancer cells. Furthermore, intratumoral injection of APTSTAT3-9R exerted potent antitumor activity in both xenograft and allograft tumor models. Our results offer a preclinical proof-of-concept for APTSTAT3 as a tractable agent for translation to target the broad array of cancers harboring constitutively activated STAT3. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2144–51. ©2014 AACR.

Blood tests to detect circulating tumor cells (CTC) offer great potential to monitor disease status, gauge prognosis, and guide treatment decisions for patients with cancer. For patients with brain tumors, such as aggressive glioblastoma multiforme, CTC assays are needed that do not rely on expression of cancer cell surface biomarkers like epithelial cell adhesion molecules that brain tumors tend to lack. Here, we describe a strategy to detect CTC based on telomerase activity, which is elevated in nearly all tumor cells but not normal cells. This strategy uses an adenoviral detection system that is shown to successfully detect CTC in patients with brain tumors. Clinical data suggest that this assay might assist interpretation of treatment response in patients receiving radiotherapy, for example, to differentiate pseudoprogression from true tumor progression. These results support further development of this assay as a generalized method to detect CTC in patients with cancer. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2152–9. ©2014 AACR.

The ability to consistently detect cell-free tumor-specific DNA in peripheral blood of patients with metastatic breast cancer provides the opportunity to detect changes in tumor burden and to monitor response to treatment. We developed cMethDNA, a quantitative multiplexed methylation-specific PCR assay for a panel of ten genes, consisting of novel and known breast cancer hypermethylated markers identified by mining our previously reported study of DNA methylation patterns in breast tissue (103 cancer, 21 normal on the Illumina HumanMethylation27 Beadchip) and then validating the 10-gene panel in The Cancer Genome Atlas project breast cancer methylome database. For cMethDNA, a fixed physiologic level (50 copies) of artificially constructed, standard nonhuman reference DNA specific for each gene is introduced in a constant volume of serum (300 μL) before purification of the DNA, facilitating a sensitive, specific, robust, and quantitative assay of tumor DNA, with broad dynamic range. Cancer-specific methylated DNA was detected in training (28 normal, 24 cancer) and test (27 normal, 33 cancer) sets of recurrent stage IV patient sera with a sensitivity of 91% and a specificity of 96% in the test set. In a pilot study, cMethDNA assay faithfully reflected patient response to chemotherapy (N = 29). A core methylation signature present in the primary breast cancer was retained in serum and metastatic tissues collected at autopsy two to 11 years after diagnosis of the disease. Together, our data suggest that the cMethDNA assay can detect advanced breast cancer, and monitor tumor burden and treatment response in women with metastatic breast cancer. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2160–70. ©2014 AACR.

Recent advances in cancer immunotherapy suggest that manipulation of the immune system to enhance the antitumor response may be a highly effective treatment modality. One understudied aspect of immunosurveillance is antiangiogenic surveillance, the regulation of tumor angiogenesis by the immune system, independent of tumor cell lysis. CD4+ T cells can negatively regulate angiogenesis by secreting antiangiogenic factors such as thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1). In tumor-bearing mice, we show that a Th1-directed viral infection that triggers upregulation of TSP-1 in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells can inhibit tumor angiogenesis and suppress tumor growth. Using bone marrow chimeras and adoptive T-cell transfers, we demonstrated that TSP-1 expression in the T-cell compartment was necessary and sufficient to inhibit tumor growth by suppressing tumor angiogenesis after the viral infection. Our results establish that tumorigenesis can be stanched by antiangiogenic surveillance triggered by an acute viral infection, suggesting novel immunologic approaches to achieve antiangiogenic therapy. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2171–81. ©2014 AACR.

