The transcriptional regulators YAP and TAZ are the focus of intense interest given their remarkable biological properties in development, tissue homeostasis and cancer. YAP and TAZ activity is key for the growth of whole organs, for amplification of tissue-specific progenitor cells during tissue renewal and regeneration, and for cell proliferation. In tumors, YAP/TAZ can reprogram cancer cells into cancer stem cells and incite tumor initiation, progression and metastasis. As such, YAP/TAZ are appealing therapeutic targets in cancer and regenerative medicine. Just like the function of YAP/TAZ offers a molecular entry point into the mysteries of tissue biology, their regulation by upstream cues is equally captivating. YAP/TAZ are well known for being the effectors of the Hippo signaling cascade, and mouse mutants in Hippo pathway components display remarkable phenotypes of organ overgrowth, enhanced stem cell content and reduced cellular differentiation. YAP/TAZ are primary sensors of the cell's physical nature, as defined by cell structure, shape and polarity. YAP/TAZ activation also reflects the cell "social" behavior, including cell adhesion and the mechanical signals that the cell receives from tissue architecture and surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). At the same time, YAP/TAZ entertain relationships with morphogenetic signals, such as Wnt growth factors, and are also regulated by Rho, GPCRs and mevalonate metabolism. YAP/TAZ thus appear at the centerpiece of a signaling nexus by which cells take control of their behavior according to their own shape, spatial location and growth factor context.
The Hippo transducers YAP/TAZ have been shown to play positive, as well as negative, roles in Wnt signaling, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we provide biochemical, functional, and genetic evidence that YAP and TAZ are integral components of the ?-catenin destruction complex that serves as cytoplasmic sink for YAP/TAZ. In Wnt-ON cells, YAP/TAZ are physically dislodged from the destruction complex, allowing their nuclear accumulation and activation of Wnt/YAP/TAZ-dependent biological effects. YAP/TAZ are required for intestinal crypt overgrowth induced by APC deficiency and for crypt regeneration ex vivo. In Wnt-OFF cells, YAP/TAZ are essential for ?-TrCP recruitment to the complex and ?-catenin inactivation. In Wnt-ON cells, release of YAP/TAZ from the complex is instrumental for Wnt/?-catenin signaling. In line, the ?-catenin-dependent maintenance of ES cells in an undifferentiated state is sustained by loss of YAP/TAZ. This work reveals an unprecedented signaling framework relevant for organ size control, regeneration, and tumor suppression.
The YAP and TAZ mediators of the Hippo pathway (hereafter called YAP/TAZ) promote tissue proliferation and organ growth. However, how their biological properties intersect with cellular metabolism remains unexplained. Here, we show that YAP/TAZ activity is controlled by the SREBP/mevalonate pathway. Inhibition of the rate-limiting enzyme of this pathway (HMG-CoA reductase) by statins opposes YAP/TAZ nuclear localization and transcriptional responses. Mechanistically, the geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate produced by the mevalonate cascade is required for activation of Rho GTPases that, in turn, activate YAP/TAZ by inhibiting their phosphorylation and promoting their nuclear accumulation. The mevalonate-YAP/TAZ axis is required for proliferation and self-renewal of breast cancer cells. In Drosophila melanogaster, inhibition of mevalonate biosynthesis and geranylgeranylation blunts the eye overgrowth induced by Yorkie, the YAP/TAZ orthologue. In tumour cells, YAP/TAZ activation is promoted by increased levels of mevalonic acid produced by SREBP transcriptional activity, which is induced by its oncogenic cofactor mutant p53. These findings reveal an additional layer of YAP/TAZ regulation by metabolic cues.
Metastasis is the most significant cause of cancer-associated morbidity and mortality but remains poorly understood. Recent work revealed that metastasis of aggressive triple-negative breast cancers is suppressed by Sharp1, a factor that promotes degradation of hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF) and blunts HIF-induced malignant cell behavior.
