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Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive brain tumor that is resistant to conventional radiation and cytotoxic chemotherapies. We hypothesize that brain tumor initiating cells (BTICs), a subpopulation of treatment-resistant cells with stem cell properties cause tumor relapse and a subset of neural stem cell genes regulate BTIC self-renewal, driving GBM recurrence. We adapted the existing treatment protocol for adults with primary GBM for in vivo treatment of immunocompromised mice engrafted with GBMs. Post-chemoradiotherapy, the recovered GFP+GBMs were profiled for self-renewal and expression of critical stem cell genes. Using invitro and invivo gain-of-function/loss-of-function experiments, we investigated the regulatory functions of Bmi1 in primary neural stem & progenitor cells (NSPCs) and GBM tumor formation. Finally, global RNA-Seq profiling was performed to understand the consequences of Bmi1 dysregulation on target gene expression. GBM cells showed an increase in Bmi1 levels post-chemoradiotherapy, suggesting the presence of a treatment-refractory BTICs. GFP+cells extracted from treated xenografts had higher self-renewal and BTIC marker expression. Although treated mice responded to therapy, we observed tumor relapse with increased Bmi1 expression. Knockdown of Bmi1 diminished self-renewal and proliferation of GBM cells and delayed tumorigenesis, highlighting a critical role for Bmi1 in tumor maintenance. Conversely, over-expressing Bmi1 in NSPCs failed to initiate tumor formation in vivo. Using high-throughput sequencing data, we generated a map of signaling pathways dysregulated in GBM that may lead to tumor recurrence. Our data confirms the existence of a rare treatment-refractory BTIC population with enhanced self-renewal capacity that escapes therapy and drives tumor relapse.
Medulloblastoma (MB) is the most common malignant pediatric brain tumour, and is categorized into four molecular subgroups, with Group 3 MB having the worst prognosis due to the highest rate of metastatic dissemination and relapse. In this work, we describe the epigenetic regulator Bmi1 as a novel therapeutic target for treatment of recurrent Group 3 MB. Through comparative profiling of primary and recurrent MB, we show that Bmi1 defines a treatment-refractory cell population that is uniquely targetable by a novel class of small molecule inhibitors. We have optimized an in vivo mouse-adapted therapy model that has the advantage of generating recurrent, human, treatment-refractory MBs. Our preliminary studies showed that although chemoradiotherapy administered to mice engrafted with human MB showed reduction in tumour size, Bmi1 expression was enriched in the post-treatment residual tumour. Furthermore, we found that knockdown of Bmi1 in human recurrent MB cells decreases proliferation and self-renewing capacities of MB cells in vitro as well as both tumour size and extent of spinal leptomeningeal metastases in vivo. Oral administration of a potent Bmi1 inhibitor, PTC 028, resulted in a marked reduction in tumour burden and an increased survival in treatment cohort. Bmi1 inhibitors showed high specificity for MB cells and spared normal human neural stem cells, when treated with doses relevant for MB cells. As Group 3 medulloblastoma is often metastatic and uniformly fatal at recurrence, with no current or planned trials of targeted therapy, an efficacious agent such as Bmi1 inhibitor could be rapidly transitioned to clinical trials.
Brain Metastases (BM) represent a leading cause of cancer mortality. While metastatic lesions contain subclones derived from their primary lesion, their functional characterization has been limited by a paucity of preclinical models accurately recapitulating the stages of metastasis. This work describes the isolation of a unique subset of metastatic stem-like cells from primary human patient samples of BM, termed brain metastasis initiating cells (BMICs). Utilizing these BMICs we have established a novel patient-derived xenograft (PDX) model of BM that recapitulates the entire metastatic cascade, from primary tumor initiation to micro-metastasis and macro-metastasis formation in the brain. We then comprehensively interrogated human BM to identify genetic regulators of BMICs using in vitro and in vivo RNA interference screens, and validated hits using both our novel PDX model as well as primary clinical BM specimens. We identified SPOCK1 and TWIST2 as novel BMIC regulators, where in our model SPOCK1 regulated BMIC self-renewal and tumor initiation, and TWIST2 specifically regulated cell migration from lung to brain. A prospective cohort of primary lung cancer specimens was used to establish that SPOCK1 and TWIST2 were only expressed in patients who ultimately developed BM, thus establishing both clinical and functional utility for these gene products. This work offers the first comprehensive preclinical model of human brain metastasis for further characterization of therapeutic targets, identification of predictive biomarkers, and subsequent prophylactic treatment of patients most likely to develop BM. By blocking this process, metastatic lung cancer would effectively become a localized, more manageable disease.
Brain tumours represent the leading cause of childhood cancer mortality, of which medulloblastoma (MB) is the most frequent malignant pediatric brain tumour. Current molecular Nsubgroups of MB recognize distinct disease entities of which activated Wnt signaling (monosomy 6, exon 3 mutations in CTNNB1, and Wnt gene signature) is associated with a distinct subgroup and the best overall outcome. In contrast, only non-Wnt MBs are characterized by metastatic disease, increased rate of recurrence, and poor overall survivorship. Given the excellent clinical outcome in patients with Wnt-driven MB, we aimed to convert treatment-resistant MB subgroups into an ostensibly benign tumour through selective targeting by small molecule Wnt agonists (Wnt3A), GSK3 inhibitors (CHIR99021), and transgenic lines containing a stabilized beta-catenin mutant. Activated Wnt signaling resulted in decreased in vitro self-renewal and promoted differentiation within primary human MB stem cells. The clinical relevance of these findings were demonstrated with an in vivo survival advantage in mice containing orthotopic injections of cells containing a stabilized beta-catenin mutant representative of constitutively active Wnt signaling. Xenografts generated from Wnt-activated tumours were much smaller in size, maintained a much lower rate of proliferation, and reduction in key MB stem cell self-renewal genes (Bmi1, Sox2, Msi1, FoxG1). Our work establishes activated Wnt signaling as a novel treatment paradigm in childhood MB, while providing evidence for the context-specific tumour suppressive function of the canonical Wnt pathway.
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