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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.
Medulloblastoma (MB), the most common malignant pediatric brain tumor, is categorized into four molecular subgroups. Given the high rate of metastatic dissemination at diagnosis and recurrence in Group 3 MBs, these patients have the worst clinical outcome with a 5-year survivorship of approximately 50%. By adapting the existing COG (Children’s Oncology Group) Protocol for children with newly diagnosed high-risk MB, for treatment of immuno-deficient mice intracranially engrafted with human MB brain tumour initiating cells we aim to identify and characterize the treatment-refractory cell population in Group 3 MBs. Mice were sacrificed at multiple time points during the course of tumor development and therapy: (i) at engraftment; (ii) post-radiation; (iii) post-radiation and chemotherapy; and (iv) at MB recurrence. MB cell populations recovered separately from brains and spines were comprehensively profiled for gene expression analysis, stem cell and molecular features to generate a global, comparative profile of MB cells through therapy. We report a higher expression of CD133, Sox2 and Bmi1 in addition to increased self-renewal capacity following chemoradiotherapy treatment. The enrichment map constructed from global gene expression analysis showed an increase in pathways regulating self-renewal, DNA repair and chemoresistance post-therapy despite the apparent decrease in tumour size and vascularity. Additionally, from gene expression at MB recurrence, we identified a list of genes that negatively correlate with survival in patients diagnosed with Group 3 MB. A differential genomic profile of the “treatment-responsive” tumors against those that fail therapy may contribute to discovery of novel therapeutic approaches for the most aggressive subgroup of MB.
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.