Macrophages are sentinel immune cells that survey the tissue microenvironment, releasing cytokines in response to both exogenous insults and endogenous events such as tumorigenesis. Macrophages mediate tumor surveillance and therapy-induced tumor regression; however, tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) and their products may also promote tumor progression. Whereas NF-κB is prominent in macrophage-initiated inflammatory responses, little is known about the role of p53 in macrophage responses to environmental challenge, including chemotherapy or in TAMs. Here, we report that NF-κB and p53, which generally have opposing effects in cancer cells, coregulate induction of proinflammatory genes in primary human monocytes and macrophages. Using Nutlin-3 as a tool, we demonstrate that p53 and NF-κB rapidly and highly induce interleukin (IL)-6 by binding to its promoter. Transcriptome analysis revealed global p53/NF-κB co-regulation of immune response genes, including several chemokines, which effectively induced human neutrophil migration. In addition, we show that p53, activated by tumor cell paracrine factors, induces high basal levels of macrophage IL-6 in a TAM model system [tumor-conditioned macrophages (TCM)]. Compared with normal macrophages, TCMs exhibited higher p53 levels, enhanced p53 binding to the IL-6 promoter, and reduced IL-6 levels upon p53 inhibition. Taken together, we describe a mechanism by which human macrophages integrate signals through p53 and NF-κB to drive proinflammatory cytokine induction. Our results implicate a novel role for macrophage p53 in conditioning the tumor microenvironment and suggest a potential mechanism by which p53-activating chemotherapeutics, acting upon p53-sufficient macrophages and precursor monocytes, may indirectly impact tumors lacking functional p53. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2182–92. ©2014 AACR.

The immunoreceptor NKG2D originally identified in natural killer (NK) cells recognizes ligands that are upregulated on tumor cells. Expression of NKG2D ligands (NKG2DL) is induced by the DNA damage response (DDR), which is often activated constitutively in cancer cells, revealing them to NK cells as a mechanism of immunosurveillance. Here, we report that the induction of retinoic acid early transcript 1 (RAE1) ligands for NKG2D by the DDR relies on a STING-dependent DNA sensor pathway involving the effector molecules TBK1 and IRF3. Cytosolic DNA was detected in lymphoma cell lines that express RAE1 and its occurrence required activation of the DDR. Transfection of DNA into ligand-negative cells was sufficient to induce RAE1 expression. Irf3+/−;Eμ-Myc mice expressed lower levels of RAE1 on tumor cells and showed a reduced survival rate compared with Irf3+/+;Eμ-Myc mice. Taken together, our results suggest that genomic damage in tumor cells leads to activation of STING-dependent DNA sensor pathways, thereby activating RAE1 and enabling tumor immunosurveillance. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2193–203. ©2014 AACR.

CD4+ T cells influence tumor immunity in complex ways that are not fully understood. In this study, we characterized a population of human differentiated effector CD4+ T cells that is defined by low levels of the interleukin (IL)-2 and IL-7 receptors (CD25−CD127−). We found that this cell population expands in patients with various types of cancer, including breast cancer, to represent 2% to 20% of total CD4+ blood T lymphocytes as compared with only 0.2% to 2% in healthy individuals. Notably, these CD25−CD127−CD4 T cells expressed effector markers such as CD244 and CD11b with low levels of CD27, contrasting with the memory phenotype dominating this population in healthy individuals. These cells did not cycle in patients, nor did they secrete IL-10 or IL-17, but instead displayed cytotoxic features. Moreover, they encompassed oligoclonal expansions paralleling an expansion of effector CD8+ T cells that included tumor antigen–specific T cells. During neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer, we found that the increase in CD25−CD127− CD4+ T cells correlated with tumor regression. This observation suggested that CD4+ T cells included tumor antigen–specific cells, which may be generated by or participate in tumor regressions during chemotherapy. In summary, our results lend support to the hypothesis that CD4+ T cells are involved in human antitumor responses. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2204–16. ©2014 AACR.

Inhibition of mTOR signaling enhances antitumor memory lymphocytes. However, pharmacologic mTOR inhibition also enhances regulatory T-cell (Treg) activity. To counter this effect, Treg control was added to mTOR inhibition in preclinical models. Tregs were controlled with CD4-depleting antibodies because CD4 depletion has high translational potential and already has a well-established safety profile in patients. The antitumor activity of the combination therapy was CD8 dependent and controlled growth of syngeneic tumors even when an adoptive immunotherapy was not used. Lymphocytes resulting from the combination therapy could be transferred into naïve mice to inhibit aggressive growth of lung metastases. The combination therapy enhanced CD8 memory formation as determined by memory markers and functional studies of immune recall. Removal of FoxP3-expressing T lymphocytes was the mechanism underlying immunologic memory formation following CD4 depletion. This was confirmed using transgenic DEREG (depletion of regulatory T cells) mice to specifically remove Foxp3+ T cells. It was further confirmed with reciprocal studies where stimulation of immunologic memory because of CD4 depletion was completely neutralized by adoptively transferring tumor-specific Foxp3+ T cells. Also contributing to tumor control, Tregs that eventually recovered following CD4 depletion were less immunosuppressive. These results provide a rationale for further study of mTOR inhibition and CD4 depletion in patients. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2217–28. ©2014 AACR.

