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Molecular Biology of the Cell

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Molecular Cancer Research

Telomeres are repetitive sequence structures at the ends of linear chromosomes that consist of double-stranded DNA repeats followed by a short single-stranded DNA protrusion. Telomeres need to be replicated in each cell cycle and protected from DNA-processing enzymes, tasks that cells execute using specialized protein complexes such as telomerase (that includes TERT), which aids in telomere maintenance and replication, and the shelterin complex, which protects chromosome ends. These complexes are also able to interact with a variety of other proteins, referred to as the telomere interactome, to fulfill their biological functions and control signaling cascades originating from telomeres. Given their essential role in genomic maintenance and cell-cycle control, germline mutations in telomere-regulating proteins and their interacting partners have been found to underlie a variety of diseases and cancer-predisposition syndromes. These syndromes can be characterized by progressively shortening telomeres, in which carriers can present with organ failure due to stem cell senescence among other characteristics, or can also present with long or unprotected telomeres, providing an alternative route for cancer formation. This review summarizes the critical roles that telomere-regulating proteins play in cell-cycle control and cell fate and explores the current knowledge on different cancer-predisposing conditions that have been linked to germline defects in these proteins and their interacting partners. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 211–22. ©2014 AACR.

All cancers contain an admixture of rapidly and slowly proliferating cancer cells. This proliferative heterogeneity complicates the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer because slow proliferators are hard to eradicate, can be difficult to detect, and may cause disease relapse sometimes years after apparently curative treatment. While clonal selection theory explains the presence and evolution of rapid proliferators within cancer cell populations, the circumstances and molecular details of how slow proliferators are produced is not well understood. Here, a β1-integrin/FAK/mTORC2/AKT1–associated signaling pathway is discovered that can be triggered for rapidly proliferating cancer cells to undergo asymmetric cell division and produce slowly proliferating AKT1low daughter cells. In addition, evidence indicates that the proliferative output of this signaling cascade involves a proteasome-dependent degradation process mediated by the E3 ubiquitin ligase TTC3. These findings reveal that proliferative heterogeneity within cancer cell populations, in part, is produced through a targetable signaling mechanism, with potential implications for understanding cancer progression, dormancy, and therapeutic resistance.

Implications: These findings provide a deeper understanding of the proliferative heterogeneity that exists in the tumor environment and highlight the importance of designing future therapies against multiple proliferative contexts.

Visual Overview. A proposed mechanism for producing slowly proliferating cancer cells. http://mcr.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2015/01/09/1541-7786.MCR-14-0474/F1.large.jpg.

Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 223–30. ©2015 AACR.

In response to oncogene activation and oncogene-induced aberrant proliferation, mammalian cells activate apoptosis and senescence, usually via the p53–ARF tumor-suppressor pathway. Apoptosis is a known barrier to cancer and is usually downregulated before full malignancy, but senescence as an anticancer barrier is controversial due to its presence in the tumor environment. In addition, senescence may aid cancer progression via releasing senescence-associated factors that instigate neighboring tumor cells. Here, it is demonstrated that apoptosis unexpectedly remains robust in ErbB2 (ERBB2/HER2)-initiated mammary early lesions arising in adult mice null for either p53 or ARF. These early lesions, however, downregulate senescence significantly. This diminished senescence response is associated with accelerated progression to cancer in ARF-null mice compared with ARF–wild-type mice. Thus, the ARF–p53 pathway is dispensable for the apoptosis anticancer barrier in the initiation of ErbB2 breast cancer, the apoptosis barrier alone cannot halt mammary tumorigenesis, and senescence is a key barrier against carcinogenesis.

Implications: Findings in this relevant mouse model of HER2-driven breast cancer suggest that effective prevention relies upon preserving both ARF/p53–independent apoptosis and ARF/p53–dependent senescence. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 231–8. ©2014 AACR.

