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Molecular Biology of the Cell

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Molecular Cancer Research

Serine/Arginine Splicing Factor 1 (SRSF1) is the archetype member of the SR protein family of splicing regulators. Since its discovery over two decades ago, SRSF1 has been repeatedly surprising and intriguing investigators by the plethora of complex biologic pathways it regulates. These include several key aspects of mRNA metabolism, such as mRNA splicing, stability, and translation, as well as other mRNA-independent processes, such as miRNA processing, protein sumoylation, and the nucleolar stress response. In this review, the structural features of SRSF1 are discussed as they relate to the intricate mechanism of splicing and the multiplicity of functions it performs. Similarly, a list of relevant alternatively spliced transcripts and SRSF1 interacting proteins is provided. Finally, emphasis is given to the deleterious consequences of overexpression of the SRSF1 proto-oncogene in human cancers, and the complex mechanisms and pathways underlying SRSF1-mediated transformation. The accumulated knowledge about SRSF1 provides critical insight into the integral role it plays in maintaining cellular homeostasis and suggests new targets for anticancer therapy. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1195–204. ©2014 AACR.


MTOR complex-1(mTORC1) activation occurs frequently in cancers, yet clinical efficacy of rapalogs is limited because of the associated activation of upstream survival pathways. An alternative approach is to inhibit downstream of mTORC1; therefore, acquired resistance to fludarabine (Flu), a purine analogue and antimetabolite chemotherapy, active agent for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) was investigated. Elevated phospho-p70S6K, also known as RPS6KB1 (ribosomal protein S6 kinase, 70kDa, polypeptide 1) (T389), an mTORC1 activation marker, predicted Flu resistance in a panel of B-cell lines, isogenic Flu-resistant (FluR) derivatives, and primary human CLL cells. Consistent with the anabolic role of mTORC1, FluR cells had higher rates of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation than Flu-sensitive (FluS) cells. Rapalogs (everolimus and rapamycin) induced moderate cell death in FluR and primary CLL cells, and everolimus significantly inhibited glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation in FluR cells. Strikingly, the higher oxidative phosphorylation in FluR cells was not coupled to higher ATP synthesis. Instead, it contributed primarily to an essential, dihydroorotate dehydrogenase catalyzed, step in de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis. mTORC1 promotes pyrimidine biosynthesis by p70S6 kinase–mediated phosphorylation of CAD (carbamoyl-phosphate synthetase 2, aspartate transcarbamylase, and dihydroorotase; Ser1859) and favors S-phase cell-cycle progression. We found increased phospho-CAD (S1859) and higher S-phase population in FluR cells. Pharmacological inhibition of de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis using N-phosphonacetyl-l-aspartate and leflunomide, RNAi-mediated knockdown of p70S6K, and inhibition of mitochondrial respiration were selectively cytotoxic to FluR, but not FluS, cells. These results reveal a novel link between mTORC1-mediated metabolic reprogramming and Flu resistance identifying mitochondrial respiration and de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis as potential therapeutic targets.

Implications: This study provides the first evidence for mTORC1/p70S6K-dependent regulation of pyrimidine biosynthesis in a relevant disease setting. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1205–15. ©2014 AACR.


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a clinically aggressive subtype of breast cancer commonly resistant to therapeutics that have been successful in increasing survival in patients with estrogen receptor–positive (ER+) and HER2+ breast cancer. As such, identifying factors that contribute to poor patient outcomes and mediate the growth and survival of TNBC cells remain important areas of investigation. MTBP (MDM2-binding protein), a gene linked to cellular proliferation and a transcriptional target of the MYC oncogene, is overexpressed in human malignancies, yet its contribution to cancer remains unresolved. Evaluation of mRNA expression and copy number variation data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) revealed that MTBP is commonly overexpressed in breast cancer and 19% show amplification of MTBP. Increased transcript or gene amplification of MTBP significantly correlated with reduced breast cancer patient survival. Further analysis revealed that while MTBP mRNA is overexpressed in both ER+ and HER2+ breast cancers, its expression is highest in TNBC. MTBP mRNA and protein levels were also significantly elevated in a panel of human TNBC cell lines. Knockdown of MTBP in TNBC cells induced apoptosis and significantly reduced TNBC cell growth and soft agar colony formation, which was rescued by expression of shRNA-resistant Mtbp. Notably, inducible knockdown of MTBP expression significantly impaired TNBC tumor growth, in vivo, including in established tumors. Thus, these data emphasize that MTBP is important for the growth and survival of TNBC and warrants further investigation as a potential novel therapeutic target.

