Despite intense investigation of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate pluripotency, the process of initial fate commitment of embryonic stem (ES) cells is still poorly understood. We used a genome-wide short hairpin RNA screen in mouse ES cells to identify genes that are essential for initiation of differentiation. Knockdown of the scaffolding protein Mek binding protein 1 (Mp1, also known as Lamtor3 or Map2k1ip1) stimulated self-renewal of ES cells, blocked differentiation, and promoted proliferation. Fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4) signaling is required for initial fate commitment of ES cells. Knockdown of Mp1 inhibited FGF4-induced differentiation but did not alter FGF4-driven proliferation. This uncoupling of differentiation and proliferation was also observed when oncogenic Ras isoforms were overexpressed in ES cells. Knockdown of Mp1 redirected FGF4 signaling from differentiation toward pluripotency and up-regulated the pluripotency-related genes Esrrb, Rex1, Tcl1, and Sox2. We also found that human germ cell tumors (GCTs) express low amounts of Mp1 in the invasive embryonic carcinoma and seminoma histologies and higher amounts of Mp1 in the noninvasive carcinoma in situ precursor and differentiated components. Knockdown of Mp1 in invasive GCT cells resulted in resistance to differentiation, thereby showing a functional role for Mp1 both in normal differentiation of ES cells and in germ cell cancer.
Retinoids play key roles in differentiation, growth arrest, and apoptosis and are increasingly being used in the clinic for the treatment of a variety of cancers, including neuroblastoma. Here, using a large-scale RNA interference-based genetic screen, we identify ZNF423 (also known as Ebfaz, OAZ, or Zfp423) as a component critically required for retinoic acid (RA)-induced differentiation. ZNF423 associates with the RARalpha/RXRalpha nuclear receptor complex and is essential for transactivation in response to retinoids. Downregulation of ZNF423 expression by RNA interference in neuroblastoma cells results in a growth advantage and resistance to RA-induced differentiation, whereas overexpression of ZNF423 leads to growth inhibition and enhanced differentiation. Finally, we show that low ZNF423 expression is associated with poor disease outcome in neuroblastoma patients.
Bmi1 is a member of the polycomb repressive complex 1 and plays different roles during embryonic development, depending on the developmental context. Bmi1 over expression is observed in many types of cancer, including tumors of astroglial and neural origin. Although genetic depletion of Bmi1 has been described to result in tumor inhibitory effects partly through INK4A/Arf mediated senescence and apoptosis and also through INK4A/Arf independent effects, it has not been proven that Bmi1 can be causally involved in the formation of these tumors. To see whether this is the case, we developed two conditional Bmi1 transgenic models that were crossed with GFAP-Cre mice to activate transgenic expression in neural and glial lineages. We show here that these mice generate intermediate and anterior lobe pituitary tumors that are positive for ACTH and beta-endorphin. Combined transgenic expression of Bmi1 together with conditional loss of Rb resulted in pituitary tumors but was insufficient to induce medulloblastoma therefore indicating that the oncogenic function of Bmi1 depends on regulation of p16(INK4A)/Rb rather than on regulation of p19(ARF)/p53. Human pituitary adenomas show Bmi1 overexpression in over 50% of the cases, which indicates that Bmi1 could be causally involved in formation of these tumors similarly as in our mouse model.
Prostate cancer (PCa) is a major lethal malignancy in men, but the molecular events and their interplay underlying prostate carcinogenesis remain poorly understood. Epigenetic events and the upregulation of polycomb group silencing proteins including Bmi1 have been described to occur during PCa progression. Here, we found that conditional overexpression of Bmi1 in mice induced prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia, and elicited invasive adenocarcinoma when combined with PTEN haploinsufficiency. In addition, Bmi1 and the PI3K/Akt pathway were coactivated in a substantial fraction of human high-grade tumors. We found that Akt mediated Bmi1 phosphorylation, enhancing its oncogenic potential in an Ink4a/Arf-independent manner. This process also modulated the DNA damage response and affected genomic stability. Together, our findings demonstrate the etiological role of Bmi1 in PCa, unravel an oncogenic collaboration between Bmi1 and the PI3K/Akt pathway, and provide mechanistic insights into the modulation of Bmi1 function by phosphorylation during prostate carcinogenesis.
Neuroblastoma is a childhood tumour of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system. The pathogenesis has for a long time been quite enigmatic, as only very few gene defects were identified in this often lethal tumour. Frequently detected gene alterations are limited to MYCN amplification (20%) and ALK activations (7%). Here we present a whole-genome sequence analysis of 87 neuroblastoma of all stages. Few recurrent amino-acid-changing mutations were found. In contrast, analysis of structural defects identified a local shredding of chromosomes, known as chromothripsis, in 18% of high-stage neuroblastoma. These tumours are associated with a poor outcome. Structural alterations recurrently affected ODZ3, PTPRD and CSMD1, which are involved in neuronal growth cone stabilization. In addition, ATRX, TIAM1 and a series of regulators of the Rac/Rho pathway were mutated, further implicating defects in neuritogenesis in neuroblastoma. Most tumours with defects in these genes were aggressive high-stage neuroblastomas, but did not carry MYCN amplifications. The genomic landscape of neuroblastoma therefore reveals two novel molecular defects, chromothripsis and neuritogenesis gene alterations, which frequently occur in high-risk tumours.
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