Reduction of β-catenin (CTNNB1) destroying complex components, for example, adenomatous polyposis coli (APC), induces β-catenin signaling and subsequently triggers activation of genes involved in proliferation and tumorigenesis. Though diminished expression of APC has organ-specific and threshold-dependent influence on the development of liver tumors in mice, the molecular basis is poorly understood. Therefore, a detailed investigation was conducted to determine the underlying mechanism in the development of liver tumors under reduced APC levels. Mouse liver at different developmental stages was analyzed in terms of β-catenin target genes including Cyp2e1, Glul, and Ihh using real-time RT-PCR, reporter gene assays, and immunohistologic methods with consideration of liver zonation. Data from human livers with mutations in APC derived from patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) were also included. Hepatocyte senescence was investigated by determining p16INK4a expression level, presence of senescence-associated β-galactosidase activity, and assessing ploidy. A β-catenin activation of hepatocytes does not always result in β-catenin positive but unexpectedly also in mixed and β-catenin–negative tumors. In summary, a senescence-inducing program was found in hepatocytes with increased β-catenin levels and a positive selection of hepatocytes lacking p16INK4a, by epigenetic silencing, drives the development of liver tumors in mice with reduced APC expression (Apc580S mice). The lack of p16INK4a was also detected in liver tumors of mice with triggers other than APC reduction.

Implications: Epigenetic silencing of p16Ink4a in selected liver cells bypassing senescence is a general principle for development of liver tumors with β-catenin involvement in mice independent of the initial stimulus. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 239–49. ©2014 AACR.

The tumor-suppressor protein p53, encoded by TP53, inhibits tumorigenesis by inducing cell-cycle arrest, senescence, and apoptosis. Several genetic polymorphisms exist in TP53, including a proline to arginine variant at amino acid 72 (P72 and R72, respectively); this polymorphism alters p53 function. In general, the P72 variant shows increased ability to induce cell-cycle arrest, whereas the R72 variant possesses increased ability to induce apoptosis, relative to P72. At present, the underlying mechanisms for these functional differences are not fully understood. Toward elucidating the molecular basis for these differences, a gene-expression microarray analysis was conducted on normal human fibroblast cells that are homozygous for P72 and R72 variants, along with subclones of these lines that express a p53 short hairpin (shp53). Approximately three dozen genes were identified whose transactivation is affected by the codon 72 polymorphism. One of these is the tripartite-motif family-like 2 (TRIML2) gene, which is preferentially induced by the R72 variant. Importantly, the accumulated data indicate that TRIML2 interacts with p53, and facilitates the modification of p53 with SUMO2. TRIML2 also enhances the ability of p53 to transactivate a subset of proapoptotic target genes associated with prolonged oxidative stress, including PIDD, PIG3 (TP53I3), and PIG6 (PRODH). These data indicate that TRIML2 is part of a feed-forward loop that activates p53 in cells expressing the R72 variant, particularly after prolonged stress.

Implications: The defined actions of TRIML2, in part, explain the underlying molecular basis for increased apoptotic potential of the R72 variant of p53. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 250–62. ©2014 AACR.

Waldenström macroglobulinemia, a rare and indolent type of non–Hodgkin lymphoma, is characterized by widespread lymphoplasmacytic B cells in the bone marrow. Previous studies have shown that hypoxic conditions play a key role in the dissemination of other hematologic malignancies. In this study, the effect of hypoxia was tested on the progression and spread of Waldenström macroglobulinemia. Interestingly, tumor progression correlated with hypoxia levels in Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells and other cells in the bone marrow and correlated with the number of circulating tumor cells in vivo. Mechanistic studies demonstrated that hypoxia decreased cell progression and cell cycle, did not induce apoptosis, and reduced the adhesion between Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells and bone marrow stroma, through downregulation of E-cadherin expression, thus explaining increased egress of Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells to the circulation. Moreover, hypoxia increased the extravasation and homing of Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells to new bone marrow niches in vivo, by increased CXCR4/SDF-1–mediated chemotaxis and maintaining the VLA4-mediated adhesion. Re-oxygenation of hypoxic Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells enhanced the rate of proliferation and cell cycle progression and restored intercellular adhesion between Waldenström macroglobulinemia cells and bone marrow stroma. This study suggests that targeting hypoxic response is a novel strategy to prevent dissemination of Waldenström macroglobulinemia.

