AKT3 Expression in Mesenchymal Colorectal Cancer Cells Drives Growth and Is Associated with Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition.
ABSTRACT: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a heterogeneous disease that can currently be subdivided into four distinct consensus molecular subtypes (CMS) based on gene expression profiling. The CMS4 subtype is marked by high expression of mesenchymal genes and is associated with a worse overall prognosis compared to other CMSs. Importantly, this subtype responds poorly to the standard therapies currently used to treat CRC. We set out to explore what regulatory signalling networks underlie the CMS4 phenotype of cancer cells, specifically, by analysing which kinases were more highly expressed in this subtype compared to others. We found AKT3 to be expressed in the cancer cell epithelium of CRC specimens, patient derived xenograft (PDX) models and in (primary) cell cultures representing CMS4. Importantly, chemical inhibition or knockout of this gene hampers outgrowth of this subtype, as AKT3 controls expression of the cell cycle regulator p27KIP1. Furthermore, high AKT3 expression was associated with high expression of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) genes, and this observation could be expanded to cell lines representing other carcinoma types. More importantly, this association allowed for the identification of CRC patients with a high propensity to metastasise and an associated poor prognosis. High AKT3 expression in the tumour epithelial compartment may thus be used as a surrogate marker for EMT and may allow for a selection of CRC patients that could benefit from AKT3-targeted therapy.
Project description:Semaphorin 4C (SEMA4C), is an important regulator of axonal guidance and aggravates tumor development. However, the roles and prognostic value of SEMA4C in colorectal cancer (CRC) remain unclear. Here, bioinformatics analyses of transcriptome data from multiple CRC patient datasets and immunohistochemical staining of a CRC tissue microarray (TMA) (n=83) showed that SEMA4C mRNA and protein expression were higher in CRC tissues than normal colorectal tissues. SEMA4C mRNA and protein expression correlated with pathologic stage and metastasis in CRC patients. Higher SEMA4C expression was associated with shorter overall survival, consensus molecular subtype 4 (CMS4), and DNA hypomethylation of SEMA4C in CRC patients. Multivariate Cox regression analyses revealed that SEMA4C expression was an independent prognostic predictor in CRC patients. Gene set expression analysis (GSEA) illustrated that SEMA4C expression had remarkable correlations with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) as well as hedgehog, Wnt/?-catenin, TGF-?, and Notch signaling pathways. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis demonstrated that SEMA4C expression accurately distinguished between the CMS4 and CMS1-3 subtypes of CRC patients. By inhibiting EMT, SEMA4C silencing reduced in vitro proliferation, migration, and invasion by CRC cells. These findings suggest that SEMA4C is a CMS4-associated gene that enhances CRC progression by inducing EMT.
Project description:The current histopathological risk-stratification criteria in colorectal cancer (CRC) patients following a curative surgery remain inadequate. In this study, we undertook a systematic, genomewide, biomarker discovery approach to identify and validate key EMT-associated genes that may facilitate recurrence prediction in CRC. Genomewide RNA expression profiling results from two datasets (GSE17538; N =?173 and GSE41258; N =?307) were used for biomarker discovery. These results were independently validated in two, large, clinical cohorts (testing cohort; N =?201 and validation cohort; N =?468). We performed Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) for understanding the function of the candidate markers, and evaluated their correlation with the mesenchymal CMS4 subtype. We identified integrin subunit beta like 1 (ITGBL1) as a promising candidate biomarker, and its high expression associated with poor overall survival (OS) in stage I-IV patients and relapse-free survival (RFS) in stage I-III patients. Subgroup validation in multiple independent patient cohorts confirmed these findings, and demonstrated that high ITGBL1 expression correlated with shorter RFS in stage II patients. We developed a RFS prediction model which robustly predicted RFS (the area under the receiver operating curve (AUROC): 0.74; hazard ratio (HR): 2.72) in CRC patients. ITGBL1 is a promising EMT-associated biomarker for recurrence prediction in CRC patients, which may contribute to improved risk-stratification in CRC.
