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Articles by Chitra Venugopal in JoVE

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Processing of Primary Brain Tumor Tissue for Stem Cell Assays and Flow Sorting

1Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, McMaster University

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The identification of brain tumor initiating cells (BTICs), the rare cells within a heterogeneous tumor possessing stem cell properties, provides new insights into human brain tumor pathogenesis. We have refined specific culture conditions to enrich for BTICs, and we routinely use flow cytometry to further enrich these populations. Self-renewal assays and transcript analysis by single cell RT-PCR can subsequently be performed on these isolated cells.

Other articles by Chitra Venugopal on PubMed

A Partial Failure of Membrane Protein Turnover May Cause Alzheimer's Disease: a New Hypothesis

The amyloid hypothesis has dominated the thinking in our attempts to understand, diagnose and develop drugs for Alzheimer's disease (AD). This article presents a new hypothesis that takes into account the numerous familial AD (FAD) mutations in the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and its processing pathways, but suggests a new perspective beyond toxicity of forms of the amyloid beta-peptide (Abeta). Clearly, amyloid deposits are an invariable feature of AD. Moreover, although APP is normally processed to secreted and membrane-bound fragments, sAPPbeta and CTFbeta, by BACE, and the latter is subsequently processed by gamma-secretase to Abeta and CTFgamma, this pathway mostly yields Abeta of 40 residues, and increases in the levels of the amyloidogenic 42-residue Abeta (Abeta42) are seen in the majority of the mutations linked to the disease. The resulting theory is that the disease is caused by amyloid toxicity, which impairs memory and triggers deposition of the microtubule associated protein, Tau, as neurofibrillary tangles. Nevertheless, a few exceptional FAD mutations and the presence of large amounts of amyloid deposits in a group of cognitively normal elderly patients suggest that the disease process is more complex. Indeed, it has been hard to demonstrate the toxicity of Abeta42 and the actual target has been shifted to small oligomers of the peptide, named Abeta derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs). Our hypothesis is that the disease is more complex and caused by a failure of APP metabolism or clearance, which simultaneously affects several other membrane proteins. Thus, a traffic jam is created by failure of important pathways such as gamma-secretase processing of residual intramembrane domains released from the metabolism of multiple membrane proteins, which ultimately leads to a multiple system failure. In this theory, toxicity of Abeta42 will only contribute partially, if at all, to neurodegeneration in AD. More significantly, this theory would predict that focussing on specific reagents such as gamma-secretase inhibitors that hamper metabolism of APP, may initially show some beneficial effects on cognitive performance by elimination of acutely toxic ADDLs, but over the longer term may exacerbate the disease process by reducing membrane protein turnover.

Genotoxicity in Alzheimer's Disease: Role of Amyloid

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex neurodegenerative disorder pathologically identified by the presence of extracellular senile plaques (SP) with a proteinaceous core composed of aggregates of the amyloid peptide (Abeta) and intracellular aggregates of the microtubule-associated protein tau (tau) as neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). These hallmarks consist of abnormally folded proteinaceous components that are believed to be neurotoxic in AD. The mechanisms of toxicity remain unclear although oxidative stress and inflammation are implicated as mediators of the toxicity and these lesions, in turn, are known to damage cellular components including proteins, lipids in the membrane and DNA. However effects on genotoxicity and its role in AD are less clear. The present review discusses various influences, in particular of amyloid, on the genetic material and their possible role in the neurodegeneration in AD. Further, the amalgamation of genomics and proteomics in understanding AD and therapeutic development is suggested.

Insulysin Cleaves the APP Cytoplasmic Fragment at Multiple Sites

The amyloid peptide (Abeta) deposited in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is generated by beta- and gamma-secretase processing of a larger integral membrane protein precursor (APP). Intramembrane processing of APP by gamma-secretase also yields an intracellular fragment, CTFgamma (a.k.a. AICD), which is highly conserved and is believed to regulate the transcription of several genes including KAI-1 and GSK3beta. The intracellular domain of APP is also processed by caspase to a 31 aa fragment that was shown to induce apoptosis by several groups. Although large quantities of CTFgamma are generated continuously by neurons, little if any is normally detected in cell lysates, which suggests that it is very rapidly turned over in vivo. Previous studies demonstrated that insulysin (IDE), an Abeta-degrading enzyme, is responsible for cytosol-mediated CTFgamma degradation in vitro. Consistent with this finding, knockout mice lacking IDE accumulate CTFgamma to detectable levels in the brain, although its levels remain lower than its precursor, suggesting that it continues to be turned over in the brain. Moreover, when we treated cultured cells with IDE inhibitors, we did not observe an increase in CTFgamma in cell lysates, suggesting that pathways other than IDE are also involved in CTFgamma turnover. To understand CTFgamma turnover further, we have mapped the IDE cleavage sites with the intention of mutating them to examine alternative pathways in future studies. Edman degradation revealed that IDE cleaves CTFgamma at multiple sites to small peptides ranging from 5 to 14 aa. The cleavage sites do not reveal the existence of any sequence specificity for IDE cleavage. Understanding the turnover mechanisms of CTFgamma is critical to the understanding of the signaling function of APP mediated by this fragment. The current study presents the interesting specificity of CTFgamma turnover by IDE, which has been previously identified as the major degrading enzyme for Abeta as well as CTFgamma. In addition, the study provides evidence for the presence of alternative CTFgamma-degrading pathways in the cell.

