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Cancer Research

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Cancer Research

miRNAs are important regulatory elements for gene expression that are involved in diverse physiologic and pathologic processes. Canonical miRNA biogenesis consists of a two-step processing, from primary transcripts (pri-miRNA) to precursor miRNAs (pre-miRNA) mediated by Drosha in the nucleus and from pre-miRNAs to mature miRNAs mediated by Dicer in the cytoplasm. Various routes of miRNA maturation that are tightly regulated by signaling cascades and specific to an individual or a subclass of miRNAs have been recently identified. Here, we review the current findings in signaling-mediated miRNA processing as well as their potential clinical relevance in cancer. Cancer Res; 75(5); 783–91. ©2015 AACR.

Asymmetric division is an evolutionarily conserved process that generates daughter cells with different fates through the unequal partitioning of fate determinants. While asymmetric division is critically important in generating diversity during development, its dysregulation can also promote oncogenesis. In particular, signals that shift the normal balance of symmetric and asymmetric division can lead to a differentiation arrest and trigger cancer progression. Here, we discuss the studies that have provided increasing support for this idea. Beginning with original work carried out in Drosophila, we trace more recent work in mammalian systems that suggest that the subversion of asymmetric division can contribute significantly to the development and progression of both hematologic malignancies and solid cancers. Cancer Res; 75(5); 792–7. ©2015 AACR.

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are key mediators of tumor immune surveillance and are important prognostic indicators in cancer progression. Among the various lymphocyte subsets implicated in protection against cancer are γδ T lymphocytes, which can kill tumor cells and secrete potent antitumor cytokines. By contrast, recent reports have revealed an unexpected series of protumor functions of γδ T cells in mouse models and human patients. In particular, specific γδ T-cell subsets are capable of recruiting immunosuppressive myeloid populations, inhibiting antitumor responses, and enhancing angiogenesis, thus promoting cancer progression. A common mediator of such functions appears to be the cytokine IL17, whose pathogenic effects can override the antitumor immune response orchestrated by IFNγ. Here, we review these studies and discuss their implications for the manipulation of γδ T cells in cancer immunotherapy. Cancer Res; 75(5); 798–802. ©2015 AACR.

Pregnancy at early, but not late age, has a strong and life-long protective effect against breast cancer. The expected overall increase in breast cancer incidence demands the development of a pharmaceutical mimicry of early-age pregnancy–mediated protection. Recently, converging results from rodent models and women on molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the protective effect of early-age pregnancy have opened the door for translational studies on pharmacologic prevention against breast cancer. In particular, alterations in Wnt and TGFβ signaling in mammary stem/progenitor cells reveal new potential targets for preventive interventions, and thus might help to significantly reduce the incidence of breast cancer in the future. Cancer Res; 75(5); 803–7. ©2015 AACR.

A system characterized by redundancy has various elements that are able to act in the same biologic or dynamic manner, where the inhibition of one of those elements has no significant effect on the global biologic outcome or on the system's dynamic behavior. Methods that aim to predict the effectiveness of cancer therapies must include evolutionary and dynamic features that would change the static view that is widely accepted. Here, we explore several important issues about mechanisms of redundancy, heterogeneity, biologic importance, and drug resistance and describe methodologic challenges that, if overcome, would significantly contribute to cancer research. Cancer Res; 75(5); 808–12. ©2015 AACR.

PI3K–Akt signaling is critical for the development, progression, and metastasis of malignant tumors, but its role in the tumor microenvironment has been relatively little studied. Here, we report that the Akt substrate Girdin, an actin-binding protein that regulates cell migration, is expressed and activated by Akt phosphorylation in cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF) and blood vessels within the tumor microenvironment. Lewis lung tumors grafted into mice defective in Akt-mediated Girdin phosphorylation (SA transgenic mice) exhibited a decrease in both CAF infiltration and tumor growth, compared with wild-type (WT) host control animals. Contrasting with the findings of other studies, we found that Akt-dependent phosphorylation of Girdin was not a rate-limiting step in the growth of endothelial cells. In addition, Lewis lung tumors displayed limited outgrowth when cotransplanted with CAF derived from tumor-bearing SA transgenic mice, compared with CAF derived from tumor-bearing WT mice. Collectively, our results revealed a role for Akt-mediated Girdin phosphorylation in CAF during tumor progression, highlighting the need to inhibit Akt function in both tumor cells and cells that comprise the tumor microenvironment. Cancer Res; 75(5); 813–23. ©2015 AACR.

The endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase ERAP1 regulates innate and adaptive immune responses by trimming peptides for presentation by MHC class I (MHC-I) molecules. Herein, we demonstrate that genetic or pharmacological inhibition of ERAP1 on human tumor cell lines perturbs their ability to engage several classes of inhibitory receptors by their specific ligands, including killer cell Ig-like receptors (KIR) by classical MHC-I–peptide (pMHC-I) complexes and the lectin-like receptor CD94-NKG2A by nonclassical pMHC-I complexes, in each case leading to natural killer (NK) cell killing. The protective effect of pMHC-I complexes could be restored in ERAP1-deficient settings by the addition of known high-affinity peptides, suggesting that ERAP1 was needed to positively modify the affinity of natural ligands. Notably, ERAP1 inhibition enhanced the ability of NK cells to kill freshly established human lymphoblastoid cell lines from autologous or allogeneic sources, thereby promoting NK cytotoxic activity against target cells that would not be expected because of KIR–KIR ligand matching. Overall, our results identify ERAP1 as a modifier to leverage immune functions that may improve the efficacy of NK cell–based approaches for cancer immunotherapy. Cancer Res; 75(5); 824–34. ©2015 AACR.

Colitis-associated cancer (CAC) is a complication of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Binding of extracellular ATP to the purinergic receptor P2RX7 has emerged as a critical event in controlling intestinal inflammation, acting to limit elevation of proinflammatory mast cells and cytokines and promote survival of regulatory T cells (Treg) and enteric neurons. In this study, we investigated the effect of P2RX7 blockade in an established mouse model of CAC. Using genetic and pharmacologic tools, we found unexpectedly that while P2RX7 mediated inflammatory responses, it also acted at an early time to suppress CAC development. P2RX7 blockade enhanced proliferation of intestinal epithelial cells and protected them from apoptosis. The proliferative effects of P2RX7 blockade were associated with an increased production of TGFβ1 that was sufficient to stimulate the proliferation of intestinal epithelial cells. Finally, P2RX7 blockade also altered immune cell infiltration and promoted Treg accumulation within lesions of the digestive system. Taken together, our findings reveal an unexpected role for P2RX7 in preventing CAC, suggesting cautions in the use of P2RX7 inhibitors to treat IBD given the possibility of increasing risks CAC as a result. Cancer Res; 75(5); 835–45. ©2015 AACR.

HULC is a long noncoding RNA overexpressed in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), but its functional contributions in this setting have not been determined. In this study, we explored the hypothesis that HULC contributes to malignant development by supporting abnormal lipid metabolism in hepatoma cells. HULC modulated the deregulation of lipid metabolism in HCC by activating the acyl-CoA synthetase subunit ACSL1. Immunohistochemical analysis of tissue microarrays revealed that approximately 77% (180/233) of HCC tissues were positive for ACSL1. Moreover, HULC mRNA levels correlated positively with ACSL1 levels in 60 HCC cases according to real-time PCR analysis. Mechanistic investigations showed that HULC upregulated the transcriptional factor PPARA, which activated the ACSL1 promoter in hepatoma cells. HULC also suppressed miR-9 targeting of PPARA mRNA by eliciting methylation of CpG islands in the miR-9 promoter. We documented the ability of HULC to promote lipogenesis, thereby stimulating accumulation of intracellular triglycerides and cholesterol in vitro and in vivo. Strikingly, ACSL1 overexpression that generates cholesterol was sufficient to enhance the proliferation of hepatoma cells. Further, cholesterol addition was sufficient to upregulate HULC expression through a positive feedback loop involving the retinoid receptor RXRA, which activated the HULC promoter. Overall, we concluded that HULC functions as an oncogene in hepatoma cells, acting mechanistically by deregulating lipid metabolism through a signaling pathway involving miR-9, PPARA, and ACSL1 that is reinforced by a feed-forward pathway involving cholesterol and RXRA to drive HULC signaling. Cancer Res; 75(5); 846–57. ©2015 AACR.

Proliferating mammalian stem and cancer cells express telomerase [telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT)] in an effort to extend chromosomal G-overhangs and maintain telomere ends. Telomerase-expressing cells also have higher levels of the single-stranded DNA-binding protein SSB1, which has a critical role in DNA double-strand break (DSB) repair. Here, we report that SSB1 binds specifically to G-strand telomeric DNA in vitro and associates with telomeres in vivo. SSB1 interacts with the TERT catalytic subunit and regulates its interaction with telomeres. Deletion of SSB1 reduces TERT interaction with telomeres and leads to G-overhang loss. Although SSB1 is recruited to DSB sites, we found no corresponding change in TERT levels at these sites, implying that SSB1–TERT interaction relies upon a specific chromatin structure or context. Our findings offer an explanation for how telomerase is recruited to telomeres to facilitate G-strand DNA extension, a critical step in maintaining telomere ends and cell viability in all cancer cells. Cancer Res; 75(5); 858–69. ©2015 AACR.