The evolution of a solid tumor is fueled by genetic aberrations. Yet, the tumor environment often dominates over the effects of genetics: normal tissues have powerful tumor-suppressive properties that constantly tame or eliminate cells carrying transforming mutations. Critical elements of such a suppressive microenvironment are structural characteristics of normal cells and tissues, such as cell polarity, attachment to the extracellular matrix (ECM), and epithelial organization. Once these tissue-level checkpoints have been overcome, tumor growth is enhanced by recruitment of stromal cells and remodeling of the ECM. Genetic inactivation in mouse models indicates the Hippo pathway as a fundamental inhibitor of organ growth during development and as a critical tumor suppressor in epithelial tissues, such as the liver, skin, and ovaries, and soft tissues. At the centerpiece of this pathway lie two related transcriptional coactivators, YAP and TAZ, that promote tissue proliferation and the self-renewal of normal and cancer stem cells, and incite metastasis. Strikingly, YAP and TAZ are controlled by the same architectural features that first inhibit and then foster cancer growth, such as ECM elasticity, cell shape, and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. These findings open unexpected opportunities for the development of new cancer therapeutics targeting key YAP/TAZ regulatory inputs such as Wnt signaling, cytoskeletal contractility, G-protein-coupled receptors, or YAP/TAZ-regulated transcription.
Key cellular decisions, such as proliferation or growth arrest, typically occur at spatially defined locations within tissues. Loss of this spatial control is a hallmark of many diseases, including cancer. Yet, how these patterns are established is incompletely understood. Here, we report that physical and architectural features of a multicellular sheet inform cells about their proliferative capacity through mechanical regulation of YAP and TAZ, known mediators of Hippo signaling and organ growth. YAP/TAZ activity is confined to cells exposed to mechanical stresses, such as stretching, location at edges/curvatures contouring an epithelial sheet, or stiffness of the surrounding extracellular matrix. We identify the F-actin-capping/severing proteins Cofilin, CapZ, and Gelsolin as essential gatekeepers that limit YAP/TAZ activity in cells experiencing low mechanical stresses, including contact inhibition of proliferation. We propose that mechanical forces are overarching regulators of YAP/TAZ in multicellular contexts, setting responsiveness to Hippo, WNT, and GPCR signaling.
Cell size is determined by the balance between protein synthesis and degradation. This equilibrium is affected by hormones, nutrients, energy levels, mechanical stress and cytokines. Mutations that inactivate myostatin lead to excessive muscle growth in animals and humans, but the signals and pathways responsible for this hypertrophy remain largely unknown. Here we show that bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling, acting through Smad1, Smad5 and Smad8 (Smad1/5/8), is the fundamental hypertrophic signal in mice. Inhibition of BMP signaling causes muscle atrophy, abolishes the hypertrophic phenotype of myostatin-deficient mice and strongly exacerbates the effects of denervation and fasting. BMP-Smad1/5/8 signaling negatively regulates a gene (Fbxo30) that encodes a ubiquitin ligase required for muscle loss, which we named muscle ubiquitin ligase of the SCF complex in atrophy-1 (MUSA1). Collectively, these data identify a critical role for the BMP pathway in adult muscle maintenance, growth and atrophy.
Triple negative breast cancers, which are defined by lack of expression of estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors, represent approximately 15% of all breast cancers, although they account for a much higher proportional of breast cancer mortality. This is due both to their innate aggressive biological characteristics, but also to lack of effective therapies. Conventional chemotherapy is currently the only treatment option, thus there is a critical need to find new and effective targeted therapies in this disease. While investigation of agents such as poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors and EGFR inhibitors continues, results from recent clinical trials indicate that these therapies are not as active in sporadic triple negative breast cancers as initially hoped. It is important therefore to consider other emerging therapeutic agents. Mutation in p53 is found in the vast majority of triple negative breast cancers, and as such is a target of particular interest. Within this review, several agents with potential activity against aberrant p53 signaling have been considered, as a novel approach to finding an effective targeted therapy for this aggressive breast cancer subtype.
