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Molecular Biology of the Cell

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Molecular Cancer Research

IFNs are cytokines with important antiproliferative activity and exhibit key roles in immune surveillance against malignancies. Early work initiated over three decades ago led to the discovery of IFN receptor activated Jak–Stat pathways and provided important insights into mechanisms for transcriptional activation of IFN-stimulated genes (ISG) that mediate IFN biologic responses. Since then, additional evidence has established critical roles for other receptor-activated signaling pathways in the induction of IFN activities. These include MAPK pathways, mTOR cascades, and PKC pathways. In addition, specific miRNAs appear to play a significant role in the regulation of IFN signaling responses. This review focuses on the emerging evidence for a model in which IFNs share signaling elements and pathways with growth factors and tumorigenic signals but engage them in a distinctive manner to mediate antiproliferative and antiviral responses. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1691–703. ©2014 AACR.


Prostate cancer progression is associated with upregulation of sialyl-T antigen produced by β-galactoside α-2,3-sialyltransferase-1 (ST3Gal1) but not with core 2-associated polylactosamine despite expression of core 2 N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase-L (C2GnT-L/GCNT1). This property allows androgen-refractory prostate cancer cells to evade galectin-1 (LGALS1)–induced apoptosis, but the mechanism is not known. We have recently reported that Golgi targeting of glycosyltransferases is mediated by golgins: giantin (GOLGB1) for C2GnT-M (GCNT3) and GM130 (GOLGA2)-GRASP65 (GORASP1) or GM130-giantin for core 1 synthase. Here, we show that for Golgi targeting, C2GnT-L also uses giantin exclusively whereas ST3Gal1 uses either giantin or GM130-GRASP65. In addition, the compact Golgi morphology is detected in both androgen-sensitive prostate cancer and normal prostate cells, but fragmented Golgi and mislocalization of C2GnT-L are found in androgen-refractory cells as well as primary prostate tumors (Gleason grade 2–4). Furthermore, failure of giantin monomers to be phosphorylated and dimerized prevents Golgi from forming compact morphology and C2GnT-L from targeting the Golgi. On the other hand, ST3Gal1 reaches the Golgi by an alternate site, GM130-GRASP65. Interestingly, inhibition or knockdown of non-muscle myosin IIA (MYH9) motor protein frees up Rab6a GTPase to promote phosphorylation of giantin by polo-like kinase 3 (PLK3), which is followed by dimerization of giantin assisted by protein disulfide isomerase A3 (PDIA3), and restoration of compact Golgi morphology and targeting of C2GnT-L. Finally, the Golgi relocation of C2GnT-L in androgen-refractory cells results in their increased susceptibility to galectin-1–induced apoptosis by replacing sialyl-T antigen with polylactosamine.

Implications: This study demonstrates the importance of Golgi morphology and regulation of glycosylation and provides insight into how the Golgi influences cancer progression and metastasis. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1704–16. ©2014 AACR.


Colorectal cancer metastasis is a major cause of mortality worldwide, which may only be controlled with novel methods limiting tumor dissemination and chemoresistance. High stathmin-1 (STMN1) expression was previously established as a hallmark of colorectal cancer progression and predictor of poor survival; however, the mechanism of action is less clear. This work demonstrates that STMN1 silencing arrests tumor-disseminative cascades by inhibiting multiple metastatic drivers, and repressing oncogenic and mesenchymal transcription. Using a sensitive iTRAQ labeling proteomic approach that quantified differential abundance of 4562 proteins, targeting STMN1 expression was shown to reinstate the default cellular program of metastatic inhibition, and promote cellular adhesion via amplification of hemidesmosomal junctions and intermediate filament tethering. Silencing STMN1 also significantly improved chemoresponse to the classical colorectal cancer therapeutic agent, 5FU, via a novel caspase-6 (CASP6)–dependent mechanism. Interestingly, the prometastatic function of STMN1 was independent of p53 but required phosphorylations at S25 or S38; abrogating phosphorylative events may constitute an alternative route to achieving metastatic inhibition. These findings establish STMN1 as a potential target in antimetastatic therapy, and demonstrate the power of an approach coupling proteomics and transcript analyses in the global assessment of treatment benefits and potential side-effects.