Implications: This study provides a better understanding of the biology of dissemination of Waldenström macroglobulinemia and opens new windows for investigation of new therapeutic targets in Waldenström macroglobulinemia based on tumor hypoxia mechanisms. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 263–72. ©2014 AACR.

Chloride intracellular channel 1 (CLIC1) has been shown to be upregulated in various malignancies but its exact function remains unclear. Here, it is revealed that CLIC1 is critical for the stability of invadopodia in endothelial and tumor cells embedded in a 3-dimensional (3D) matrix of fibrin. Invadopodia stability was associated with the capacity of CLIC1 to induce stress fiber and fibronectin matrix formation following its β3 integrin (ITGB3)-mediated recruitment into invadopodia. This pathway, in turn, was relevant for fibrin colonization as well as slug (SNAI2) expression and correlated with a significant role of CLIC1 in metastasis in vivo. Mechanistically, a reduction of myosin light chain kinase (MYLK) in CLIC1-depleted as well as β3 integrin-depleted cells suggests an important role of CLIC1 for integrin-mediated actomyosin dynamics in cells embedded in fibrin. Overall, these results indicate that CLIC1 is an important contributor to tumor invasion, metastasis, and angiogenesis.

Implications: This study uncovers an important new function of CLIC1 in the regulation of cell–extracellular matrix interactions and ability of tumor cells to metastasize to distant organs. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 273–80. ©2014 AACR.

Bile acids (BA) are endogenous agents capable of causing cancer throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. To uncover the mechanism by which BAs exert carcinogenic effects, both human liver and colon cancer cells as well as mouse primary hepatocytes were treated with BAs and assayed for viability, genotoxic stress, and transcriptional response. BAs induced both Nur77 (NR4A1) and proinflammatory gene expression. The intracellular location of BA-induced Nur77 was time dependent; short-term (1–3 hours) exposure induced nuclear Nur77, whereas longer (1–2 days) exposure also increased cytosolic Nur77 expression and apoptosis. Inhibiting Nur77 nuclear export with leptomycin B decreased lithocholic acid (LCA)-induced apoptosis. Extended (7 days) treatment with BA generated resistance to BA with increased nuclear Nur77, viability, and mobility. While, knockdown of Nur77 in BA-resistant cells increased cellular susceptibility to LCA-induced apoptosis. Moreover, in vivo mouse xenograft experiments demonstrated that BA-resistant cells form larger tumors with elevated Nur77 expression compared with parental controls. DNA-binding and gene expression assays identified multiple survival genes (CDK4, CCND2, MAP4K5, STAT5A, and RBBP8) and a proapoptosis gene (BID) as Nur77 targets. Consistently, BA-induced upregulation of the aforementioned genes was abrogated by a lack of Nur77. Importantly, Nur77 was overexpressed in high percentage of human colon and liver cancer specimens, and the intracellular location of Nur77 correlated with elevated serum total BA levels in patients with colon cancer. These data show for the first time that BAs via Nur77 have a dual role in modulating cell survival and death.

Implications: These findings establish a direct link between Nur77 and the carcinogenic effect of BAs. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 281–92. ©2014 AACR.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) is a relatively common malignancy with suboptimal long-term prognosis, thus new treatment strategies are urgently needed. Over the last decade, histone methyltransferases (HMT) have been recognized as promising targets for cancer therapy, but their mechanism of action in most solid tumors, including SCCHN, remains to be elucidated. This study investigated the role of Wolf–Hirschhorn syndrome candidate 1 (WHSC1), an NSD family HMT, in SCCHN. Immunohistochemical analysis of locoregionally advanced SCCHN, dysplastic, and normal epithelial tissue specimens revealed that WHSC1 expression and dimethylation of histone H3 lysine 36 (H3K36me2) were significantly higher in SCCHN tissues than in normal epithelium. Both WHSC1 expression and H3K36me2 levels were significantly correlated with histologic grade. WHSC1 knockdown in multiple SCCHN cell lines resulted in significant growth suppression, induction of apoptosis, and delay of the cell-cycle progression. Immunoblot and immunocytochemical analyses in SCCHN cells demonstrated that WHSC1 induced H3K36me2 and H3K36me3. Microarray expression profile analysis revealed NIMA-related kinase-7 (NEK7) to be a downstream target gene of WHSC1, and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays showed that NEK7 was directly regulated by WHSC1 through H3K36me2. Furthermore, similar to WHSC1, NEK7 knockdown significantly reduced cell-cycle progression, indicating that NEK7 is a key player in the molecular pathway regulated by WHSC1.