Project description:Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a heterogeneous disease posing a challenge for accurate classification and treatment of this malignancy. There is no common genetic molecular feature that would allow for the identification of patients at risk for developing recurrences and thus selecting patients who would benefit from more stringent therapies still poses a major clinical challenge. Recently, an international multicenter consortium (CRC Subtyping Consortium) was established aiming at the classification of CRC patients in biologically homogeneous CRC subtypes. Four consensus molecular subtypes (CMSs) were identified, of which the mesenchymal CMS4 presented with worse prognosis signifying the importance of identifying these patients. Despite the large number of samples analyzed and their clear association with unifying biological programs and clinical features, single-driver mutations could not be identified and patients are heterogeneous with regard to currently used clinical markers. We therefore set out to define the regulatory mechanisms underlying the distinct gene expression profiles using a network-based approach involving multiple molecular modalities such as gene expression, methylation levels and microRNA (miR) expression. The miR-200 family presented as the most powerful determinant of CMS4-specific gene expression, tuning the majority of genes differentially expressed in the poor prognosis subtype, including genes associated with the epithelial-mesenchymal transition program. Furthermore, our data show that two epigenetic marks, namely the methylation of the two miR-200 promoter regions, can identify tumors belonging to the mesenchymal subtype and is predictive of disease-free survival in CRC patients. Importantly, epigenetic silencing of the miR-200 family is also detected in epithelial CRC cell lines that belong to the mesenchymal CMS. We thus show that determining regulatory networks is a powerful strategy to define drivers of distinct cancer subtypes, which possess the ability to identify subtype affiliation and to shed light on biological behavior.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Quiescent/slow cycling cells have been identified in several tumors and correlated with therapy resistance. However, the features of chemoresistant populations and the molecular factors linking quiescence to chemoresistance are largely unknown. METHODS:A population of chemoresistant quiescent/slow cycling cells was isolated through PKH26 staining (which allows to separate cells on the basis of their proliferation rate) from colorectal cancer (CRC) xenografts and subjected to global gene expression and pathway activation analyses. Factors expressed by the quiescent/slow cycling population were analyzed through lentiviral overexpression approaches for their ability to induce a dormant chemoresistant state both in vitro and in mouse xenografts. The correlation between quiescence-associated factors, CRC consensus molecular subtype and cancer prognosis was analyzed in large patient datasets. RESULTS:Untreated colorectal tumors contain a population of quiescent/slow cycling cells with stem cell features (quiescent cancer stem cells, QCSCs) characterized by a predetermined mesenchymal-like chemoresistant phenotype. QCSCs expressed increased levels of ZEB2, a transcription factor involved in stem cell plasticity and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), and of antiapototic factors pCRAF and pASK1. ZEB2 overexpression upregulated pCRAF/pASK1 levels resulting in increased chemoresistance, enrichment of cells with stemness/EMT traits and proliferative slowdown of tumor xenografts. In parallel, chemotherapy treatment of tumor xenografts induced the prevalence of QCSCs with a stemness/EMT phenotype and activation of the ZEB2/pCRAF/pASK1 axis, resulting in a chemotherapy-unresponsive state. In CRC patients, increased ZEB2 levels correlated with worse relapse-free survival and were strongly associated to the consensus molecular subtype 4 (CMS4) characterized by dismal prognosis, decreased proliferative rates and upregulation of EMT genes. CONCLUSIONS:These results show that chemotherapy-naive tumors contain a cell population characterized by a coordinated program of chemoresistance, quiescence, stemness and EMT. Such population becomes prevalent upon drug treatment and is responsible for chemotherapy resistance, thus representing a key target for more effective therapeutic approaches.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Tumour budding is an important prognostic factor in colorectal cancer (CRC). Molecular profiling of tumour buds suggests (partial) epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stem-cell phenotype, similarly described in the "mesenchymal" Consensus Molecular Subtype 4 (CMS4), which identifies a particularly poor prognostic subgroup. Here, we determine the association of tumour budding with CMS classification, prognosis, and response to therapy. METHODS:AMC-AJCCII-90 cohort (n?=?76, stage II) was evaluated for peritumoural budding on H&E slides. LUMC (n?=?270, stage I-IV), CAIRO (n?=?504, metastatic CRC) and CAIRO2 (n?=?472, metastatic CRC) cohorts were investigated for intratumoural budding using pan-cytokeratin-stained tissue microarrays. Budding was scored as count/area, then classified as <5 or ?5 buds. For all cohorts, CMS classifications were available (gene-expression/immunohistochemistry-based classifiers). RESULTS:High (?5) budding predicted a worse outcome in multivariate analysis in AMC-AJCCII-90 (p?=?0.018), LUMC (p?<?0.0001), and CAIRO (p?=?0.03), and in CAIRO2 (continuous variable, p?=?0.02). Tumour budding counts were higher in CMS4 compared to epithelial CMS2/3 cancers (p?<?0.01, all), and associated with KRAS/BRAF mutations (p?<?0.01, AMC-AJCCII-90, CAIRO, CAIRO2). CONCLUSION:Tumour budding is an adverse prognostic factor across all CRC stages and is associated with the mesenchymal CMS4 phenotype. KRAS/BRAF mutations are strongly correlated with tumour budding suggesting their involvement in the regulation of this process.