Implications: Stathmin-1 is a potential candidate in colorectal cancer therapy that targets simultaneously the twin problems of metastatic spread and chemoresistance. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1717–28. ©2014 AACR.


Soft tissue sarcomas (STS) are malignant tumors of mesenchymal origin. A substantial portion of these tumors exhibits complex karyotypes and lack characterized chromosomal aberrations. Owing to such properties, both histopathologic and molecular classification of these tumors has been a significant challenge. This study examines the protein expression of a large number of human STS, including subtype heterogeneity, using two-dimensional gel proteomics. In addition, detailed proteome profiles of a subset of pleomorphic STS specimens using an in-depth mass-spectrometry approach identified subgroups within the leiomyosarcomas with distinct protein expression patterns. Pathways analysis indicates that key biologic nodes like apoptosis, cytoskeleton remodeling, and telomere regulation are differentially regulated among these subgroups. Finally, investigating the similarities between protein expression of leiomyosarcomas and undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcomas (UPS) revealed similar protein expression profiles for these tumors, in comparison with pleomorphic leiomyosarcomas.

Implications: These results suggest that UPS tumors share a similar lineage as leiomyosarcomas and are likely to originate from different stages of differentiation from mesenchymal stem cells to smooth muscle cells. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1729–39. ©2014 AACR.


Members of the Ewing sarcoma family of tumors (ESFT) contain tumor-associated translocations that give rise to oncogenic transcription factors, most commonly EWS/FLI1. EWS/FLI1 plays a dominant role in tumor progression by modulating the expression of hundreds of target genes. Here, the impact of EWS/FLI1 inhibition, by RNAi-mediated knockdown, on cellular signaling was investigated using mass spectrometry–based phosphoproteomics to quantify global changes in phosphorylation. This unbiased approach identified hundreds of unique phosphopeptides enriched in processes such as regulation of cell cycle and cytoskeleton organization. In particular, phosphotyrosine profiling revealed a large upregulation of STAT3 phosphorylation upon EWS/FLI1 knockdown. However, single-cell analysis demonstrated that this was not a cell-autonomous effect of EWS/FLI1 deficiency, but rather a signaling effect occurring in cells in which knockdown does not occur. Conditioned media from knockdown cells were sufficient to induce STAT3 phosphorylation in control cells, verifying the presence of a soluble factor that can activate STAT3. Cytokine analysis and ligand/receptor inhibition experiments determined that this activation occurred, in part, through an IL6-dependent mechanism. Taken together, the data support a model in which EWS/FLI1 deficiency results in the secretion of soluble factors, such as IL6, which activate STAT signaling in bystander cells that maintain EWS/FLI1 expression. Furthermore, these soluble factors were shown to protect against apoptosis.

Implications: EWS/FLI1 inhibition results in a novel adaptive response and suggests that targeting the IL6/STAT3 signaling pathway may increase the efficacy of ESFT therapies. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1740–54. ©2014 AACR.


Tumors with BRCA germline mutations are defective in repairing DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) through homologous recombination (HR) pathways, making them sensitive to PARP inhibitors (PARPi). However, BRCA germline mutations are rare in prostate cancer limiting the ability to therapeutically target these pathways. This study investigates whether histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors (HDACi), reported to modulate DSB repair pathways in sporadic cancers, can downregulate DSB repair pathways and sensitize prostate cancer cells to PARPi. Prostate cancer cells cotreated with the HDAC inhibitor, suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) and the PARPi, olaparib, demonstrated a synergistic decrease in cell viability compared with single-agent treatment (combination index < 0.9), whereas normal prostatic cells did not. Similarly, clonogenicity was significantly decreased after cotreatment. Flow cytometric cell-cycle analysis and Annexin-V staining revealed significant apoptosis upon treatment with SAHA+olaparib. This coincided with increased DNA damage observed by immunofluorescence microscopy analysis of H2AX foci, a marker of DSBs. In addition, immunoblot analysis showed a significant and persistent increase in nuclear H2AX levels. Both SAHA and olaparib downregulated the expression of HR-related proteins, BRCA1 and RAD51, whereas SAHA + olaparib had an additive effect on RAD51. Silencing RAD51 sensitized prostate cancer cells to SAHA and olaparib alone. Collectively, cotreatment with HDACi and PARPi downregulated HR-related protein expression and concomitantly increased DNA damage, resulting in prostate cancer cell death.

