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Journal: Oncogene


Aurora kinase A (AURKA) localizes to centrosomes and mitotic spindles where it mediates mitotic progression and chromosomal stability. Overexpression of AURKA is common in cancer, resulting in acquisition of alternate non-mitotic functions. In the current study, we identified a novel role for AURKA in regulating ovarian cancer cell dissemination and evaluated the efficacy of an AURKA-selective small molecule inhibitor, alisertib (MLN8237), as a single agent and combined with paclitaxel using an orthotopic xenograft model of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). Ovarian carcinoma cell lines were used to evaluate the effects of AURKA inhibition and overexpression on migration and adhesion. Pharmacological or RNA interference-mediated inhibition of AURKA significantly reduced ovarian carcinoma cell migration and adhesion and the activation-associated phosphorylation of the cytoskeletal regulatory protein SRC at tyrosine 416 (pSRC(Y416)). Conversely, enforced expression of AURKA resulted in increased migration, adhesion and activation of SRC in cultured cells. In vivo tumor growth and dissemination were inhibited by alisertib treatment as a single agent. Moreover, combination of alisertib with paclitaxel, an agent commonly used in treatment of EOC, resulted in more potent inhibition of tumor growth and dissemination compared with either drug alone. Taken together, these findings support a role for AURKA in EOC dissemination by regulating migration and adhesion. They also point to the potential utility of combining AURKA inhibitors with taxanes as a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of EOC patients.Oncogene advance online publication, 21 January 2013; doi:10.1038/onc.2012.632.

Concepts: Gene expression, Cancer, Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, BRCA2, Enzyme inhibitor, Mitosis, BRCA1, Aurora kinase


Cell cycle dysregulation leads to uncontrolled cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying cell cycle progression can provide clues leading to the identification of key proteins involved in cancer development. In this study, we performed proteomics analysis to identify novel regulators of the cell cycle. We found that potassium channel tetramerization domain containing 12 (KCTD12) was significantly upregulated in M phase compared with S phase. We also found that KCTD12 overexpression not only facilitated the G2/M transition and induced cancer cell proliferation, but also promoted the growth of subcutaneous tumors and Ki-67 proliferation index in mice. Regarding the mechanism underlying these phenomena, cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1) was identified as an interacting partner of KCTD12 by immunoprecipitation and mass spectrometry analysis, which showed that KCTD12 activated CDK1 and Aurora kinase A (Aurora A) and that the effects of KCTD12 on CDK1 phosphorylation and cell proliferation were abrogated by cell division cycle 25B (CDC25B) silencing. In addition, Aurora A phosphorylated KCTD12 at serine 243, thereby initiating a positive feedback loop necessary for KCTD12 to exert its cancer-promoting effects. Furthermore, we analyzed the expression levels of various genes and the correlations between the expression of these genes and survival using tumor tissue microarray and Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) data sets. The data showed that KCTD12 expression was significantly upregulated in cervical and lung cancers. More importantly, high KCTD12 expression was associated with larger tumor sizes, higher pathological stages and poor patient survival. Collectively, our study demonstrate that KCTD12 binds to CDC25B and activates CDK1 and Aurora A to facilitate the G2/M transition and promote tumorigenesis and that Aurora A phosphorylates KCTD12 at serine 243 to trigger a positive feedback loop, thereby potentiating the effects of KCTD12. Thus, the KCTD12-CDC25B-CDK1-Aurora A axis has important implications for cancer diagnoses and prognoses.Oncogene advance online publication, 4 September 2017; doi:10.1038/onc.2017.287.

Concepts: Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Cancer, Cell division, Cell cycle, P53, Mitosis


Half of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers contain a subpopulation of cytokeratin 5 (CK5)-expressing cells that are therapy resistant and exhibit increased cancer stem cell (CSC) properties. We and others have demonstrated that progesterone (P4) increases CK5+ breast cancer cells. We previously discovered that retinoids block P4 induction of CK5+ cells. Here we investigated the mechanisms by which progesterone receptors (PR) and retinoic acid receptors (RAR) regulate CK5 expression and breast CSC activity. After P4 treatment, sorted CK5+ compared to CK5- cells were more tumorigenic in vivo. In vitro, P4-treated breast cancer cells formed larger mammospheres and silencing of CK5 using small hairpin RNA abolished this P4-dependent increase in mammosphere size. Retinoic acid (RA) treatment blocked the P4 increase in CK5+ cells and prevented the P4 increase in mammosphere size. Dual small interfering RNA (siRNA) silencing of RARα and RARγ reversed RA blockade of P4-induced CK5. Using promoter deletion analysis, we identified a region 1.1 kb upstream of the CK5 transcriptional start site that is necessary for P4 activation and contains a putative progesterone response element (PRE). We confirmed by chromatin immunoprecipitation that P4 recruits PR to the CK5 promoter near the -1.1 kb essential PRE, and also to a proximal region near -130 bp that contains PRE half-sites and a RA response element (RARE). RA induced loss of PR binding only at the proximal site. Interestingly, RARα was recruited to the -1.1 kb PRE and the -130 bp PRE/RARE regions with P4, but not RA alone or RA plus P4. Treatment of breast cancer xenografts in vivo with the retinoid fenretinide reduced the accumulation of CK5+ cells during estrogen depletion. This reduction, together with the inhibition of CK5+ cell expansion through RAR/PR cross talk, may explain the efficacy of retinoids in prevention of some breast cancer recurrences.Oncogene advance online publication, 10 July 2017; doi:10.1038/onc.2017.204.