Project description:Increased expression of trefoil factor 3 (TFF3) has been reported in colorectal carcinoma (CRC), being correlated with distant metastasis and poor clinical outcomes. Amongst the CRC subtypes, mesenchymal (CMS4) CRC is associated with the worst survival outcome. Herein, the functional roles of TFF3 and the pharmacological inhibition of TFF3 by a novel specific small molecule TFF3 inhibitor-2-amino-4-(4-(6-fluoro-5-methylpyridin-3-yl)phenyl)-5-oxo-4H,5H-pyrano[3,2-c]chromene-3-carbonitrile (AMPC) in CMS4 CRC was explored. Forced expression of TFF3 in CMS4 CRC cells promoted cell proliferation, cell survival, foci formation, invasion, migration, cancer stem cell like behaviour and growth in 3D Matrigel. In contrast, siRNA-mediated depletion of TFF3 or AMPC inhibition of TFF3 in CMS4 CRC cells decreased oncogenic behaviour as indicated by the above cell function assays. AMPC also inhibited tumour growth in vivo. The TFF3-stimulated oncogenic behaviour of CMS4 CRC cells was dependent on TFF3 activation of the p44/42 MAPK (ERK1/2) pathway. Furthermore, the forced expression of TFF3 decreased the sensitivity of CMS4 CRC cells to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU); while depleted TFF3 expression enhanced 5-FU sensitivity in CMS4 CRC cells. 5-FU treatment induced TFF3 expression in CMS4 CRC cells. AMPC, when used in combination with 5-FU in CMS4 CRC cells exhibited a synergistic inhibitory effect. In summary, this study provides functional evidence for TFF3 as a therapeutic target in CMS4 CRC.
Project description:Recently a consensus molecular subtype (CMS) classification of colorectal cancer (CRC) has been established that is based on the transcriptional rather than the genetic profile of an individual tumor and which may ultimately help to individualize CRC therapy. So far, however, the lack of appropriate animal models that faithfully recapitulate the different molecular subtypes impedes adequate preclinical testing of stratified therapeutic concepts. Here we demonstrate that constitutive AKT activation in intestinal epithelial cells markedly enhances colonic tumor invasion and metastasis in Trp53DIEC mice (Trp53ΔIECAktE17K) upon challenge with the carcinogen azoxymethane (AOM). Gene-expression profiling indicates that Trp53ΔIECAktE17K tumors closely resemble the human mesenchymal colorectal cancer subtype (CMS4), which is characterized by the poorest survival rate among the four consensus molecular subtypes of CRC. Trp53ΔIECAktE17K tumors are further characterized by a NOTCH pathway gene signature and a distinct cell autonomous upregulation of Notch3 in tumor epithelia while treatment of Trp53ΔIECAktE17K mice with a NOTCH3-inhibiting antibody reduces invasion and metastasis. Conversely, selective activation of NOTCH3 by overexpression of NOTCH3-IC in Akt wt tumor organoids strongly promotes development of metastasis in an orthotopic transplantation model. In CRC patients NOTCH3 expression correlates positively with tumor grading and the presence of lymph node as well as distant metastases and is specifically upregulated in CMS4 tumors. Therefore, we suggest NOTCH3 as a putative target for advanced CMS4 CRC patients.