Implications: MTBP significantly contributes to breast cancer survival and is a potential novel therapeutic target in TNBC. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1216–24. ©2014 AACR.


Loss of apoptotic Bax due to microsatellite mutation contributes to tumor development and chemoresistance. Recently, a Bax microsatellite mutation was uncovered in combination with a specific alternative splicing event that could generate a unique Bax isoform (Bax2) in otherwise Bax-negative cells. Like the prototype Baxα, Bax2 is a potent proapoptotic molecule. However, the proapoptotic mechanism and therapeutic implication of Bax2 remain elusive. Here, the isolation and analysis of isogenic subcell lines are described that represent different Bax microsatellite statuses from colorectal cancer. Colon cancer cells harboring Bax microsatellite G7/G7 alleles are capable of producing low levels of endogenous Bax2 transcripts and proteins. Interestingly, Bax2-positive cells are selectively sensitive to a subgroup of chemotherapeutics compared with Bax2-negative cells. Unlike other Bax isoforms, Bax2 recruits caspase-8 into the proximity for activation, and the latter, in turn, activates caspase-3 and apoptosis independent of the mitochondrial pathway. These data suggest that the expression of Bax2 may provide alternative apoptotic and chemotherapeutic advantages for Bax-negative tumors.

Implications: "Bax-negative" colorectal tumors expressing a Bax isoform are sensitive to selective chemotherapeutics. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1225–32. ©2014 AACR.


Hypoxia is a common characteristic of many solid tumors. The hypoxic microenvironment stabilizes hypoxia-inducible transcription factor 1α (HIF1α) and 2α (HIF2α/EPAS1) to activate gene transcription, which promotes tumor cell survival. The majority of human genes are alternatively spliced, producing RNA isoforms that code for functionally distinct proteins. Thus, an effective hypoxia response requires increased HIF target gene expression as well as proper RNA splicing of these HIF-dependent transcripts. However, it is unclear if and how hypoxia regulates RNA splicing of HIF targets. This study determined the effects of hypoxia on alternative splicing (AS) of HIF and non-HIF target genes in hepatocellular carcinoma cells and characterized the role of HIF in regulating AS of HIF-induced genes. The results indicate that hypoxia generally promotes exon inclusion for hypoxia-induced, but reduces exon inclusion for hypoxia-reduced genes. Mechanistically, HIF activity, but not hypoxia per se is found to be necessary and sufficient to increase exon inclusion of several HIF targets, including pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDK1). PDK1 splicing reporters confirm that transcriptional activation by HIF is sufficient to increase exon inclusion of PDK1 splicing reporter. In contrast, transcriptional activation of a PDK1 minigene by other transcription factors in the absence of endogenous HIF target gene activation fails to alter PDK1 RNA splicing.

Implications: This study demonstrates a novel function of HIF in regulating RNA splicing of HIF target genes. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1233–43. ©2014 AACR.


