The goal of targeted cancer therapies is to specifically block oncogenic signalling, thus maximising efficacy, while reducing side-effects to patients. The gamma-secretase (GS) complex is an attractive therapeutic target in haematological malignancies and solid tumours with major pharmaceutical activity to identify optimal inhibitors. Within GS, nicastrin (NCSTN) offers an opportunity for therapeutic intervention using blocking monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Here we explore the role of anti-nicastrin monoclonal antibodies, which we have developed as specific, multi-faceted inhibitors of proliferation and invasive traits of triple-negative breast cancer cells. We use 3D in vitro proliferation and invasion assays as well as an orthotopic and tail vail injection triple-negative breast cancer in vivo xenograft model systems. RNAScope assessed nicastrin in patient samples. Anti-NCSTN mAb clone-2H6 demonstrated a superior anti-tumour efficacy than clone-10C11 and the RO4929097 small molecule GS inhibitor, acting by inhibiting GS enzymatic activity and Notch signalling in vitro and in vivo. Confirming clinical relevance of nicastrin as a target, we report evidence of increased NCSTN mRNA levels by RNA in situ hybridization (RNAScope) in a large cohort of oestrogen receptor negative breast cancers, conferring independent prognostic significance for disease-free survival, in multivariate analysis. We demonstrate here that targeting NCSTN using specific mAbs may represent a novel mode of treatment for invasive triple-negative breast cancer, for which there are few targeted therapeutic options. Furthermore, we propose that measuring NCSTN in patient samples using RNAScope technology may serve as companion diagnostic for anti-NCSTN therapy in the clinic.
Resistance to anti-estrogen therapies is a major cause of disease relapse and mortality in estrogen receptor alpha (ER?)-positive breast cancers. Tamoxifen or estrogen withdrawal increases the dependence of breast cancer cells on Notch signalling. Here, we investigated the contribution of Nicastrin and Notch signalling in endocrine-resistant breast cancer cells.
The role of estrogen receptor (ER) ? as a target in treatment of breast cancer is clear, but those of ER?1 and ER?2 in the breast remain unclear. We have examined expression of all three receptors in surgically excised breast samples from two archives: (i): 187 invasive ductal breast cancer from a Japanese study; and (ii) 20 lobular and 24 ductal cancers from the Imperial College. Samples contained normal areas, areas of hyperplasia, and in situ and invasive cancer. In the normal areas, ER? was expressed in not more than 10% of epithelium, whereas approximately 80% of epithelial cells expressed ER?. We found that whereas ductal cancer is a highly proliferative, ER?-positive, ER?-negative disease, lobular cancer expresses both ER? and ER? but with very few Ki67-positive cells. ER?2 was expressed in 32% of the ductal cancers, of which 83% were postmenopausal. In all ER?2-positive cancers the interductal space was filled with dense collagen, and cell nuclei expressed hypoxia-inducible factor 1?. ER?2 expression was not confined to malignant cells but was strong in stromal, immune, and endothelial cells. In most of the high-grade invasive ductal cancers neither ER? nor ER? was expressed, but in the high-grade lobular cancer ER? was lost and ER? and Ki67 expression were abundant. The data show a clear difference in ER expression between lobular and ductal breast cancer and suggest (i) that tamoxifen may be more effective in late than in early lobular cancer and (ii) a potential role for ER? agonists in preventing in situ ductal cancers from becoming invasive.
Interactions between kinases and the estrogen receptor ? (ER?) are thought to be a critical signaling pathway in the majority of human breast cancers. We have recently identified a previously uncharacterized molecule, lemur tyrosine kinase-3 (LMTK3) as a prognostic and predictive oncogenic ER? regulator with a central role in endocrine resistance. Unusually this protein has undergone Darwinian positive selection between Chimpanzees and humans suggesting it may contribute to human susceptibility to ER?-positive tumors. Using over 600 European primary breast cancer cases, we wished to establish tumor characteristics associated with both cytoplasmic and nuclear LMTK3 expression, and then externally validate our observed European clinical outcomes with samples from Asian individuals receiving chemotherapy. Both nuclear and cytoplasmic expression correlated with tumor grade (P < 0.001) and in the Asian cohort, independent blinded analyses demonstrated that high basal LMTK3 expression was associated with advanced stage of primary breast cancers as well as decreased overall (P = 0.03) and disease-free survival (P = 0.006). In summary, higher LMTK3 expression is associated with more aggressive cancers. These data support our previous findings and suggest LMTK3 expression may be a reliable new biomarker in breast cancer.
Therapies targeting estrogen receptor ? (ER?, encoded by ESR1) have transformed the treatment of breast cancer. However, large numbers of women relapse, highlighting the need for the discovery of new regulatory targets modulating ER? pathways. An siRNA screen identified kinases whose silencing alters the estrogen response including those previously implicated in regulating ER? activity (such as mitogen-activated protein kinase and AKT). Among the most potent regulators was lemur tyrosine kinase-3 (LMTK3), for which a role has not previously been assigned. In contrast to other modulators of ER? activity, LMTK3 seems to have been subject to Darwinian positive selection, a noteworthy result given the unique susceptibility of humans to ER?+ breast cancer. LMTK3 acts by decreasing the activity of protein kinase C (PKC) and the phosphorylation of AKT (Ser473), thereby increasing binding of forkhead box O3 (FOXO3) to the ESR1 promoter. LMTK3 phosphorylated ER?, protecting it from proteasomal degradation in vitro. Silencing of LMTK3 reduced tumor volume in an orthotopic mouse model and abrogated proliferation of ER?+ but not ER?- cells, indicative of its role in ER? activity. In human cancers, LMTK3 abundance and intronic polymorphisms were significantly associated with disease-free and overall survival and predicted response to endocrine therapies. These findings yield insights into the natural history of breast cancer in humans and reveal LMTK3 as a new therapeutic target.