Autocrine motility factor (AMF) enhances invasion by breast cancer cells, but how its secretion and effector signaling are controlled in the tumor microenvironment is not fully understood. In this study, we investigated these issues with a chimeric AMF that is secreted at high levels through a canonical endoplasmic reticulum (ER)/Golgi pathway. Using this tool, we found that AMF enhances tumor cell motility by activating AKT/ERK, altering actin organization, and stimulating β-catenin/TCF and activating protein 1 transcription. EGF enhanced secretion of AMF through its casein kinase II–mediated phosphorylation. RNA interference–mediated attenuation of AMF expression inhibited EGF-induced invasion by suppressing extracellular signal–regulated kinase signaling. Conversely, exogenous AMF overcame the inhibitory effect of EGF receptor inhibitor gefitinib on invasive motility by activating HER2 signaling. Taken together, our findings show how AMF modulates EGF-induced invasion while affecting acquired resistance to cytotoxic drugs in the tumor microenvironment. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2229–37. ©2014 AACR.

Treatment with RAF inhibitors such as vemurafenib causes the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (cSCC) or keratoacanthomas as a side effect in 18% to 30% of patients. It is known that RAF inhibitors activate the mitogen—activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway and stimulate growth of RAS-mutated cells, possibly accounting for up to 60% of cSCC or keratoacanthoma lesions with RAS mutations, but other contributing events are obscure. To identify such events, we evaluated tumors from patients treated with vemurafenib for the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA and identified 13% to be positive. Using a transgenic murine model of HPV-driven cSCC (K14-HPV16 mice), we conducted a functional test to determine whether administration of RAF inhibitors could promote cSCC in HPV-infected tissues. Vemurafenib treatment elevated MAPK markers and increased cSCC incidence from 22% to 70% in this model. Furthermore, 55% of the cSCCs arising in vemurafenib-treated mice exhibited a wild-type Ras genotype, consistent with the frequency observed in human patients. Our results argue that HPV cooperates with vemurafenib to promote tumorigenesis, in either the presence or absence of RAS mutations. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2238–45. ©2014 AACR.

The genotoxin cisplatin is commonly used in chemotherapy to treat solid tumors, yet our understanding of the mechanism underlying the drug response is limited. In a focused siRNA screen, using an siRNA library targeting genes involved in ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like signaling, we identified the E3 ubiquitin ligase HOIP as a key regulator of cisplatin-induced genotoxicity. HOIP forms, with SHARPIN and HOIL-1L, the linear ubiquitin assembly complex (LUBAC). We show that cells deficient in the HOIP ligase complex exhibit hypersensitivity to cisplatin. This is due to a dramatic increase in caspase-8/caspase-3–mediated apoptosis that is strictly dependent on ATM-, but not ATR-mediated DNA damage checkpoint activation. Moreover, basal and cisplatin-induced activity of the stress response kinase JNK is enhanced in HOIP-depleted cells and, conversely, JNK inhibition can increase cellular resistance to cisplatin and reverse the apoptotic hyperactivation in HOIP-depleted cells. Furthermore, we show that HOIP depletion sensitizes cancer cells, derived from carcinomas of various origins, through an enhanced apoptotic cell death response. We also provide evidence that ovarian cancer cells classified as cisplatin-resistant can regain sensitivity following HOIP downregulation. Cumulatively, our study identifies a HOIP-regulated antiapoptotic signaling pathway, and we envisage HOIP as a potential target for the development of combinatorial chemotherapies to potentiate the efficacy of platinum-based anticancer drugs. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2246–57. ©2014 AACR.