Morphogens induce biological diversity by operating in a dose-dependent manner. Here we review recent evidences indicating that microRNAs (miRNAs) are ideally suited to serve the morphogen cause. miRNAs regulate the establishment of morphogen gradients, including TGF?, Wnt and other growth factors by acting on their secretion, distribution and clearance. miRNA are also critical in receiving cells, establishing context-dependency and threshold responses. Moreover, miRNAs contributes to gene networks that transform the graded activity of a morphogen into robust cell fate decisions. Finally, we discuss in the perspective section the implication of the new ceRNA hypothesis for morphogen biology.
Epithelial-mesenchymal transition is a physiopathological process by which epithelial cells acquire mesenchymal shape and properties. Malignant mesothelioma is histologically characterized by the concomitant presence of epithelioid and sarcomatoid features, the latter being associated to worse prognosis, thus suggesting a role of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in this dual phenotype. We studied 109 malignant mesotheliomas (58 epithelioid, 26 sarcomatoid, and 25 biphasic) by immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR analysis, and demonstrated a substantial switch from epithelial markers (E-cadherin, ?-catenin, and cytokeratins 5/6) to mesenchymal markers (N-cadherin, vimentin, ?-smooth muscle actin, Snail, Slug, Twist, ZEB1, ZEB2, S100A4, MMP2, and MMP9) through epithelioid to biphasic and sarcomatoid histotypes. In agreement with these findings, the ectopic expression of miR-205 (a repressor of ZEB1 and ZEB2 expression) in MeT-5A (mesothelial cell line), H2452 (an epithelioid malignant mesothelioma cell line) and MSTO-211H (a biphasic malignant mesothelioma cell line) not only induced a significant reduction of ZEB1 and ZEB2 and a consequent up-regulation of E-cadherin gene expression, but also inhibited migration and invasion. Moreover, miR-205 was significantly down-regulated in biphasic and sarcomatoid histotypes (qRT-PCR and in situ hybridization analyses). Collectively, our findings indicate that epithelial-mesenchymal transition has a significant part in the morphological features of malignant mesothelioma. In particular, miR-205 down-regulation correlated significantly with both a mesenchymal phenotype and a more aggressive behavior.
The TGF? pathway is critical for embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis. On ligand stimulation, TGF? and BMP receptors phosphorylate receptor-activated SMADs (R-SMADs), which then associate with SMAD4 to form a transcriptional complex that regulates gene expression through specific DNA recognition. Several ubiquitin ligases serve as inhibitors of R-SMADs, yet no deubiquitylating enzyme (DUB) for these molecules has so far been identified. This has left unexplored the possibility that ubiquitylation of R-SMADs is reversible and engaged in regulating SMAD function, in addition to degradation. Here we identify USP15 as a DUB for R-SMADs. USP15 is required for TGF? and BMP responses in mammalian cells and Xenopus embryos. At the biochemical level, USP15 primarily opposes R-SMAD monoubiquitylation, which targets the DNA-binding domains of R-SMADs and prevents promoter recognition. As such, USP15 is critical for the occupancy of endogenous target promoters by the SMAD complex. These data identify an additional layer of control by which the ubiquitin system regulates TGF? biology.
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are proposed to drive tumor initiation and progression. Yet, our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie CSC properties is limited. Here we show that the activity of TAZ, a transducer of the Hippo pathway, is required to sustain self-renewal and tumor-initiation capacities in breast CSCs. TAZ protein levels and activity are elevated in prospective CSCs and in poorly differentiated human tumors and have prognostic value. Gain of TAZ endows self-renewal capacity to non-CSCs. In epithelial cells, TAZ forms a complex with the cell-polarity determinant Scribble, and loss of Scribble--or induction of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)--disrupts the inhibitory association of TAZ with the core Hippo kinases MST and LATS. This study links the CSC concept to the Hippo pathway in breast cancer and reveals a mechanistic basis of the control of Hippo kinases by cell polarity.