Wnt signaling is critical to maintaining cellular homeostasis via regulation of cell division, mitigation of cell stress, and degradation. Aberrations in Wnt signaling contribute to carcinogenesis and metastasis, whereas sirtuins have purported roles in carcinogenesis, aging, and neurodegeneration. Therefore, the hypothesis that sirtuin 2 (SIRT2) directly interacts with β-catenin and whether this interaction alters the expression of Wnt target genes to produce an altered cellular phenotype was tested. Coimmunoprecipitation studies, using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) from Sirt2 wild-type and genomic knockout mice, demonstrate that β-catenin directly binds SIRT2. Moreover, this interaction increases in response to oxidative stress induced by ionizing radiation. In addition, this association inhibits the expression of important Wnt target genes such as survivin (BIRC5), cyclin D1 (CCND1), and c-myc (MYC). In Sirt2 null MEFs, an upregulation of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) and decreased E-cadherin (CDH1) expression is observed that produces increased cellular migration and invasion. Together, these data demonstrate that SIRT2, a tumor suppressor lost in multiple cancers, inhibits the Wnt signaling pathway in nonmalignant cells by binding to β-catenin and that SIRT2 plays a critical role in the response to oxidative stress from radiation.

Implications: Disruption of the SIRT2–β-catenin interaction represents an endogenous therapeutic target to prevent transformation and preserve the integrity of aging cells against exogenous stressors such as reactive oxygen species. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1244–53. ©2014 AACR.


The differential gene expression patterns between normal colonic fibroblasts (NCF), carcinoma-associated fibroblasts from primary tumors (CAF-PT), and CAFs from hepatic metastasis (CAF-LM) are hypothesized to be useful for predicting relapse in primary tumors. A transcriptomic profile of NCF (n = 9), CAF-PT (n = 14), and CAF-LM (n = 11) was derived. Prediction Analysis of Microarrays (PAM) was used to obtain molecular details for each fibroblast class, and differentially expressed transcripts were used to classify patients according to recurrence status. A number of transcripts (n = 277) were common to all three types of fibroblasts and whose expression level was sequentially deregulated according to the transition: NCF->CAF-PT->CAF-LM. Importantly, the gene signature was able to accurately classify patients with primary tumors according to their prognosis. This capacity was exploited to obtain a refined 19-gene classifier that predicted recurrence with high accuracy in two independent datasets of patients with colorectal cancer and correlates with fibroblast migratory potential. The prognostic power of this genomic signature is strong evidence of the link between the tumor-stroma microenvironment and cancer progression. Furthermore, the 19-gene classifier was able to identify low-risk patients very accurately, which is of particular importance for stage II patients, who would benefit from the omission of chemotherapy, especially T4N0 patients, who are clinically classified as being at high risk.

Implications: A defined stromal gene expression signature predicts relapse in patients with colorectal cancer. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1254–66. ©2014 AACR.


Here, it was determined that chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells express the α subunit, but not the β subunit, of the granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor receptor (GM-CSFR/CSF2R). GM-CSFRα was detected on the surface, in the cytosol, and in the nucleus of CLL cells via confocal microscopy, cell fractionation, and GM-CSFRα antibody epitope mapping. Because STAT3 is frequently activated in CLL and the GM-CSFRα promoter harbors putative STAT3 consensus binding sites, MM1 cells were transfected with truncated forms of the GM-CSFRα promoter, then stimulated with IL6 to activate STAT3 and to identify STAT3-binding sites. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and an electoromobility shift assay (EMSA) confirmed STAT3 occupancy to those promoter regions in both IL6-stimulated MM1 and CLL cells. Transfection of MM1 cells with STAT3-siRNA or CLL cells with STAT3-shRNA significantly downregulated GM-CSFRα mRNA and protein levels. RNA transcripts, involved in regulating cell survival pathways, and the proteins KAP1 (TRIM28) and ISG15 coimmunoprecipitated with GM-CSFRα. GM-CSFRα–bound KAP1 enhanced the transcriptional activity of STAT3, whereas GM-CSFRα-bound ISG15 inhibited the NF-B pathway. Nevertheless, overexpression of GM-CSFRα protected MM1 cells from dexamethasone-induced apoptosis, and GM-CSFRα knockdown induced apoptosis in CLL cells, suggesting that GM-CSFRα provides a ligand-independent survival advantage.

Implications: Constitutively, activation of STAT3 induces the expression of GM-CSFRα that protects CLL cells from apoptosis, suggesting that inhibition of STAT3 or GM-CSFRα may benefit patients with CLL. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1267–82. ©2014 AACR.