Overexpression or amplification of the RSF1 gene has been associated with poor prognosis in various human cancers, including ovarian cancer. In previous work, RSF1 was identified as an amplified gene that facilitated the development of paclitaxel-resistant ovarian cancer. In the present study, we further demonstrated that RSF1 expression inversely correlated with paclitaxel response in patients with ovarian cancer and the mouse xenograft model. In addition, RSF1-overexpressing paclitaxel-resistant ovarian cancer cell lines were found to express elevated levels of genes regulated by NF-κB, including some involved with the evasion of apoptosis (CFLAR, XIAP, BCL2, and BCL2L1) and inflammation (PTGS2). In addition, ectopic expression of RSF1 using Tet-off inducible SKOV3 cells significantly enhanced NF-κB–dependent gene expression and transcriptional activation of NF-κB. An RSF1 knockdown using short hairpin RNAs suppressed these same pathways. Moreover, pretreatment with NF-κB inhibitors or downregulation of NF-κB–regulated gene expression considerably enhanced paclitaxel sensitivity in RSF1-overexpressing OVCAR3 and/or RSF1-induced SKOV3 cells. A coimmunoprecipitation assay revealed that RSF1 interacts with NF-κB and CREB-binding protein, a ubiquitous coactivator for NF-κB. Recruitment of RSF1 to the NF-κB binding element in the PTGS2 and XIAP promoters was demonstrated by the chromatin immunoprecipitation assay. Furthermore, hSNF2H, a well-known binding partner of RSF1, was partially involved in the interaction between RSF1 and NF-κB. Taken together, these data suggest that RSF1 may function as a coactivator for NF-κB, consequently augmenting expression of genes necessary for the development of chemoresistance in ovarian cancer cells. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2258–69. ©2014 AACR.

Prostate cancer growth depends on androgen receptor signaling. Androgen ablation therapy induces expression of constitutively active androgen receptor splice variants that drive disease progression. Taxanes are a standard of care therapy in castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC); however, mechanisms underlying the clinical activity of taxanes are poorly understood. Recent work suggests that the microtubule network of prostate cells is critical for androgen receptor nuclear translocation and activity. In this study, we used a set of androgen receptor deletion mutants to identify the microtubule-binding domain of the androgen receptor, which encompasses the DNA binding domain plus hinge region. We report that two clinically relevant androgen receptor splice variants, ARv567 and ARv7, differentially associate with microtubules and dynein motor protein, thereby resulting in differential taxane sensitivity in vitro and in vivo. ARv7, which lacks the hinge region, did not co-sediment with microtubules or coprecipitate with dynein motor protein, unlike ARv567. Mechanistic investigations revealed that the nuclear accumulation and transcriptional activity of ARv7 was unaffected by taxane treatment. In contrast, the microtubule-interacting splice variant ARv567 was sensitive to taxane-induced microtubule stabilization. In ARv567-expressing LuCap86.2 tumor xenografts, docetaxel treatment was highly efficacious, whereas ARv7-expressing LuCap23.1 tumor xenografts displayed docetaxel resistance. Our results suggest that androgen receptor variants that accumulate in CRPC cells utilize distinct pathways of nuclear import that affect the antitumor efficacy of taxanes, suggesting a mechanistic rationale to customize treatments for patients with CRPC, which might improve outcomes. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2270–82. ©2014 AACR.

Loss or attenuated expression of the tumor-suppressor gene FHIT is associated paradoxically with poor progression of human tumors. Fhit promotes apoptosis and regulates reactive oxygen species; however, the mechanism by which Fhit inhibits tumor growth in animals remains unclear. In this study, we used a multidisciplinary approach based on bioinformatics, small RNA library screening, human tissue analysis, and a xenograft mouse model to identify a novel member of the miR-548 family in the fourth intron of the human FHIT gene. Characterization of this human-specific microRNA illustrates the importance of this class of microRNAs in tumor suppression and may influence interpretation of Fhit action in human cancer. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2283–94. ©2014 AACR.

Insulin-like growth factors (IGF) stimulate cell growth in part by increasing amino acid uptake. xCT (SLC7A11) encodes the functional subunit of the cell surface transport system xC−, which mediates cystine uptake, a pivotal step in glutathione synthesis and cellular redox control. In this study, we show that IGF-I regulates cystine uptake and cellular redox status by activating the expression and function of xCT in estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer cells by a mechanism that relies on the IGF receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1). Breast cancer cell proliferation mediated by IGF-I was suppressed by attenuating xCT expression or blocking xCT activity with the pharmacologic inhibitor sulfasalazine (SASP). Notably, SASP sensitized breast cancer cells to inhibitors of the type I IGF receptor (IGF-IR) in a manner reversed by the reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger N-acetyl-L-cysteine. Thus, IGF-I promoted the proliferation of ER+ breast cancer cells by regulating xC− transporter function to protect cancer cells from ROS in an IRS-1–dependent manner. Our findings suggest that inhibiting xC− transporter function may synergize with modalities that target the IGF-IR to heighten their therapeutic effects. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2295–305. ©2014 AACR.