Implications: WHSC1 possesses oncogenic functions in SCCHN and represents a potential molecular target for the treatment of SCCHN. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 293–304. ©2014 AACR.

Metastatic colonization is an ominous feature of cancer progression. Recent studies have established the importance of pre-mRNA alternative splicing (AS) in cancer biology. However, little is known about the transcriptome-wide landscape of AS associated with metastatic colonization. Both in vitro and in vivo models of metastatic colonization were utilized to study AS regulation associated with cancer metastasis. Transcriptome profiling of prostate cancer cells and derivatives crossing in vitro or in vivo barriers of metastasis revealed splicing factors with significant gene expression changes associated with metastatic colonization. These include splicing factors known to be differentially regulated in epithelial–mesenchymal transition (ESRP1, ESRP2, and RBFOX2), a cellular process critical for cancer metastasis, as well as novel findings (NOVA1 and MBNL3). Finally, RNA-seq indicated a large network of AS events regulated by multiple splicing factors with altered gene expression or protein activity. These AS events are enriched for pathways important for cell motility and signaling, and affect key regulators of the invasive phenotype such as CD44 and GRHL1.

Implications: Transcriptome-wide remodeling of AS is an integral regulatory process underlying metastatic colonization, and AS events affect the metastatic behavior of cancer cells. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 305–18. ©2014 AACR.

Several groups have reported that TGFβ1 regulates cellular responses to -irradiation; however, the exact mechanism has not been fully elucidated. In the current study, the role of TGFβ1 in cellular responses to -irradiation was investigated in detail. The data indicate that TGFβ1 pretreatment decreased the aftermath of ionizing radiation (IR)-induced DNA damage in a SMAD-dependent manner. To determine the underlying mechanism for these effects, the extent of IR-induced DNA repair activity in the presence or absence of TGFβ1 was examined. Studies reveal that TGFβ1 upregulated DNA ligase IV (Lig4), augmented IR-induced nuclear retention of the DNA ligase, and enhanced nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) repair activity. In addition, knockdown of Lig4 reduced the TGFβ1-induced protection against IR. Overall, these data indicate that TGFβ1 facilitates the NHEJ repair process upon -irradiation and thereby enhances long-term survival.

Implications: These findings provide new insight and a possible approach to controlling genotoxic stress by the TGFβ signaling pathway. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 319–29. ©2014 AACR.

Triple-negative (ER, HER2, PR) breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive disease with a poor prognosis with no available molecularly targeted therapy. Silencing of microRNA-145 (miR-145) may be a defining marker of TNBC based on molecular profiling and deep sequencing. Therefore, the molecular mechanism behind miR-145 downregulation in TNBC was examined. Overexpression of the long intergenic noncoding RNA regulator of reprogramming, lincRNA-RoR, functions as a competitive endogenous RNA sponge in TNBC. Interestingly, lincRNA-RoR is dramatically upregulated in TNBC and in metastatic disease and knockdown restores miR-145 expression. Previous reports suggest that miR-145 has growth-suppressive activity in some breast cancers; however, these data in TNBC indicate that miR-145 does not affect proliferation or apoptosis but instead, miR-145 regulates tumor cell invasion. Investigation of miR-145-regulated pathways involved in tumor invasion revealed a novel target, the small GTPase ADP-ribosylation factor 6 (Arf6). Subsequent analysis demonstrated that ARF6, a known regulator of breast tumor cell invasion, is dramatically upregulated in TNBC and in breast tumor metastasis. Mechanistically, ARF6 regulates E-cadherin localization and affects cell–cell adhesion. These results reveal a lincRNA-RoR/miR-145/ARF6 pathway that regulates invasion in TNBCs.