Geranylgeranyl Pyrophosphate Stimulates Gamma-secretase to Increase the Generation of Abeta and APP-CTFgamma

Cleavage of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) by beta- and gamma-secretases results in generation of the amyloid-beta protein (Abeta), which is characteristically deposited in the brain of Alzheimer's disease patients. Inhibitors of 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl (HMG)-CoA reductase (the statins) reduce levels of cholesterol and isoprenoids such as geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP). Previous studies have demonstrated that cholesterol increases and statins reduce Abeta levels mostly by regulating beta-secretase activity. In this study, we focused on the role of geranylgeranyl isoprenoids GGPP and geranylgeraniol (GGOH) in regulating Abeta production. Our data show that the inhibition of GGPP synthesis by statins plays an important role in statin-mediated reduction of Abeta secretion. Consistent with this finding, the geranylgeranyl isoprenoids preferentially increase the yield of Abeta of 42 residues (Abeta42) in a dose-dependent manner. Our studies further demonstrated that geranylgeranyl isoprenoids increase the yield of APP-CTFgamma (a.k.a. AICD) as well as Abeta by stimulating gamma-secretase-mediated cleavage of APP-CTFalpha and APP-CTFbeta in vitro. Furthermore, GGOH increases the levels of the active gamma-secretase complex in the detergent-insoluble membrane fraction along with its substrates, APP-CTFalpha and APP-CTFbeta. Our results indicate that geranylgeranyl isoprenoids may be an important physiological facilitator of gamma-secretase activity that can foster production of the pathologically important Abeta42.

Beta-secretase: Structure, Function, and Evolution

The most popular current hypothesis is that Alzheimer's disease (AD) is caused by aggregates of the amyloid peptide (Abeta), which is generated by cleavage of the Abeta protein precursor (APP) by beta-secretase (BACE-1) followed by gamma-secretase. BACE-1 cleavage is limiting for the production of Abeta, making it a particularly good drug target for the generation of inhibitors that lower Abeta. A landmark discovery in AD was the identification of BACE-1 (a.k.a. Memapsin-2) as a novel class of type I transmembrane aspartic protease. Although BACE-2, a homologue of BACE-1, was quickly identified, follow up studies using knockout mice demonstrated that BACE-1 was necessary and sufficient for most neuronal Abeta generation. Despite the importance of BACE-1 as a drug target, development has been slow due to the incomplete understanding of its function and regulation and the difficulties in developing a brain penetrant drug that can specifically block its large catalytic pocket. This review summarizes the biological properties of BACE-1 and attempts to use phylogenetic perspectives to understand its function. The article also addresses the challenges in discovering a selective drug-like molecule targeting novel mechanisms of BACE-1 regulation.

Challenges Associated with Metal Chelation Therapy in Alzheimer's Disease

A close association between brain metal dishomeostasis and the onset and/or progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD) has been clearly established in a number of studies, although the underlying biochemical mechanisms remain obscure. This observation renders chelation therapy an attractive pharmacological option for the treatment of this disease. However, a number of requirements must be fulfilled in order to adapt chelation therapy to AD so that the term "metal targeted strategies" seems now more appropriate. Indeed, brain metal redistribution rather than brain metal scavenging and removal is the major goal of this type of intervention. The most recent developments in metal targeted strategies for AD will be discussed using, as useful examples, clioquinol, curcumin, and epigallocatechin, and the future perspectives will also be outlined.

Bmi1 Marks Intermediate Precursors During Differentiation of Human Brain Tumor Initiating Cells

The master regulatory gene Bmi1 modulates key stem cell properties in neural precursor cells (NPCs), and has been implicated in brain tumorigenesis. We previously identified a population of CD133+ brain tumor cells possessing stem cell properties, known as brain tumor initiating cells (BTICs). Here, we characterize the expression and role of Bmi1 in primary minimally cultured human glioblastoma (GBM) patient isolates in CD133+ and CD133- sorted populations. We find that Bmi1 expression is increased in CD133- cells, and Bmi1 protein and transcript expression are highest during intermediate stages of differentiation as CD133+ BTICs lose their CD133 expression. Furthermore, in vitro stem cell assays and Bmi1 knockdown show that Bmi1 contributes to self-renewal in CD133+ populations, but regulates proliferation and cell fate determination in CD133- populations. Finally, we test if our in vitro stem cell assays and Bmi1 expression in BTIC patient isolates are predictive of clinical outcome for GBM patients. Bmi1 expression profiles show a marked elevation in the proneural GBM subtype, and stem cell frequency as assessed by tumor sphere assays correlates with patient outcome.