Concepts: DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Promoter, Cancer staging, Estrogen


Epidemiological evidence implicates excess adipose tissue in increasing cancer risk. Despite a steeply rising global prevalence of obesity, how adiposity contributes to transformation (stage a non-tumorigenic cell undergoes to become malignant) is unknown. To determine the factors in adipose tissue that stimulate transformation, we used a novel ex vivo system of visceral adipose tissue (VAT)-condition medium-stimulated epithelial cell growth in soft agar. To extend this system in vivo, we used a murine lipectomy model of ultraviolet light B-induced, VAT-promoted skin tumor formation. We found that VAT from mice and obese human donors stimulated growth in soft agar of non-tumorigenic epithelial cells. The difference in VAT activity was associated with fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF2) levels. Moreover, human and mouse VAT failed to stimulate growth in soft of agar in cells deficient in FGFR-1 (FGF2 receptor). We also demonstrated that circulating levels of FGF2 were associated with non-melanoma tumor formation in vivo. These data implicate FGF2 as a major factor VAT releases to transform epithelial cells-a novel, potential pathway of VAT-enhanced tumorigenesis. Strategies designed to deplete VAT stores of FGF2 or inhibit FGFR-1 in abdominally obese individuals may be important cancer prevention strategies as well as adjuvant therapies for improving outcomes.Oncogene advance online publication, 7 August 2017; doi:10.1038/onc.2017.278.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Obesity, Overweight, Adipose tissue, Tissues, Fibroblast growth factor, Skin


The life expectancy for pancreatic cancer patients has seen no substantial changes in the last 40 years as very few and mostly just palliative treatments are available. As the five years survival rate remains around 5%, the identification of novel pharmacological targets and development of new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed. Here we demonstrate that inhibition of the G protein-coupled receptor GPR55, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, reduces pancreatic cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo and we propose that this may represent a novel strategy to inhibit pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) progression. Specifically, we show that genetic ablation of Gpr55 in the KRASWT/G12D/TP53WT/R172H/Pdx1-Cre+/+ (KPC) mouse model of PDAC significantly prolonged survival. Importantly, KPC mice treated with a combination of the GPR55 antagonist Cannabidiol (CBD) and gemcitabine (GEM, one of the most used drugs to treat PDAC), survived nearly three times longer compared to mice treated with vehicle or GEM alone. Mechanistically, knockdown or pharmacologic inhibition of GPR55 reduced anchorage-dependent and independent growth, cell cycle progression, activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signalling and protein levels of ribonucleotide reductases in PDAC cells. Consistent with this, genetic ablation of Gpr55 reduced proliferation of tumour cells, MAPK signalling and ribonucleotide reductase M1 levels in KPC mice. Combination of CBD and GEM inhibited tumour cell proliferation in KPC mice and it opposed mechanisms involved in development of resistance to GEM in vitro and in vivo. Finally, we demonstrate that the tumour suppressor p53 regulates GPR55 protein expression through modulation of the microRNA miR34b-3p. Our results demonstrate the important role played by GPR55 downstream of p53 in PDAC progression. Moreover our data indicate that combination of CBD and GEM, both currently approved for medical use, might be tested in clinical trials as a novel promising treatment to improve PDAC patients' outcome.


Nuclear import, mediated in part by karyopherin-α (KPNA)/importin-α subtypes, regulates transcription factor access to the genome and determines cell fate. However, the cancer-specific changes of KPNA subtypes and the relevancy in cancer biology remain largely unknown. Here, we report that KPNA4, encoding karyopherin-α4 (KPNA4), is exclusively amplified and overexpressed in head and neck of squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Depletion of KPNA4 attenuated nuclear localization signal-dependent transport activity and suppressed malignant phenotypes and induced epidermal differentiation. Mechanistically, KPNA4-mediated nuclear transport of Ras-responsive element-binding protein (RREB1), which sustains Ras/ERK pathway signaling through repressing miR-143/145 expression. Notably, MAPK signaling enhanced trafficking activity of KPNA4 via phosphorylation of KPNA4 at Ser60. These data reveal that KPNA4 establishes a feed-forward cascade that potentiates Ras/ERK signaling in HNSCC.