Implications: The lincRNA-RoR/miR-145/ARF6 pathway is critical to TNBC metastasis and could serve as biomarkers or therapeutic targets for improving survival. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 330–8. ©2014 AACR.

Human prostate cancer is known to harbor recurrent genomic aberrations consisting of chromosomal losses, gains, rearrangements, and mutations that involve oncogenes and tumor suppressors. Genetically engineered mouse (GEM) models have been constructed to assess the causal role of these putative oncogenic events and provide molecular insight into disease pathogenesis. While GEM models generally initiate neoplasia by manipulating a single gene, expression profiles of GEM tumors typically comprise hundreds of transcript alterations. It is unclear whether these transcriptional changes represent the pleiotropic effects of single oncogenes, and/or cooperating genomic or epigenomic events. Therefore, it was determined whether structural chromosomal alterations occur in GEM models of prostate cancer and whether the changes are concordant with human carcinomas. Whole genome array-based comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) was used to identify somatic chromosomal copy number aberrations (SCNA) in the widely used TRAMP, Hi-Myc, Pten-null, and LADY GEM models. Interestingly, very few SCNAs were identified and the genomic architecture of Hi-Myc, Pten-null, and LADY tumors were essentially identical to the germline. TRAMP neuroendocrine carcinomas contained SCNAs, which comprised three recurrent aberrations including a single copy loss of chromosome 19 (encoding Pten). In contrast, cell lines derived from the TRAMP, Hi-Myc, and Pten-null tumors were notable for numerous SCNAs that included copy gains of chromosome 15 (encoding Myc) and losses of chromosome 11 (encoding p53).

Implications: Chromosomal alterations are not a prerequisite for tumor formation in GEM prostate cancer models and cooperating events do not naturally occur by mechanisms that recapitulate changes in genomic integrity as observed in human prostate cancer. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 339–47. ©2014 AACR.

Prostate cancer has a proclivity to metastasize to bone. The mechanism by which prostate cancer cells are able to survive and progress in the bone microenvironment is not clear. Identification of molecules that play critical roles in the progression of prostate cancer in bone will provide essential targets for therapy. Ribosomal S6 protein kinases (RSK) have been shown to mediate many cellular functions critical for cancer progression. Whether RSK plays a role in the progression of prostate cancer in bone is unknown. IHC analysis of human prostate cancer specimens showed increased phosphorylation of RSK in the nucleus of prostate cancer cells in a significant fraction of human prostate cancer bone metastasis specimens, compared with the primary site or lymph node metastasis. Expression of constitutively active myristylated RSK in C4-2B4 cells (C4-2B4/RSK) increased their survival and anchorage-independent growth compared with C4-2B4/vector cells. Using an orthotopic bone injection model, it was determined that injecting C4-2B4/RSK cells into mouse femurs enhanced their progression in bone compared with control cells. In PC3-mm2 cells, knockdown of RSK1 (RPS6KA1), the predominant RSK isoform, but not RSK2 (RPS6KA2) alone, decreased anchorage-independent growth in vitro and reduced tumor progression in bone and tumor-induced bone remodeling in vivo. Mechanistic studies showed that RSK regulates anchorage-independent growth through transcriptional regulation of factors that modulate cell survival, including ING3, CKAP2, and PTK6. Together, these data provide strong evidence that RSK is an important driver in prostate cancer progression in bone.

Implications: RSK, an important driver in prostate cancer progression in bone, has promising potential as a therapeutic target for prostate cancer bone metastasis. Mol Cancer Res; 13(2); 348–57. ©2014 AACR.