The complex interactions between cancer cells and their surrounding stromal microenvironment play important roles in tumor initiation and progression and represent viable targets for therapeutic intervention. Here, we propose a concept of common target perturbation (CTP). CTP acts simultaneously on the same target in both the tumor and its stroma that generates a bilateral disruption for potentially improved cancer therapy. To employ this concept, we designed a systems biology strategy by combining experiment and computation to identify potential common target. Through progressive cycles of identification, TGF-β receptor III (TβRIII) is found as an epithelial–mesenchymal common target in oral squamous cell carcinoma. Simultaneous perturbation of TβRIII in the oral cancerous epithelial cells and their adjacent carcinoma-associated fibroblasts effectively inhibits tumor growth in vivo, and shows superiority to the unilateral perturbation of TβRIII in either cell type alone. This study indicates the strong potential to identify therapeutic targets by considering cancer cells and their adjacent stroma simultaneously. The CTP concept combined with our common target discovery strategy provides a framework for future targeted cancer combinatorial therapies. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2306–15. ©2014 AACR.

STAT3 is well corroborated preclinically as a cancer therapeutic target, but tractable translational strategies for its blockade by small molecule inhibitors have remained elusive. In this study, we report the development of a novel class of bifunctional STAT3 inhibitors, based on conjugation of a diarylidenyl-piperidone (DAP) backbone to an N-hydroxypyrroline (–NOH) group, which exhibits minimal toxicity against normal cells and good oral bioavailability. Molecular modeling studies of this class suggested direct interaction with the STAT3 DNA binding domain. In particular, the DAP compound HO-3867 selectively inhibited STAT3 phosphorylation, transcription, and DNA binding without affecting the expression of other active STATs. HO-3867 exhibited minimal toxicity toward noncancerous cells and tissues but induced apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells. Pharmacologic analysis revealed greater bioabsorption and bioavailability of the active (cytotoxic) metabolites in cancer cells compared with normal cells. The selective cytotoxicity of HO-3867 seemed to be multifaceted, eliciting differential activation of the Akt pathway in normal versus cancer cells. RNAi attenuation experiments confirmed the requirement of STAT3 for HO-3867–mediated apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells. In vivo testing showed that HO-3867 could block xenograft tumor growth without toxic side effects. Furthermore, in primary human ovarian cancer cells isolated from patient ascites, HO-3867 inhibited cell migration/invasion and survival. Our results offer preclinical proof-of-concept for HO-3867 as a selective STAT3 inhibitor to treat ovarian cancer and other solid tumors where STAT3 is widely upregulated. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2316–27. ©2014 AACR.

HDAC inhibitors (HDACi) are widely used in the clinic to sensitize tumorigenic cells for treatment with other anticancer compounds. The major drawback of HDACi is the broad inhibition of the plethora of HDAC-containing complexes. In acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), repression by the PML-RARα oncofusion protein is mediated by an HDAC-containing complex that can be dissociated by pharmacologic doses of all trans retinoic acid (ATRA) inducing differentiation and cell death at the expense of side effects and recurrence. We hypothesized that the context-specific close physical proximity of a retinoid and HDACi-binding protein in the repressive PML-RARα-HDAC complex may permit selective targeting by a hybrid molecule of ATRA with a 2-aminoanilide tail of the HDAC inhibitor MS-275, yielding MC2392. We show that MC2392 elicits weak ATRA and essentially no HDACi activity in vitro or in vivo. Genome-wide epigenetic analyses revealed that in NB4 cells expressing PML-RARα, MC2392 induces changes in H3 acetylation at a small subset of PML-RARα–binding sites. RNA-seq reveals that MC2392 alters expression of a number of stress-responsive and apoptotic genes. Concordantly, MC2392 induced rapid and massive, caspase-8–dependent cell death accompanied by RIP1 induction and ROS production. Solid and leukemic tumors are not affected by MC2392, but expression of PML-RARα conveys efficient MC2392-induced cell death. Our data suggest a model in which MC2392 binds to the RARα moiety and selectively inhibits the HDACs resident in the repressive complex responsible for the transcriptional impairment in APLs. Our findings provide proof-of-principle of the concept of a context-dependent targeted therapy. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2328–39. ©2014 AACR.