Cells perceive their microenvironment not only through soluble signals but also through physical and mechanical cues, such as extracellular matrix (ECM) stiffness or confined adhesiveness. By mechanotransduction systems, cells translate these stimuli into biochemical signals controlling multiple aspects of cell behaviour, including growth, differentiation and cancer malignant progression, but how rigidity mechanosensing is ultimately linked to activity of nuclear transcription factors remains poorly understood. Here we report the identification of the Yorkie-homologues YAP (Yes-associated protein) and TAZ (transcriptional coactivator with PDZ-binding motif, also known as WWTR1) as nuclear relays of mechanical signals exerted by ECM rigidity and cell shape. This regulation requires Rho GTPase activity and tension of the actomyosin cytoskeleton, but is independent of the Hippo/LATS cascade. Crucially, YAP/TAZ are functionally required for differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells induced by ECM stiffness and for survival of endothelial cells regulated by cell geometry; conversely, expression of activated YAP overrules physical constraints in dictating cell behaviour. These findings identify YAP/TAZ as sensors and mediators of mechanical cues instructed by the cellular microenvironment.
The definition of embryonic potency and induction of specific cell fates are intimately linked to the tight control over TGFbeta signaling. Although extracellular regulation of ligand availability has received considerable attention in recent years, surprisingly little is known about the intracellular factors that negatively control Smad activity in mammalian tissues. By means of genetic ablation, we show that the Smad4 inhibitor ectodermin (Ecto, also known as Trim33 or Tif1gamma) is required to limit Nodal responsiveness in vivo. New phenotypes, which are linked to excessive Nodal activity, emerge from such a modified landscape of Smad responsiveness in both embryonic and extra-embryonic territories. In extra-embryonic endoderm, Ecto is required to confine expression of Nodal antagonists to the anterior visceral endoderm. In trophoblast cells, Ecto precisely doses Nodal activity, balancing stem cell self-renewal and differentiation. Epiblast-specific Ecto deficiency shifts mesoderm fates towards node/organizer fates, revealing the requirement of Smad inhibition for the precise allocation of cells along the primitive streak. This study unveils that intracellular negative control of Smad function by ectodermin/Tif1gamma is a crucial element in the cellular response to TGFbeta signals in mammalian tissues.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are integral elements in the post-transcriptional control of gene expression. After the identification of hundreds of miRNAs, the challenge is now to understand their specific biological function. Signalling pathways are ideal candidates for miRNA-mediated regulation owing to the sharp dose-sensitive nature of their effects. Indeed, emerging evidence suggests that miRNAs affect the responsiveness of cells to signalling molecules such as transforming growth factor-beta, WNT, Notch and epidermal growth factor. As such, miRNAs serve as nodes of signalling networks that ensure homeostasis and regulate cancer, metastasis, fibrosis and stem cell biology.
Although specific microRNAs (miRNAs) can be upregulated in cancer, global miRNA downregulation is a common trait of human malignancies. The mechanisms of this phenomenon and the advantages it affords remain poorly understood. Here we identify a microRNA family, miR-103/107, that attenuates miRNA biosynthesis by targeting Dicer, a key component of the miRNA processing machinery. In human breast cancer, high levels of miR-103/107 are associated with metastasis and poor outcome. Functionally, miR-103/107 confer migratory capacities in vitro and empower metastatic dissemination of otherwise nonaggressive cells in vivo. Inhibition of miR-103/107 opposes migration and metastasis of malignant cells. At the cellular level, a key event fostered by miR-103/107 is induction of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), attained by downregulating miR-200 levels. These findings suggest a new pathway by which Dicer inhibition drifts epithelial cancer toward a less-differentiated, mesenchymal fate to foster metastasis.
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) consists of a monolayer of cuboidal, pigmented cells that is located between the retina and the choroid. The RPE is vital for growth and function of the vertebrate eye and improper development results in congenital defects, such as microphthalmia or anophthalmia, or a change of cell fate into neural retina called transdifferentiation. The transcription factors microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (Mitf) and orthodenticle homolog 2 (Otx2) are crucial for RPE development and function; however, very little is known about their regulation. Here, by using a Wnt-responsive reporter, we show that the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway is activated in the differentiating mouse RPE. Cre-mediated, RPE-specific disruption of beta-catenin after the onset of RPE specification causes severe defects, resulting in microphthalmia with coloboma, disturbed lamination, and mislocalization of adherens junction proteins. Upon beta-catenin deletion, the RPE transforms into a multilayered tissue in which the expression of Mitf and Otx2 is downregulated, while retina-specific gene expression is induced, which results in the transdifferentiation of RPE into retina. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) and luciferase assays indicate that beta-catenin binds near to and activates potential TCF/LEF sites in the Mitf and Otx2 enhancers. We conclude that Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is required for differentiation of the RPE by directly regulating the expression of Mitf and Otx2. Our study is the first to show that an extracellular signaling pathway directly regulates the expression of RPE-specific genes such as Mitf and Otx2, and elucidates a new role for the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway in organ formation and development.
