Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Cancer cell


Transmissible cancers are clonal lineages that spread through populations via contagious cancer cells. Although rare in nature, two facial tumor clones affect Tasmanian devils. Here we perform comparative genetic and functional characterization of these lineages. The two cancers have similar patterns of mutation and show no evidence of exposure to exogenous mutagens or viruses. Genes encoding PDGF receptors have copy number gains and are present on extrachromosomal double minutes. Drug screening indicates causative roles for receptor tyrosine kinases and sensitivity to inhibitors of DNA repair. Y chromosome loss from a male clone infecting a female host suggests immunoediting. These results imply that Tasmanian devils may have inherent susceptibility to transmissible cancers and present a suite of therapeutic compounds for use in conservation.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Signal transduction, Mutagen


Loss of MHC class I (MHC-I) antigen presentation in cancer cells can elicit immunotherapy resistance. A genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 screen identified an evolutionarily conserved function of polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) that mediates coordinated transcriptional silencing of the MHC-I antigen processing pathway (MHC-I APP), promoting evasion of T cell-mediated immunity. MHC-I APP gene promoters in MHC-I low cancers harbor bivalent activating H3K4me3 and repressive H3K27me3 histone modifications, silencing basal MHC-I expression and restricting cytokine-induced upregulation. Bivalent chromatin at MHC-I APP genes is a normal developmental process active in embryonic stem cells and maintained during neural progenitor differentiation. This physiological MHC-I silencing highlights a conserved mechanism by which cancers arising from these primitive tissues exploit PRC2 activity to enable immune evasion.


Despite biomarker stratification, the anti-EGFR antibody cetuximab is only effective against a subgroup of colorectal cancers (CRCs). This genomic and transcriptomic analysis of the cetuximab resistance landscape in 35 RAS wild-type CRCs identified associations of NF1 and non-canonical RAS/RAF aberrations with primary resistance and validated transcriptomic CRC subtypes as non-genetic predictors of benefit. Sixty-four percent of biopsies with acquired resistance harbored no genetic resistance drivers. Most of these had switched from a cetuximab-sensitive transcriptomic subtype at baseline to a fibroblast- and growth factor-rich subtype at progression. Fibroblast-supernatant conferred cetuximab resistance in vitro, confirming a major role for non-genetic resistance through stromal remodeling. Cetuximab treatment increased cytotoxic immune infiltrates and PD-L1 and LAG3 immune checkpoint expression, potentially providing opportunities to treat cetuximab-resistant CRCs with immunotherapy.


Taxol and other antimitotic agents are frontline chemotherapy agents but the mechanisms responsible for patient benefit remain unclear. Following a genome-wide siRNA screen, we identified the oncogenic transcription factor Myc as a taxol sensitizer. Using time-lapse imaging to correlate mitotic behavior with cell fate, we show that Myc sensitizes cells to mitotic blockers and agents that accelerate mitotic progression. Myc achieves this by upregulating a cluster of redundant pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins and suppressing pro-survival Bcl-xL. Gene expression analysis of breast cancers indicates that taxane responses correlate positively with Myc and negatively with Bcl-xL. Accordingly, pharmacological inhibition of Bcl-xL restores apoptosis in Myc-deficient cells. These results open up opportunities for biomarkers and combination therapies that could enhance traditional and second-generation antimitotic agents.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Transcription factor


Tumor-educated blood platelets (TEPs) are implicated as central players in the systemic and local responses to tumor growth, thereby altering their RNA profile. We determined the diagnostic potential of TEPs by mRNA sequencing of 283 platelet samples. We distinguished 228 patients with localized and metastasized tumors from 55 healthy individuals with 96% accuracy. Across six different tumor types, the location of the primary tumor was correctly identified with 71% accuracy. Also, MET or HER2-positive, and mutant KRAS, EGFR, or PIK3CA tumors were accurately distinguished using surrogate TEP mRNA profiles. Our results indicate that blood platelets provide a valuable platform for pan-cancer, multiclass cancer, and companion diagnostics, possibly enabling clinical advances in blood-based “liquid biopsies”.