Polo-Like Kinase 1 (PLK1) Inhibition Kills Glioblastoma Multiforme Brain Tumour Cells in Part Through Loss of SOX2 and Delays Tumour Progression in Mice

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) ranks amongst the deadliest types of cancer and given this new therapies are urgently needed. To identify molecular targets, we queried a microarray profiling 467 human GBMs and discovered that polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) was highly expressed in these tumours and that it clustered with the proliferative subtype. Patients with PLK1-high tumours were more likely to die from their disease suggesting that current therapies are inactive against such tumours. This prompted us to examine its expression in brain tumour initiating cells (BTICs) given their association with treatment failure. BTICs isolated from patients expressed 110-470 times more PLK1 than normal human astrocytes. Moreover, BTICs rely on PLK1 for survival because the PLK1 inhibitor BI2536 inhibited their growth in tumoursphere cultures. PLK1 inhibition suppressed growth, caused G(2) /M arrest, induced apoptosis and reduced the expression of SOX2, a marker of neural stem cells, in SF188 cells. Consistent with SOX2 inhibition, the loss of PLK1 activity caused the cells to differentiate based on elevated levels of GFAP and changes in cellular morphology. We then knocked-down SOX2 with siRNA and showed that it too inhibited cell growth and induced cell death. Likewise, in U251 cells, PLK1 inhibition suppressed cell growth, down-regulated SOX2 and induced cell death. Furthermore, BI2536 delayed tumour growth of U251 cells in an orthotopic brain tumour model, demonstrating that the drug is active against GBM. In conclusion, PLK1 level is elevated in GBM and its inhibition restricts the growth of brain cancer cells.

Medulloblastoma Stem Cells: Where Development and Cancer Cross Pathways

Brain tumors are the leading cause of childhood cancer mortality, with medulloblastoma (MB) representing the most frequent malignant tumor. The recent molecular classification of MB has reconceptualized the heterogeneity that exists within pathological subtypes by giving context to the role of key developmental signaling pathways in MB pathogenesis. The identification of cancer stem cell (CSC) populations, termed brain tumor-initiating cells (BTICs), in MB has provided novel cellular targets for the study of these aberrantly activated signaling pathways, namely, Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and Wingless (Wnt), along with the identification of novel BTIC self-renewal pathways. In this review, we discuss recent evidence for the presence of a MB stem cell that drives tumorigenesis in this malignant childhood tumor. We focus on evidence from cerebellar development, the recent identification of BTICs, the presence of activated developmental signaling pathways in MB, the role of epigenetic stem cell regulatory mechanisms, and how these developmental and epigenetic pathways may be targeted for novel therapeutic options.

GBM Secretome Induces Transient Transformation of Human Neural Precursor Cells

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most aggressive primary brain tumor in humans, with a uniformly poor prognosis. The tumor microenvironment is composed of both supportive cellular substrates and exogenous factors. We hypothesize that exogenous factors secreted by brain tumor initiating cells (BTICs) could predispose normal neural precursor cells (NPCs) to transformation. When NPCs are grown in GBM-conditioned media, and designated as "tumor-conditioned NPCs" (tcNPCs), they become highly proliferative and exhibit increased stem cell self-renewal, or the unique ability of stem cells to asymmetrically generate another stem cell and a daughter cell. tcNPCs also show an increased transcript level of stem cell markers such as CD133 and ALDH and growth factor receptors such as VEGFR1, VEGFR2, EGFR and PDGFRα. Media analysis by ELISA of GBM-conditioned media reveals an elevated secretion of growth factors such as EGF, VEGF and PDGF-AA when compared to normal neural stem cell-conditioned media. We also demonstrate that tcNPCs require prolonged or continuous exposure to the GBM secretome in vitro to retain GBM BTIC characteristics. Our in vivo studies reveal that tcNPCs are unable to form tumors, confirming that irreversible transformation events may require sustained or prolonged presence of the GBM secretome. Analysis of GBM-conditioned media by mass spectrometry reveals the presence of secreted proteins Chitinase-3-like 1 (CHI3L1) and H2A histone family member H2AX. Collectively, our data suggest that GBM-secreted factors are capable of transiently altering normal NPCs, although for retention of the transformed phenotype, sustained or prolonged secretome exposure or additional transformation events are likely necessary.

Medulloblastoma Stem Cells: Modeling Tumor Heterogeneity

Brain tumors represent the leading cause of childhood cancer mortality, with medulloblastoma (MB) being the most frequent malignant tumor. In this review we discuss the morphological and molecular heterogeneity of this malignant childhood brain tumor and how this key feature has implicated the presence of a MB stem cell. We focus on evidence from cerebellar development, histopathological and molecular subtypes of MB, the recent identification of brain tumor-initiating cells (BTICs, also referred to as MB stem cells), and the current limitations in studying the interplay between MB stem cells and tumor heterogeneity.

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