Epidemiology shows that red and processed meat intake is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Heme iron, heterocyclic amines, and endogenous N-nitroso compounds (NOC) are proposed to explain this effect, but their relative contribution is unknown. Our study aimed at determining, at nutritional doses, which is the main factor involved and proposing a mechanism of cancer promotion by red meat. The relative part of heme iron (1% in diet), heterocyclic amines (PhIP + MeIQx, 50 + 25 μg/kg in diet), and NOC (induced by NaNO2 + NaNO3; 0.17 + 0.23 g/L of drinking water) was determined by a factorial design and preneoplastic endpoints in chemically induced rats and validated on tumors in Min mice. The molecular mechanisms (genotoxicity, cytotoxicity) were analyzed in vitro in normal and Apc-deficient cell lines and confirmed on colon mucosa. Heme iron increased the number of preneoplastic lesions, but dietary heterocyclic amines and NOC had no effect on carcinogenesis in rats. Dietary hemoglobin increased tumor load in Min mice (control diet: 67 ± 39 mm2; 2.5% hemoglobin diet: 114 ± 47 mm2, P = 0.004). In vitro, fecal water from rats given hemoglobin was rich in aldehydes and was cytotoxic to normal cells, but not to premalignant cells. The aldehydes 4-hydroxynonenal and 4-hydroxyhexenal were more toxic to normal versus mutated cells and were only genotoxic to normal cells. Genotoxicity was also observed in colon mucosa of mice given hemoglobin. These results highlight the role of heme iron in the promotion of colon cancer by red meat and suggest that heme iron could initiate carcinogenesis through lipid peroxidation. Cancer Res; 75(5); 870–9. ©2015 AACR.

Kinase inhibitors such as imatinib have dramatically improved outcomes for patients with gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), but many patients develop resistance to these treatments. Although in some patients this event corresponds with mutations in the GIST driver oncogenic kinase KIT, other patients develop resistance without KIT mutations. In this study, we address this patient subset in reporting a functional dependence of GIST on the FGF receptor FGFR3 and its crosstalk with KIT in GIST cells. Addition of the FGFR3 ligand FGF2 to GIST cells restored KIT phosphorylation during imatinib treatment, allowing sensitive cells to proliferate in the presence of the drug. FGF2 expression was increased in imatinib-resistant GIST cells, the growth of which was blocked by RNAi-mediated silencing of FGFR3. Moreover, combining KIT and FGFR3 inhibitors synergized to block the growth of imatinib-resistant cells. Signaling crosstalk between KIT and FGFR3 activated the MAPK pathway to promote resistance to imatinib. Clinically, an IHC analysis of tumor specimens from imatinib-resistant GIST patients revealed a relative increase in FGF2 levels, with a trend toward increased expression in imatinib-naïve samples consistent with possible involvement in drug resistance. Our findings provide a mechanistic rationale to evaluate existing FGFR inhibitors and multikinase inhibitors that target FGFR3 as promising strategies to improve treatment of patients with GIST with de novo or acquired resistance to imatinib. Cancer Res; 75(5); 880–91. ©2015 AACR.

Circulating tumor cells (CTC) in blood are promising new biomarkers potentially useful for prognostic prediction and monitoring of therapies in patients with solid tumors including colon cancer. Moreover, CTC research opens a new avenue for understanding the biology of metastasis in patients with cancer. However, an in-depth investigation of CTCs is hampered by the very low number of these cells, especially in the blood of patients with colorectal cancer. Thus, the establishment of cell cultures and permanent cell lines from CTCs has become the most challenging task over the past year. Here, we describe, for the first time, the establishment of cell cultures and a permanent cell line from CTCs of one patient with colon cancer. The cell line designated CTC-MCC-41 has been cultured for more than one year, and the cells have been characterized at the genome, transcriptome, proteome, and secretome levels. This thorough analysis showed that CTC-MCC-41 cells resemble characteristics of the original tumor cells in the patient with colon cancer and display a stable phenotype characterized by an intermediate epithelial/mesenchymal phenotype, stem cell–like properties, and an osteomimetic signature, indicating a bone marrow origin. Functional studies showed that CTC-MCC-41 cells induced rapidly in vitro endothelial cell tube formation and in vivo tumors after xenografting in immunodeficient mice. The establishment of this first colon cancer CTC line allows now a wealth of functional studies on the biology of CTCs as well as in vitro and in vivo drug testing. Cancer Res; 75(5); 892–901. ©2015 AACR.