Concepts: Cancer, Blood, Bone marrow, Chemotherapy, Coagulation, Platelet, Tumor, Thrombocytopenia


We performed integrated genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic profiling of 150 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) specimens, including samples with characteristic low neoplastic cellularity. Deep whole-exome sequencing revealed recurrent somatic mutations in KRAS, TP53, CDKN2A, SMAD4, RNF43, ARID1A, TGFβR2, GNAS, RREB1, and PBRM1. KRAS wild-type tumors harbored alterations in other oncogenic drivers, including GNAS, BRAF, CTNNB1, and additional RAS pathway genes. A subset of tumors harbored multiple KRAS mutations, with some showing evidence of biallelic mutations. Protein profiling identified a favorable prognosis subset with low epithelial-mesenchymal transition and high MTOR pathway scores. Associations of non-coding RNAs with tumor-specific mRNA subtypes were also identified. Our integrated multi-platform analysis reveals a complex molecular landscape of PDAC and provides a roadmap for precision medicine.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Cancer, Oncology, Molecular biology, RNA


Our comprehensive analysis of alternative splicing across 32 The Cancer Genome Atlas cancer types from 8,705 patients detects alternative splicing events and tumor variants by reanalyzing RNA and whole-exome sequencing data. Tumors have up to 30% more alternative splicing events than normal samples. Association analysis of somatic variants with alternative splicing events confirmed known trans associations with variants in SF3B1 and U2AF1 and identified additional trans-acting variants (e.g., TADA1, PPP2R1A). Many tumors have thousands of alternative splicing events not detectable in normal samples; on average, we identified ≈930 exon-exon junctions (“neojunctions”) in tumors not typically found in GTEx normals. From Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium data available for breast and ovarian tumor samples, we confirmed ≈1.7 neojunction- and ≈0.6 single nucleotide variant-derived peptides per tumor sample that are also predicted major histocompatibility complex-I binders (“putative neoantigens”).


The BCL-2 family protein BAX is a central mediator of apoptosis. Overexpression of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins contributes to tumor development and resistance to therapy by suppressing BAX and its activators. We report the discovery of BTSA1, a pharmacologically optimized BAX activator that binds with high affinity and specificity to the N-terminal activation site and induces conformational changes to BAX leading to BAX-mediated apoptosis. BTSA1-induced BAX activation effectively promotes apoptosis in leukemia cell lines and patient samples while sparing healthy cells. BAX expression levels and cytosolic conformation regulate sensitivity to BTSA1. BTSA1 potently suppressed human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) xenografts and increased host survival without toxicity. This study provides proof-of-concept for direct BAX activation as a treatment strategy in AML.

Concepts: Protein, Gene expression, Cell, Apoptosis, Acute myeloid leukemia, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated death promoter


Once melanomas have progressed with acquired resistance to mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-targeted therapy, mutational heterogeneity presents a major challenge. We therefore examined the therapy phase before acquired resistance had developed and discovered the melanoma survival oncogene MITF as a driver of an early non-mutational and reversible drug-tolerance state, which is induced by PAX3-mediated upregulation of MITF. A drug-repositioning screen identified the HIV1-protease inhibitor nelfinavir as potent suppressor of PAX3 and MITF expression. Nelfinavir profoundly sensitizes BRAF and NRAS mutant melanoma cells to MAPK-pathway inhibitors. Moreover, nelfinavir is effective in BRAF and NRAS mutant melanoma cells isolated from patients progressed on MAPK inhibitor (MAPKi) therapy and in BRAF/NRAS/PTEN mutant tumors. We demonstrate that inhibiting a driver of MAPKi-induced drug tolerance could improve current approaches of targeted melanoma therapy.

Concepts: Gene expression, Signal transduction, Melanoma, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Mitogen-activated protein kinase, Extracellular signal-regulated kinases, Protein kinases


Cancer cell plasticity facilitates the development of therapy resistance and malignant progression. De-differentiation processes, such as an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), are known to enhance cellular plasticity. Here, we demonstrate that cancer cell plasticity can be exploited therapeutically by forcing the trans-differentiation of EMT-derived breast cancer cells into post-mitotic and functional adipocytes. Delineation of the molecular pathways underlying such trans-differentiation has motivated a combination therapy with MEK inhibitors and the anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone in various mouse models of murine and human breast cancer in vivo. This combination therapy provokes the conversion of invasive and disseminating cancer cells into post-mitotic adipocytes leading to the repression of primary tumor invasion and metastasis formation.