Project description:Gremlin1 (GREM1) is a secreted glycoprotein member of the differential screening-selected gene in aberrant neuroblastoma (DAN) family of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) antagonists, which binds to BMPs preventing their receptor engagement. Previous studies have identified that stage II colorectal cancer (CRC) patients with high levels of GREM1 gene expression in their tumour tissue have a poorer prognosis. Using a series of in silico and in situ methodologies, we demonstrate that GREM1 gene expression is significantly higher (p < 0.0001) in CRC consensus molecular subtype 4 (CMS4), compared to the other CMS subtypes and correlates (p < 0.0001) with levels of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) within the CRC tumour microenvironment (TME). Our optimised immunohistochemistry protocol identified endogenous GREM1 protein expression in both the muscularis mucosa and adjacent colonic crypt bases in mouse intestine, in contrast to RNA expression which was shown to localise specifically to the muscularis mucosa, as determined by in situ hybridisation. Importantly, we demonstrate that cells with high levels of GREM1 expression display low levels of phospho-Smad1/5, consistent with reduced BMP signalling. Taken together, these data highlight a novel paracrine signalling circuit, which involves uptake of mature GREM1 protein by colonic crypt cells following secretion from neighbouring fibroblasts in the TME.
Project description:Purpose:Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a heterogeneous disease that can be classified into distinct molecular subtypes. The aims of this study were 1) to compare claudin (CLDN) gene expression in CRC samples and normal colon mucosa, and then in the different CRC molecular subtypes, and 2) to assess their prognostic value. Patients and methods:CLDN expression in CRC samples was analyzed using gene expression data for a cohort of 143 primary CRC samples, and compared in the same CRC samples classified into different molecular subtypes (C1 to C6 according to the Marisa's classification, and CMS1 to CMS4 of the consensus classification). Comparison of CLDN expression in normal and tumor colon samples was also made on a smaller number of samples. Then, the relationship between CLDN expression profiles and overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival was examined. Results:Compared with normal mucosa, CLDN1 and CLDN2 were upregulated, whereas CLDN5, 7, 8, and 23 were downregulated in CRC samples. Variations in CLDN expression profiles were observed mainly in the CMS2/C1 and CMS4/C4 subtypes. Overall, expression of CLDN2 or CLDN4 alone had a strong prognostic value that increased when they were associated. In the CMS4/C4 subtypes, lower expressions of CLDN11, CLDN12, and CLDN23 were associated with longer OS. Conversely, in the CMS2 and C1 subtypes, low CLDN23 expression was associated with shorter OS and progression-free survival, suggesting a dual role for CLDN23 as a tumor suppressor/promoter in CRC. CLDN6 and CLDN11 had a prognostic value in the CMS2 and C4 subtypes, respectively. Conclusion:This analysis of CLDN gene expression profiles and prognostic value in CRC samples classified according to their molecular subtype shows that CRC heterogeneity must be taken into account when assessing CLDN potential value as prognostic markers or therapeutic targets.
Project description:Tumor budding has been found to be of prognostic significance for several cancers, including colorectal cancer (CRC). Additionally, the molecular classification of CRC has led to the identification of different immune microenvironments linked to distinct prognosis and therapeutic response. However, the association between tumor budding and the different molecular subtypes of CRC and distinct immune profiles have not been fully elucidated. This study focused, firstly, on the validation of derived xenograft models (PDXs) for the evaluation of tumor budding and their human counterparts and, secondly, on the association between tumor budding and the immune tumor microenvironment by the analysis of gene expression signatures of immune checkpoints, Toll-like receptors (TLRs), and chemokine families. Clinical CRC samples with different grades of tumor budding and their corresponding PDXs were included in this study. Tumor budding grade was reliably reproduced in early passages of PDXs, and high-grade tumor budding was intimately related with a poor-prognosis CMS4 mesenchymal subtype. In addition, an upregulation of negative regulatory immune checkpoints (PDL1, TIM-3, NOX2, and IDO1), TLRs (TLR1, TLR3, TLR4, and TLR6), and chemokine receptors and ligands (CXCR2, CXCR4, CXCL1, CXCL2, CXCL6, and CXCL9) was detected in high-grade tumor budding in both human samples and their corresponding xenografts. Our data support a close link between high-grade tumor budding in CRC and a distinctive immune-suppressive microenvironment promoting tumor invasion, which may have a determinant role in the poor prognosis of the CMS4 mesenchymal subtype. In addition, our study demonstrates that PDX models may constitute a robust preclinical platform for the development of novel therapies directed against tumor budding in CRC.