Implications: These findings provide a strong rationale for supporting the use of combined HDAC and PARP inhibition in treating advanced prostate cancer. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1755–66. ©2014 AACR.


The efficacy of radiotherapy in many tumor types is limited by normal tissue toxicity and by intrinsic or acquired radioresistance. Therefore, it is essential to understand the molecular network responsible for regulating radiosensitivity/resistance. Here, an unbiased functional screen identified four microRNAs (miR1, miR125a, miR150, and miR425) that induce radioresistance. Considering the clinical importance of radiotherapy for patients with glioblastoma, the impact of these miRNAs on glioblastoma radioresistance was investigated. Overexpression of miR1, miR125a, miR150, and/or miR425 in glioblastoma promotes radioresistance through upregulation of the cell-cycle checkpoint response. Conversely, antagonizing with antagomiRs sensitizes glioblastoma cells to irradiation, suggesting their potential as targets for inhibiting therapeutic resistance. Analysis of glioblastoma datasets from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) revealed that these miRNAs are expressed in glioblastoma patient specimens and correlate with TGFβ signaling. Finally, it is demonstrated that expression of miR1 and miR125a can be induced by TGFβ and antagonized by a TGFβ receptor inhibitor. Together, these results identify and characterize a new role for miR425, miR1, miR125, and miR150 in promoting radioresistance in glioblastomas and provide insight into the therapeutic application of TGFβ inhibitors in radiotherapy.

Implications: Systematic identification of miRs that cause radioresistance in gliomas is important for uncovering predictive markers for radiotherapy or targets for overcoming radioresistance. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1767–78. ©2014 AACR.


SMAD4 has been suggested to inhibit the activity of the WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway in cancer. However, the mechanism by which SMAD4 antagonizes WNT/β-catenin signaling in cancer remains largely unknown. Aurora A kinase (AURKA), which is frequently overexpressed in cancer, increases the transcriptional activity of β-catenin/T-cell factor (TCF) complex by stabilizing β-catenin through the inhibition of GSK-3β. Here, SMAD4 modulated AURKA in a TGFβ-independent manner. Overexpression of SMAD4 significantly suppressed AURKA function, including colony formation, migration, and invasion of cell lines. In addition, SMAD4 bound to AURKA induced degradation of AURKA by the proteasome. A luciferase activity assay revealed that the transcriptional activity of the β-catenin/TCF complex was elevated by AURKA, but decreased by SMAD4 overexpression. Moreover, target gene analysis showed that SMAD4 abrogated the AURKA-mediated increase of β-catenin target genes. However, this inhibitory effect of SMAD4 was abolished by overexpression of AURKA or silencing of AURKA in SMAD4-overexpressed cells. Meanwhile, the SMAD4-mediated repression of AURKA and β-catenin was independent of TGFβ signaling because blockage of TGFβR1 or restoration of TGFβ signaling did not prevent suppression of AURKA and β-catenin signaling by SMAD4. These results indicate that the tumor-suppressive function of SMAD4 is mediated by downregulation of β-catenin transcriptional activity via AURKA degradation in a TGFβ-independent manner.

Implications: SMAD4 interacts with AURKA and antagonizes its tumor-promoting potential, thus demonstrating a novel mechanism of tumor suppression. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1779–95. ©2014 AACR.