A subset of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) cases has been characterized by the t(5;17)(q35;q21) translocation variant, which fuses nucleophosmin (NPM) to retinoic acid receptor α (RARA). The resultant NPM-RAR fusion protein blocks myeloid differentiation and leads to a leukemic phenotype similar to that caused by the t(15;17)(q22;q21) PML-RAR fusion. The contribution of the N-terminal 117 amino acids of NPM contained within NPM-RAR has not been well studied. As a molecular chaperone, NPM interacts with a variety of proteins implicated in leukemogenesis. Therefore, a proteomic analysis was conducted to identify novel NPM-RAR–associated proteins. TNF receptor type I–associated DEATH domain protein (TRADD) was identified as a relevant binding partner for NPM-RAR. This interaction was validated by coprecipitation and colocalization analysis. Biologic assessment found that NPM-RAR expression impaired TNF-induced signaling through TRADD, blunting TNF-mediated activation of caspase-3 (CASP3) and caspase-8 (CASP8), to ultimately block apoptosis.

Implications: This study identifies a novel mechanism through which NPM-RAR affects leukemogenesis. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1283–91. ©2014 AACR.


Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is a homotrimeric proinflammatory cytokine implicated in chronic inflammatory diseases and malignancies, including cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). To determine whether MIF inhibition could reduce UVB light–induced inflammation and squamous carcinogenesis, a small-molecule MIF inhibitor (CPSI-1306) was utilized that disrupts homotrimerization. To examine the effect of CPSI-1306 on acute UVB-induced skin changes, Skh-1 hairless mice were systemically treated with CPSI-1306 for 5 days before UVB exposure. In addition to decreasing skin thickness and myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity, CPSI-1306 pretreatment increased keratinocyte apoptosis and p53 expression, decreased proliferation and phosphohistone variant H2AX (-H2AX), and enhanced repair of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers. To examine the effect of CPSI-1306 on squamous carcinogenesis, mice were exposed to UVB for 10 weeks, followed by CPSI-1306 treatment for 8 weeks. CPSI-1306 dramatically decreased the density of UVB-associated p53 foci in non–tumor-bearing skin while simultaneously decreasing the epidermal Ki67 proliferation index. In addition to slowing the rate of tumor development, CPSI-1306 decreased the average tumor burden per mouse. Although CPSI-1306–treated mice developed only papillomas, nearly a third of papillomas in vehicle-treated mice progressed to microinvasive SCC. Thus, MIF inhibition is a promising strategy for prevention of the deleterious cutaneous effects of acute and chronic UVB exposure.

Implications: Macrophage migration inhibitory factor is a viable target for the prevention of UVB-induced cutaneous SSCs. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1292–302. ©2014 AACR.


Metastatic dissemination drives the high mortality associated with melanoma. However, difficulties in visualizing in vivo cell dynamics during metastatic invasion have limited our understanding of these cell behaviors. Recent evidence has revealed that melanoma cells exploit portions of their ancestral embryonic neural crest emigration program to facilitate invasion. What remains to be determined is how embryonic microenvironmental signals influence invasive melanoma cell behavior, and whether these signals are relevant to human disease. To address these questions, we interrogated the role of the neural crest microenvironment in dictating the spatiotemporal pattern of melanoma cell invasion in the chick embryo using 2-photon time-lapse microscopy. Results reveal that both permissive and inhibitory neural crest microenvironmental signals regulate the timing and direction of melanoma invasion to coincide with the neural crest migration pattern. These cues include bidirectional signaling mediated through the ephrin family of receptor tyrosine kinases. We demonstrate that EphB6 reexpression forces metastatic melanoma cells to deviate from the canonical migration pattern observed in the chick embryo transplant model. Furthermore, EphB6-expressing melanoma cells display significantly reduced metastatic potential in a chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) metastasis assay. These data on melanoma invasion in the embryonic neural crest and CAM microenvironments identify EphB6 as a metastasis suppressor in melanoma, likely acting at the stage of intravasation.