Wnt/beta-catenin and NF-kappaB signaling mechanisms provide central controls in development and disease, but how these pathways intersect is unclear. Using hair follicle induction as a model system, we show that patterning of dermal Wnt/beta-catenin signaling requires epithelial beta-catenin activity. We find that Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is absolutely required for NF-kappaB activation, and that Edar is a direct Wnt target gene. Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is initially activated independently of EDA/EDAR/NF-kappaB activity in primary hair follicle primordia. However, Eda/Edar/NF-kappaB signaling is required to refine the pattern of Wnt/beta-catenin activity, and to maintain this activity at later stages of placode development. We show that maintenance of localized expression of Wnt10b and Wnt10a requires NF-kappaB signaling, providing a molecular explanation for the latter observation, and identify Wnt10b as a direct NF-kappaB target. These data reveal a complex interplay and interdependence of Wnt/beta-catenin and EDA/EDAR/NF-kappaB signaling pathways in initiation and maintenance of primary hair follicle placodes.
TGFbeta ligands act as tumor suppressors in early stage tumors but are paradoxically diverted into potent prometastatic factors in advanced cancers. The molecular nature of this switch remains enigmatic. Here, we show that TGFbeta-dependent cell migration, invasion and metastasis are empowered by mutant-p53 and opposed by p63. Mechanistically, TGFbeta acts in concert with oncogenic Ras and mutant-p53 to induce the assembly of a mutant-p53/p63 protein complex in which Smads serve as essential platforms. Within this ternary complex, p63 functions are antagonized. Downstream of p63, we identified two candidate metastasis suppressor genes associated with metastasis risk in a large cohort of breast cancer patients. Thus, two common oncogenic lesions, mutant-p53 and Ras, selected in early neoplasms to promote growth and survival, also prefigure a cellular set-up with particular metastasis proclivity by TGFbeta-dependent inhibition of p63 function.
The assembly of the Smad complex is critical for TGFbeta signaling, yet the mechanisms that inactivate or empower nuclear Smad complexes are less understood. By means of siRNA screen we identified FAM (USP9x), a deubiquitinase acting as essential and evolutionarily conserved component in TGFbeta and bone morphogenetic protein signaling. Smad4 is monoubiquitinated in lysine 519 in vivo, a modification that inhibits Smad4 by impeding association with phospho-Smad2. FAM reverts this negative modification, re-empowering Smad4 function. FAM opposes the activity of Ectodermin/Tif1gamma (Ecto), a nuclear factor for which we now clarify a prominent role as Smad4 monoubiquitin ligase. Our study points to Smad4 monoubiquitination and deubiquitination as a way for cells to set their TGFbeta responsiveness: loss of FAM disables Smad4-dependent responses in several model systems, with Ecto being epistatic to FAM. This defines a regulative ubiquitination step controlling Smads that is parallel to those impinging on R-Smad phosphorylation.
Wnt growth factors are fundamental regulators of cell fate, but how the Wnt signal is translated into biological responses is incompletely understood. Here, we report that TAZ, a biologically potent transcriptional coactivator, serves as a downstream element of the Wnt/?-catenin cascade. This function of TAZ is independent from its well-established role as mediator of Hippo signaling. In the absence of Wnt activity, the components of the ?-catenin destruction complex--APC, Axin, and GSK3--are also required to keep TAZ at low levels. TAZ degradation depends on phosphorylated ?-catenin that bridges TAZ to its ubiquitin ligase ?-TrCP. Upon Wnt signaling, escape of ?-catenin from the destruction complex impairs TAZ degradation and leads to concomitant accumulation of ?-catenin and TAZ. At the genome-wide level, a substantial portion of Wnt transcriptional responses is mediated by TAZ. TAZ activation is a general feature of Wnt signaling and is functionally relevant to mediate Wnt biological effects.