Although the ETV6–RUNX1 fusion is a frequent initiating event in childhood leukemia, its role in leukemogenesis is only partly understood. The main impact of the fusion itself is to generate and sustain a clone of clinically silent preleukemic B-cell progenitors (BCP). Additional oncogenic hits, occurring even several years later, are required for overt disease. The understanding of the features and interactions of ETV6–RUNX1–positive cells during this "latency" period may explain how these silent cells can persist and whether they could be prone to additional genetic changes. In this study, two in vitro murine models were used to investigate whether ETV6–RUNX1 alters the cellular adhesion and migration properties of BCP. ETV6–RUNX1–expressing cells showed a significant defect in the chemotactic response to CXCL12, caused by a block in CXCR4 signaling, as demonstrated by inhibition of CXCL12-associated calcium flux and lack of ERK phosphorylation. Moreover, the induction of ETV6–RUNX1 caused changes in the expression of cell-surface adhesion molecules. The expression of genes regulating the cytoskeleton was also affected, resulting in a block of CDC42 signaling. The abnormalities described here could alter the interaction of ETV6–RUNX1 preleukemic BCP with the microenvironment and contribute to the pathogenesis of the disease.

Implications: Alterations in the expression of cytoskeletal regulatory genes and migration properties of BCP represent early events in the evolution of the disease, from the preleukemic phase to the clinical onset, and suggest new strategies for effective eradication of leukemia. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1796–806. ©2014 AACR.


Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) is the most common histologically defined subtype of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). To define the molecular mechanism in the progression of ccRCC, we focused on LOX-like protein 2 (LOXL2), which is critical for the first step in collagen and elastin cross-linking. Using exon array analysis and quantitative validation, LOXL2 was shown to be significantly upregulated in clinical specimens of human ccRCC tumor tissues, compared with adjacent noncancerous renal tissues, and this elevated expression correlated with the pathologic stages of ccRCC. RNAi-mediated knockdown of LOXL2 resulted in marked suppression of stress-fiber and focal adhesion formation in ccRCC cells. Moreover, LOXL2 siRNA knockdown significantly inhibited cell growth, migration, and invasion. Mechanistically, LOXL2 regulated the degradation of both integrins α5 (ITGAV5) and β1 (ITGB1) via protease- and proteasome-dependent systems. In clinical ccRCC specimens, the expression levels of LOXL2 and integrin α5 correlated with the pathologic tumor grades. In conclusion, LOXL2 is a potent regulator of integrin α5 and integrin β1 protein levels and functions in a tumor-promoting capacity in ccRCC.

Implications: This is the first report demonstrating that LOXL2 is highly expressed and involved in ccRCC progression by regulating the levels of integrins α5 and β1. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1807–17. ©2014 AACR.


Overexpression of ribosomal RNA processing 1 homolog B (RRP1B) induces a transcriptional profile that accurately predicts patient outcome in breast cancer. However, the mechanism by which RRP1B modulates transcription is unclear. Here, the chromatin-binding properties of RRP1B were examined to define how it regulates metastasis-associated transcription. To identify genome-wide RRP1B-binding sites, high-throughput ChIP-seq was performed in the human breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231 and HeLa cells using antibodies against endogenous RRP1B. Global changes in repressive marks such as histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) were also examined by ChIP-seq. Analysis of these samples identified 339 binding regions in MDA-MB-231 cells and 689 RRP1B-binding regions in HeLa cells. Among these, 136 regions were common to both cell lines. Gene expression analyses of these RRP1B-binding regions revealed that transcriptional repression is the primary result of RRP1B binding to chromatin. ChIP-reChIP assays demonstrated that RRP1B co-occupies loci with decreased gene expression with the heterochromatin-associated proteins, tripartite motif-containing protein 28 (TRIM28/KAP1), and heterochromatin protein 1-α (CBX5/HP1α). RRP1B occupancy at these loci was also associated with higher H3K9me3 levels, indicative of heterochromatinization mediated by the TRIM28/HP1α complex. In addition, RRP1B upregulation, which is associated with metastasis suppression, induced global changes in histone methylation.

Implications: RRP1B, a breast cancer metastasis suppressor, regulates gene expression through heterochromatinization and transcriptional repression, which helps our understanding of mechanisms that drive prognostic gene expression in human breast cancer. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1818–28. ©2014 AACR.