Implications: This article links cellular metastasis to behaviors observed in the ancestrally related embryonic neural crest and demonstrates the powerful influence of the embryonic microenvironment in regulating cell migratory behavior. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1303–13. ©2014 AACR.


The neural crest is a multipotent, highly migratory cell population that gives rise to diverse cell types, including melanocytes. Factors regulating the development of the neural crest and emigration of its cells are likely to influence melanoma metastasis. The transcription factor FOXD3 plays an essential role in premigratory neural crest development and has been implicated in melanoma cell dormancy and response to therapeutics. FOXD3 is downregulated during the migration of the melanocyte lineage from the neural crest, and our previous work supports a role for FOXD3 in suppressing melanoma cell migration and invasion. Alternatively, TWIST1 is known to have promigratory and proinvasive roles in a number of cancers, including melanoma. Using ChIP-seq analysis, TWIST1 was identified as a potential transcriptional target of FOXD3. Mechanistically, FOXD3 directly binds to regions of the TWIST1 gene locus, leading to transcriptional repression of TWIST1 in human mutant BRAF melanoma cells. In addition, depletion of endogenous FOXD3 promotes upregulation of TWIST1 transcripts and protein. Finally, FOXD3 expression leads to a significant decrease in cell migration that can be efficiently reversed by the overexpression of TWIST1. These findings uncover the novel interplay between FOXD3 and TWIST1, which is likely to be important in the melanoma metastatic cascade.

Implications: FOXD3 and TWIST1 define distinct subgroups of cells within a heterogeneous tumor. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1314–23. ©2014 AACR.


Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1) regulates intracellular signaling networks for inhibition of apoptosis. Tetraspanin (CD63), a cell surface binding partner for TIMP-1, was previously shown to regulate integrin-mediated survival pathways in the human breast epithelial cell line MCF10A. In the current study, we show that TIMP-1 expression induces phenotypic changes in cell morphology, cell adhesion, cytoskeletal remodeling, and motility, indicative of an epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). This is evidenced by loss of the epithelial cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin with an increase in the mesenchymal markers vimentin, N-cadherin, and fibronectin. Signaling through TIMP-1, but not TIMP-2, induces the expression of TWIST1, an important EMT transcription factor known to suppress E-cadherin transcription, in a CD63-dependent manner. RNAi-mediated knockdown of TWIST1 rescued E-cadherin expression in TIMP-1–overexpressing cells, demonstrating a functional significance of TWIST1 in TIMP-1–mediated EMT. Furthermore, analysis of TIMP-1 structural mutants reveals that TIMP-1 interactions with CD63 that activate cell survival signaling and EMT do not require the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)–inhibitory domain of TIMP-1. Taken together, these data demonstrate that TIMP-1 binding to CD63 activates intracellular signal transduction pathways, resulting in EMT-like changes in breast epithelial cells, independent of its MMP-inhibitory function.

Implications: TIMP-1's function as an endogenous inhibitor of MMP or as a "cytokine-like" signaling molecule may be a critical determinant for tumor cell behavior. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1324–33. ©2014 AACR.


Metastasis is a major factor responsible for mortality in patients with breast cancer. Inhibitor of DNA binding 1 (Id1) has been shown to play an important role in cell differentiation, tumor angiogenesis, cell invasion, and metastasis. Despite the data establishing Id1 as a critical factor for lung metastasis in breast cancer, the pathways and molecular mechanisms of Id1 functions in metastasis remain to be defined. Here, we show that Id1 interacts with TFAP2A to suppress S100A9 expression. We show that expression of Id1 and S100A9 is inversely correlated in both breast cancer cell lines and clinical samples. We also show that the migratory and invasive phenotypes in vitro and metastasis in vivo induced by Id1 expression are rescued by reestablishment of S100A9 expression. S100A9 also suppresses the expression of known metastasis-promoting factor RhoC activated by Id1 expression. Our results suggest that Id1 promotes breast cancer metastasis by the suppression of S100A9 expression.

Implications: Novel pathways by Id1 regulation in metastasis. Mol Cancer Res; 12(9); 1334–43. ©2014 AACR.