The Spemann organizer stands out from other signaling centers of the embryo because of its broad patterning effects. It defines development along the anteroposterior and dorsoventral axes of the vertebrate body, mainly by secreting antagonists of growth factors. Qualitative models proposed more than a decade ago explain the organizers region-specific inductions (i.e., head and trunk) as the result of different combinations of antagonists. For example, head induction is mediated by extracellular inhibition of Wnt, BMP, and Nodal ligands. However, little is known about how the levels of these antagonists become harmonized with those of their targets and with the factors initially responsible for germ layers and organizer formation, including Nodal itself. Here we show that key ingredients of the head-organizer development, namely Nodal ligands, Nodal antagonists, and ADMP ligands reciprocally adjust each others strength and range of activity by a self-regulating network of interlocked feedback and feedforward loops. A key element in this cross-talk is the limited availability of ACVR2a, for which Nodal and ADMP must compete. By trapping Nodal extracellularly, the Nodal antagonists Cerberus and Lefty are permissive for ADMP activity. The system self-regulates because ADMP/ACVR2a/Smad1 signaling in turn represses the expression of the Nodal antagonists, reestablishing the equilibrium. In sum, this work reveals an unprecedented set of interactions operating within the organizer that is critical for embryonic patterning.
The physical and mechanical properties of the cellular microenvironment regulate cell shape and can strongly influence cell fate. How mechanical cues are sensed and transduced to regulate gene expression has long remained elusive. Recently, cues from the extracellular matrix, cell adhesion sites, cell shape and the actomyosin cytoskeleton were found to converge on the regulation of the downstream effectors of the Hippo pathway YAP (Yes-associated protein) and TAZ (transcriptional co-activator with PDZ-binding motif) in vertebrates and Yorkie in flies. This convergence may explain how mechanical signals can direct normal and pathological cell behaviour.
The molecular determinants of malignant cell behaviours in breast cancer remain only partially understood. Here we show that SHARP1 (also known as BHLHE41 or DEC2) is a crucial regulator of the invasive and metastatic phenotype in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer. SHARP1 is regulated by the p63 metastasis suppressor and inhibits TNBC aggressiveness through inhibition of hypoxia-inducible factor 1? (HIF-1?) and HIF-2? (HIFs). SHARP1 opposes HIF-dependent TNBC cell migration in vitro, and invasive or metastatic behaviours in vivo. SHARP1 is required, and sufficient, to limit expression of HIF-target genes. In primary TNBC, endogenous SHARP1 levels are inversely correlated with those of HIF targets. Mechanistically, SHARP1 binds to HIFs and promotes HIF proteasomal degradation by serving as the HIF-presenting factor to the proteasome. This process is independent of pVHL (von Hippel-Lindau tumour suppressor), hypoxia and the ubiquitination machinery. SHARP1 therefore determines the intrinsic instability of HIF proteins to act in parallel to, and cooperate with, oxygen levels. This work sheds light on the mechanisms and pathways by which TNBC acquires invasiveness and metastatic propensity.
The ability of secreted Transforming Growth Factor ? (TGF?) proteins to act as morphogens dictates that their influence be strictly regulated. Here, we report that maternally contributed fat facets (faf; a homolog of USP9X/FAM) is essential for proper interpretation of the zygotic Decapentaplegic (Dpp) morphogen gradient that patterns the embryonic dorsal-ventral axis. The data suggest that the loss of faf reduces the activity of Medea (a homolog of Smad4) below the minimum necessary for adequate Dpp signaling and that this is likely due to excessive ubiquitylation on a specific lysine. This study supports the hypothesis that the control of cellular responsiveness to TGF? signals at the level of Smad4 ubiquitylation is a conserved mechanism required for proper implementation of a morphogen gradient.
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