Deregulation of cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 (CDK4/6) is highly prevalent in cancer; yet, inhibitors against these kinases are currently used only in restricted tumour contexts. The extent to which cancers depend on CDK4/6 and the mechanisms that may undermine such dependency are poorly understood. Here, we report that signalling engaging the MET proto-oncogene receptor tyrosine kinase/focal adhesion kinase (FAK) axis leads to CDK4/6-independent CDK2 activation, involving as critical mechanistic events loss of the CDKI p21CIP1 and gain of its regulator, the ubiquitin ligase subunit SKP2. Combined inhibition of MET/FAK and CDK4/6 eliminates the proliferation capacity of cancer cells in culture, and enhances tumour growth inhibition in vivo. Activation of the MET/FAK axis is known to arise through cancer extrinsic and intrinsic cues. Our work predicts that such cues support cell division independent of the activity of the cell cycle-regulating CDK4/6 kinases and identifies MET/FAK as a tractable route to broaden the utility of CDK4/6 inhibitor-based therapies in the clinic.


Although single base-pair resolution DNA methylation landscapes for embryonic and different somatic cell types provided important insights into epigenetic dynamics and cell-type specificity, such comprehensive profiling is incomplete across human cancer types. This prompted us to perform genome-wide DNA methylation profiling of 22 samples derived from normal tissues and associated neoplasms, including primary tumors and cancer cell lines. Unlike their invariant normal counterparts, cancer samples exhibited highly variable CpG methylation levels in a large proportion of the genome, involving progressive changes during tumor evolution. The whole-genome sequencing results from selected samples were replicated in a large cohort of 1112 primary tumors of various cancer types using genome-scale DNA methylation analysis. Specifically, we determined DNA hypermethylation of promoters and enhancers regulating tumor-suppressor genes, with potential cancer-driving effects. DNA hypermethylation events showed evidence of positive selection, mutual exclusivity and tissue specificity, suggesting their active participation in neoplastic transformation. Our data highlight the extensive changes in DNA methylation that occur in cancer onset, progression and dissemination.Oncogene advance online publication, 5 June 2017; doi:10.1038/onc.2017.176.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Cancer, Oncology, Benign tumor, Tumor, Neoplasm


Cancer cells are known to execute reprogramed metabolism of glucose, amino acids and lipids. Here, we report a significant role of cholesterol metabolism in cancer metastasis. By using label-free Raman spectromicroscopy, we found an aberrant accumulation of cholesteryl ester in human pancreatic cancer specimens and cell lines, mediated by acyl-CoA cholesterol acyltransferase-1 (ACAT-1) enzyme. Expression of ACAT-1 showed a correlation with poor patient survival. Abrogation of cholesterol esterification, either by an ACAT-1 inhibitor or by shRNA knockdown, significantly suppressed tumor growth and metastasis in an orthotopic mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Mechanically, ACAT-1 inhibition increased intracellular free cholesterol level, which was associated with elevated endoplasmic reticulum stress and caused apoptosis. Collectively, our results demonstrate a new strategy for treating metastatic pancreatic cancer by inhibiting cholesterol esterification.Oncogene advance online publication, 2 May 2016; doi:10.1038/onc.2016.168.

Concepts: Protein, Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, Lung cancer, Prostate cancer, Pancreatic cancer


Tumour cells can use strategies that make them resistant to nutrient deprivation to outcompete their neighbours. A key integrator of the cell’s responses to starvation and other stresses is amino-acid-dependent mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1). Activation of mTORC1 on late endosomes and lysosomes is facilitated by amino-acid transporters within the solute-linked carrier 36 (SLC36) and SLC38 families. Here, we analyse the functions of SLC36 family member, SLC36A4, otherwise known as proton-assisted amino-acid transporter 4 (PAT4), in colorectal cancer. We show that independent of other major pathological factors, high PAT4 expression is associated with reduced relapse-free survival after colorectal cancer surgery. Consistent with this, PAT4 promotes HCT116 human colorectal cancer cell proliferation in culture and tumour growth in xenograft models. Inducible knockdown in HCT116 cells reveals that PAT4 regulates a form of mTORC1 with two distinct properties: first, it preferentially targets eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E-binding protein 1 (4E-BP1), and second, it is resistant to rapamycin treatment. Furthermore, in HCT116 cells two non-essential amino acids, glutamine and serine, which are often rapidly metabolised by tumour cells, regulate rapamycin-resistant mTORC1 in a PAT4-dependent manner. Overexpressed PAT4 is also able to promote rapamycin resistance in human embryonic kidney-293 cells. PAT4 is predominantly associated with the Golgi apparatus in a range of cell types, and in situ proximity ligation analysis shows that PAT4 interacts with both mTORC1 and its regulator Rab1A on the Golgi. These findings, together with other studies, suggest that differentially localised intracellular amino-acid transporters contribute to the activation of alternate forms of mTORC1. Furthermore, our data predict that colorectal cancer cells with high PAT4 expression will be more resistant to depletion of serine and glutamine, allowing them to survive and outgrow neighbouring normal and tumorigenic cells, and potentially providing a new route for pharmacological intervention.Oncogene advance online publication, 5 October 2015; doi:10.1038/onc.2015.363.

Concepts: Gene expression, Cell, Cancer, Oncology, Golgi apparatus, Cell division, Colorectal cancer, Neoplasm