Nicastrin is an essential component of the gamma secretase (GS) enzyme complex, required for its synthesis and recognition of substrates for proteolytic cleavage. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether nicastrin has prognostic value or potential as a therapeutic target in breast cancer (BC). The suitability of nicastrin as a target in BC was assessed using BC tissue microarrays (TMAs) (n = 1050), and its biological role in vitro was evaluated in BC cell lines following gene silencing. Nicastrin blocking antibodies were developed and evaluated for their suitability as potential clinical therapeutics. TMA and cell line analysis confirmed that nicastrin expression was upregulated in BC compared to normal breast cells. In TMA patient samples, high nicastrin expression was observed in 47.5% of cases and correlated with ER? expression, patient age, and tumor grade. In pre-defined subset analysis, high nicastrin expression predicted for worse BC specific survival in the ER? -ve cohort. In vitro gene silencing of nicastrin resulted in disruption of the GS complex and a decrease in notch1 cleavage. This was sufficient to increase E-cadherin expression and its co-localization with p120 catenin at cell-cell junctions in MCF7 cells. Nicastrin silencing in invasive MDA-MB-231 cells resulted in loss of vimentin expression and a marked reduction in both cell motility and invasion; which was concomitant with the de novo formation of cell-cell junctions characterized by the colocalization of p120 catenin and F-actin. These data indicate that nicastrin can function to maintain epithelial to mesenchymal transition during BC progression. Anti-nicastrin polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies were able to decrease notch1 and vimentin expression and reduced the invasive capacity of BC cells in vitro. This supports our hypothesis that a nicastrin blocking antibody could be used to limit metastatic dissemination in invasive BC.
The tyrosine kinase receptor, HER2 is a crucial prognostic marker and therapeutic target for breast cancer; however, the downstream targets and biological effectors of HER2 remain unclear. We investigated the relationship between HER2 and the transcription factor FoxM1 in breast cancer. HER2 and FoxM1 expression levels were compared in breast carcinoma cell lines, paraffin-embedded breast cancer patient samples and at the mRNA level in purified breast epithelial cells. To further examine the relationship between HER2 and FoxM1 expression, we either overexpressed or siRNA-mediated depleted endogenous HER2 in breast cancer cell lines. Additionally, a mammary epithelium-targeted HER2 (neu) transgenic mouse model was also used to assess the effect of HER2 on FoxM1 levels. Furthermore, the effect of the HER2-tyrosine kinase inhibitor lapatinib on FoxM1 in HER2 positive breast cancer cells was investigated. HER2 protein levels directly correlated with FoxM1 expression in both breast carcinoma cell lines and paraffin-embedded breast cancer patient samples. Moreover, in purified breast epithelial cells, overexpression of HER2 was associated with high levels of FoxM1 mRNA, suggesting that the upregulation of FoxM1 expression is at least partially mediated transcriptionally. Furthermore, overexpression or ablation of endogenous HER2 resulted in parallel changes in FoxM1 expression. Critically, mammary epithelium-targeted HER2 mouse tumours also resulted in increased FoxM1 expression, suggesting that HER2 directed FoxM1 expression occurs in vivo and may be a critical downstream effector of HER2-targeting therapies. Indeed, treatment of breast cancer cells with lapatinib reduced FoxM1 expression at protein, mRNA and gene promoter levels. Moreover, analysis of normal and breast cancer patient samples revealed that elevated FoxM1 expression at protein and mRNA levels correlated with breast cancer development, but not significantly with cancer progression and survival. Our results indicate that the HER2 receptor regulates the expression of the FoxM1 transcription factor, which has a role in breast cancer development.
Nicastrin (NCT) is a crucial component of the ?-secretase (GS) enzyme, which prompted investigations into its biological role in cancer. We have previously shown that nicastrin is overexpressed in breast cancer (BC), conferring worse overall survival in invasive, ER? negative patients. Here, we used 2D and 3D Matrigel, anchorage-independent growth conditions and a breast cancer xenograft mouse model to assess the impact of nicastrin on breast cancer stem cell (BCSC) propagation and invasion in vitro and tumor growth in vivo. Stable knockdown of nicastrin in HCC1806 breast cancer cells reduced cell invasion by 51.4 ± 1.7%, accompanied by a morphological change to a rounded cell phenotype and down-regulation of vimentin, Snail, Twist, MMP2, and MMP9. We observed a reduction of the pool of CD44(+)/CD24(-) and ALDH1 high breast cancer stem cells by threefold and twofold, respectively, and a reduction by 2.6-fold of the mammospheres formation. Nicastrin overexpression in nontransformed MCF10A cells caused an induction of epithelial to mesenchymal regulators, as well as a fivefold increased ALDH1 activity, a threefold enrichment for CD44(+)/CD24(-) stem cells, and a 3.2-fold enhanced mammosphere-forming capacity. Using the ?-sescretase inhibiton, Notch1/4 siRNA, and Akt inhibition, we show that nicastrin regulates breast cancer stem cells partly through Notch1 and the Akt pathway. Exploiting serial dilution transplantation of the HCC1806 cells expressing nicastrin and HCC1806 stably depleted of nicastrin, in vivo, we demonstrate that nicastrin inhibition may be relevant for the reduced tumorigenicity of breast cancer cells. These data could serve as a benchmark for development of nicastrin-targeted therapies in breast cancer.
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