Melanoma is a disease characterized by lesions that activate ERK. Although 70% of cutaneous melanomas harbor activating mutations in the BRAF and NRAS genes, the alterations that drive tumor progression in the remaining 30% are largely undefined. Vemurafenib, a selective inhibitor of RAF kinases, has clinical utility restricted to BRAF-mutant tumors. MEK inhibitors, which have shown clinical activity in NRAS-mutant melanoma, may be effective in other ERK pathway-dependent settings. Here, we investigated a panel of melanoma cell lines wild type for BRAF and NRAS to determine the genetic alteration driving their transformation and their dependence on ERK signaling in order to elucidate a candidate set for MEK inhibitor treatment. A cohort of the BRAF/RAS wild type cell lines with high levels of RAS-GTP had loss of NF1, a RAS GTPase activating protein. In these cell lines, the MEK inhibitor PD0325901 inhibited ERK phosphorylation, but also relieved feedback inhibition of RAS, resulting in induction of pMEK and a rapid rebound in ERK signaling. In contrast, the MEK inhibitor trametinib impaired the adaptive response of cells to ERK inhibition, leading to sustained suppression of ERK signaling and significant antitumor effects. Notably, alterations in NF1 frequently co-occurred with RAS and BRAF alterations in melanoma. In the setting of BRAF(V600E), NF1 loss abrogated negative feedback on RAS activation, resulting in elevated activation of RAS-GTP and resistance to RAF, but not MEK, inhibitors. We conclude that loss of NF1 is common in cutaneous melanoma and is associated with RAS activation, MEK-dependence, and resistance to RAF inhibition. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2340–50. ©2014 AACR.

Medulloblastoma is the most common pediatric brain tumor, and in ∼25% of cases, it is driven by aberrant activation of the Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) pathway in granule neuron precursor (GNP) cells. In this study, we identified novel medulloblastoma driver genes through a transposon mutagenesis screen in the developing brain of wild-type and Trp53 mutant mice. Twenty-six candidates were identified along with established driver genes such as Gli1 and Crebbp. The transcription factor FoxR2, the most frequent gene identified in the screen, is overexpressed in a small subset of human medulloblastoma of the SHH subtype. Tgif2 and Alx4, 2 new putative oncogenes identified in the screen, are strongly expressed in the SHH subtype of human medulloblastoma. Mutations in these two genes were mutually exclusive with mutations in Gli1 and tended to cooccur, consistent with involvement in the SHH pathway. Notably, Foxr2, Tgif2, and Alx4 activated Gli-binding sites in cooperation with Gli1, strengthening evidence that they function in SHH signaling. In support of an oncogenic function, Foxr2 overexpression transformed NIH3T3 cells and promoted proliferation of GNPs, the latter of which was also observed for Tgif2 and Alx4. These findings offer forward genetic and functional evidence associating Foxr2, Tgif2, and Alx4 with SHH subtype medulloblastoma. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2351–61. ©2014 AACR.

Cofilin (CFL) is an F-actin–severing protein required for the cytoskeleton reorganization and filopodia formation, which drives cell migration. CFL binding and severing of F-actin is controlled by Ser3 phosphorylation, but the contributions of this step to cell migration during invasion and metastasis of cancer cells are unclear. In this study, we addressed the question in prostate cancer cells, including the response to TGF-β, a critical regulator of migration. In cells expressing wild-type CFL, TGF-β treatment increased LIMK-2 activity and cofilin phosphorylation, decreasing filopodia formation. Conversely, constitutively active CFL (SerAla) promoted filipodia formation and cell migration mediated by TGF-β. Notably, in cocultures of prostate cancer epithelial cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts, active CFL promoted invasive migration in response to TGF-β in the microenvironment. Further, constitutively active CFL elevated the metastatic ability of prostate cancer cells in vivo. We found that levels of active CFL correlated with metastasis in a mouse model of prostate tumor and that in human prostate cancer, CFL expression was increased significantly in metastatic tumors. Our findings show that the actin-severing protein CFL coordinates responses to TGF-β that are needed for invasive cancer migration and metastasis. Cancer Res; 74(8); 2362–73. ©2014 AACR.