Tamoxifen, a selective estrogen receptor (ER) modulator (SERM), remains a frontline clinical therapy for patients with ERα-positive breast cancer. However, the relatively rapid development of resistance to this drug in the metastatic setting remains an impediment to a durable response. Although drug resistance likely arises by many different mechanisms, the consensus is that most of the implicated pathways facilitate the outgrowth of a subpopulation of cancer cells that can either recognize tamoxifen as an agonist or bypass the regulatory control of ERα. Notable in this regard is the observation here and in other studies that expression of anterior gradient homology 2 (AGR2), a known proto-oncogene and disulfide isomerase, was induced by both estrogen (17β-estradiol, E2) and 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4OHT) in breast cancer cells. The importance of AGR2 expression is highlighted here by the observation that (i) its knockdown inhibited the growth of both tamoxifen-sensitive and -resistant breast cancer cells and (ii) its increased expression enhanced the growth of ERα-positive tumors in vivo and increased the migratory capacity of breast cancer cells in vitro. Interestingly, as with most ERα target genes, the expression of AGR2 in all breast cancer cells examined requires the transcription factor FOXA1. However, in tamoxifen-resistant cells, the expression of AGR2 occurs in a constitutive manner, requiring FOXA1, but loses its dependence on ER. Taken together, these data define the importance of AGR2 in breast cancer cell growth and highlight a mechanism where changes in FOXA1 activity obviate the need for ER in the regulation of this gene.

Implications: These findings reveal the transcriptional interplay between FOXA1 and ERα in controlling AGR2 during the transition from therapy-sensitive to -resistant breast cancer and implicate AGR2 as a relevant therapeutic target. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1829–39. ©2014 AACR.


Tetraspanin-29 (CD9) is an integral membrane protein involved in several fundamental cell processes and in cancer metastasis. Here, characterization of a panel of breast cancer cells revealed a nuclear pool of CD9, not present in normal human mammary epithelial cells. Antibody binding to surface CD9 of breast cancer cells resulted in increased nuclear CD9 fluorescence. CD9 was also found, along with a plasma membrane–associated pool, in the nuclei of all primary ductal breast carcinoma patient specimens analyzed. In all patients, about 40% of the total CD9 cellular fluorescence was nuclear. CD9 colocalized at the nuclear level with CEP97, a protein implicated in centrosome function, and with the IGSF8, an established CD9 partner in the plasma membrane. Co-immunoprecipitation of CEP97 and IGSF8 with CD9 was shown in nuclear extracts from breast cancer cells expressing a CD9–GFP fusion protein. However, by fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) analysis, no direct binding of CD9 with either protein was observed, suggesting that CD9 is part of a larger nuclear protein complex. CD9 depletion or exposure of parental breast cancer cells to anti-CD9 mAb resulted in polynucleation and multipolar mitoses. These data indicate that the nuclear CD9 pool has an important role in the mitotic process.

Implications: The discovery of a nuclear pool of CD9 has prognostic and/or therapeutic potential for patients with ductal carcinoma of the breast. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1840–50. ©2014 AACR.


Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in males, affecting one in eight men by the time they reach the age of 70 years. Current diagnostic tests for prostate cancer have significant problems with both false negatives and false positives, necessitating the search for new molecular markers. A recent investigation of endosomal and lysosomal proteins revealed that the critical process of endosomal biogenesis might be altered in prostate cancer. Here, a panel of endosomal markers was evaluated in prostate cancer and nonmalignant cells and a significant increase in gene and protein expression was found for early, but not late endosomal proteins. There was also a differential distribution of early endosomes, and altered endosomal traffic and signaling of the transferrin receptors (TFRC and TFR2) in prostate cancer cells. These findings support the concept that endosome biogenesis and function are altered in prostate cancer. Microarray analysis of a clinical cohort confirmed the altered endosomal gene expression observed in cultured prostate cancer cells. Furthermore, in prostate cancer patient tissue specimens, the early endosomal marker and adaptor protein APPL1 showed consistently altered basement membrane histology in the vicinity of tumors and concentrated staining within tumor masses. These novel observations on altered early endosome biogenesis provide a new avenue for prostate cancer biomarker investigation and suggest new methods for the early diagnosis and accurate prognosis of prostate cancer.

Implications: This discovery of altered endosome biogenesis in prostate cancer may lead to novel biomarkers for more precise cancer detection and patient prognosis. Mol Cancer Res; 12(12); 1851–62. ©2014 AACR.