Within the aim of advancing precision oncology, we have generated a collection of patient-derived xenografts (PDX) characterized at the molecular level, and a preclinical model of colon cancer metastasis to evaluate drug-response and tumor progression.
To improve our understanding of the biological relationships among different types of cancer, we have characterized variation in gene expression patterns in a set of 1,707 samples representing 6 human cancer types (breast, ovarian, brain, colorectal, lung adenocarcinoma and squamous cell lung cancer). In the unified dataset, breast tumors of the Basal-like subtype were found to represent a unique molecular entity as any other cancer type, including the rest of breast tumors, while showing striking similarities with squamous cell lung cancers. Moreover, gene signatures tracking various cancer- and stromal-related biological processes such as proliferation, hypoxia and immune activation were found expressed similarly in different proportions of tumors across the various cancer types. These data suggest that clinical trials focusing on tumors with common profiles and/or biomarker expression rather than their tissue of origin are warranted with a special focus on Basal-like breast cancer and squamous cell lung carcinoma.
In addition to well-characterized CD34(+) hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), the human hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) hierarchy contains a rare CD34(-) population with severe combined immunodeficiency-repopulating capacity. However, little is known about the molecular characteristics of these CD34(-) cells or their relationship to the CD34(+) populations. Here, we show that the self-renewing Lin(-)CD34(-)CD38(-)CD93(hi) population contains cells that not only function as HSCs, but can also be placed above the CD34(+) populations in the hematopoietic hierarchy. These cells have an active Notch pathway, in which signaling through Delta4 is crucial for maintenance of the primitive state, and combined signals from Jagged1 and TGF-? are important in controlling its quiescence. They are also refractory to proliferative signals and show a repressed canonical Wnt pathway, in part regulated by Notch. Overall, therefore, CD34(-) cells represent an immature and quiescent human HSC population maintained through a distinctive network of cellular signaling interactions.
Aberrant activation of the Wnt/?-catenin pathway is critical for the initiation and progression of most colon cancers. This activation provokes the accumulation of nuclear ?-catenin and the induction of its target genes. Apc(min/+) mice are the most commonly used model for colon cancer. They harbor a mutated Apc allele and develop intestinal adenomas and carcinomas during the first months of life. This phenotype is caused by the mutation of the second Apc allele and the consequent accumulation of nuclear ?-catenin in the affected cells. Here we describe that vitamin D receptor (VDR) is a crucial modulator of nuclear ?-catenin levels in colon cancer in vivo. By appropriate breeding of Apc(min/+) mice and Vdr(+/-) mice we have generated animals expressing a mutated Apc allele and two, one, or none Vdr wild type alleles. Lack of Vdr increased the number of colonic Aberrant Crypt Foci (ACF) but not that of adenomas or carcinomas in either small intestine or colon. Importantly, colon ACF and tumors of Apc(min/+)Vdr(-/-) mice had increased nuclear ?-catenin and the tumors reached a larger size than those of Apc(min/+)Vdr(+/+). Both ACF and carcinomas in Apc(min/+)Vdr(-/-) mice showed higher expression of ?-catenin/TCF target genes. In line with this, VDR knock-down in cultured human colon cancer cells enhanced ?-catenin nuclear content and target gene expression. Consistently, VDR depletion abrogated the capacity of 1,25(OH)(2)D(3) to promote the relocation of ?-catenin from the nucleus to the plasma membrane and to inhibit ?-catenin/TCF target genes. In conclusion, VDR controls the level of nuclear ?-catenin in colon cancer cells and can therefore attenuate the impact of oncogenic mutations that activate the Wnt/?-catenin pathway.
The Wnt–?-catenin and PI3K-AKT-FOXO3a pathways have a central role in cancer. AKT phosporylates FOXO3a, relocating it from the cell nucleus to the cytoplasm, an effect that is reversed by PI3K and AKT inhibitors. Simultaneous hyperactivation of the Wnt–?-catenin pathway and inhibition of PI3K-AKT signaling promote nuclear accumulation of ?-catenin and FOXO3a, respectively, promoting cell scattering and metastasis by regulating a defined set of target genes. Indeed, the anti-tumoral AKT inhibitor API-2 promotes nuclear FOXO3a accumulation and metastasis of cells with high nuclear ?-catenin content. Nuclear ?-catenin confers resistance to the FOXO3a-mediated apoptosis induced by PI3K and AKT inhibitors in patient-derived primary cultures and in corresponding xenograft tumors in mice. This resistance is reversed by XAV-939, an inhibitor of Wnt–?-catenin signaling. In the presence of high nuclear ?-catenin content, activation of FOXO3a by PI3K or AKT inhibitors makes it behave as a metastasis inductor rather than a proapoptotic tumor suppressor. We show that it is possible to evaluate the ?-catenin status of patients carcinomas and the response of patient-derived cells to target-directed drugs that accumulate FOXO3a in the nucleus before deciding on a course of treatment. We propose that this evaluation could be essential to the provision of a safer and more effective personalized treatment.
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