Publications by authors named "Alfredo Pagliuca"

12 Publications

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A pre-existing population of ZEB2 quiescent cells with stemness and mesenchymal features dictate chemoresistance in colorectal cancer.

J Exp Clin Cancer Res 2020 Jan 8;39(1). Epub 2020 Jan 8.

Department of Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161, Rome, Italy.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13046-019-1505-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6947904PMC
January 2020

Cancer Stem Cell-Based Models of Colorectal Cancer Reveal Molecular Determinants of Therapy Resistance.

Stem Cells Transl Med 2016 Apr 8;5(4):511-23. Epub 2016 Mar 8.

Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy

Unlabelled: Colorectal cancer (CRC) therapy mainly relies on the use of conventional chemotherapeutic drugs combined, in a subset of patients, with epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR]-targeting agents. Although CRC is considered a prototype of a cancer stem cell (CSC)-driven tumor, the effects of both conventional and targeted therapies on the CSC compartment are largely unknown. We have optimized a protocol for colorectal CSC isolation that allowed us to obtain CSC-enriched cultures from primary tumor specimens, with high efficiency. CSC isolation was followed by in vitro and in vivo validation, genetic characterization, and drug sensitivity analysis, thus generating panels of CSC lines with defined patterns of genetic mutations and therapy sensitivity. Colorectal CSC lines were polyclonal and maintained intratumor heterogeneity in terms of somatically acquired mutations and differentiation state. Such CSC-enriched cultures were used to investigate the effects of both conventional and targeted therapies on the CSC compartment in vivo and to generate a proteomic picture of signaling pathways implicated in sensitivity/resistance to anti-EGFR agents. We propose CSC lines as a sound preclinical framework to test the effects of therapies in vitro and in vivo and to identify novel determinants of therapy resistance.

Significance: Colorectal cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been shown to be responsible for tumor propagation, metastatic dissemination, and relapse. However, molecular pathways present in CSCs, as well as mechanisms of therapy resistance, are mostly unknown. Taking advantage of genetically characterized CSC lines derived from colorectal tumors, this study provides an extensive analysis of CSC response to EGFR-targeted therapy in vivo and an overview of factors implicated in therapy response or resistance. Furthermore, the implementation of a biobank of molecularly annotated CSC lines provides an innovative resource for future investigations in colorectal cancer.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.5966/sctm.2015-0214DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4798739PMC
April 2016

miR-135b suppresses tumorigenesis in glioblastoma stem-like cells impairing proliferation, migration and self-renewal.

Oncotarget 2015 Nov;6(35):37241-56

Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and fatal malignant adult primary brain tumor. Currently, the overall prognosis for GBM patients remains poor despite advances in neurosurgery and adjuvant treatments. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) contribute to the pathogenesis of various types of tumor, including GBM. In this study we analyzed the expression of a panel of miRNAs, which are known to be differentially expressed by the brain and GBM tumor, in a collection of patient-derived GBM stem-like cells (GSCs). Notably, the average expression level of miR-135b, was the most downregulated compared to its normal counterpart, suggesting a potential role as anti-oncogene.Restoration of miR-135b in GSCs significantly decreased proliferation, migration and clonogenic abilities. More importantly, miR-135b restoration was able to significantly reduce brain infiltration in mouse models of GBM obtained by intracerebral injection of GSC lines. We identified ADAM12 and confirmed SMAD5 and GSK3β as miR-135b targets and potential mediators of its effects. The whole transcriptome analysis ascertained that the expression of miR-135b downmodulated additional genes driving key pathways in GBM survival and infiltration capabilities.Our results identify a critical role of miR-135b in the regulation of GBM development, suggesting that miR-135b might act as a tumor-suppressor factor and thus providing a potential candidate for the treatment of GBM patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.5925DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4741927PMC
November 2015

The Hippo transducer TAZ as a biomarker of pathological complete response in HER2-positive breast cancer patients treated with trastuzumab-based neoadjuvant therapy.

Oncotarget 2014 Oct;5(20):9619-25

Division of Medical Oncology B, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy. Scientific Direction, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy.

Activation of the Hippo transducer TAZ is emerging as a novel oncogenic route in breast cancer and it has been associated with breast cancer stem cells. Additionally, TAZ expression has been linked with HER-2 positivity. We investigated the association between TAZ expression and pathological complete response in HER2-positive breast cancer patients treated with trastuzumab-based neoadjuvant therapy.TAZ was assessed in diagnostic core biopsies by immunohistochemistry. To categorize samples with low TAZ and samples with high TAZ we generated a score by combining staining intensity and cellular localization. The pathological complete response rate was 78.6% in patients with low TAZ tumors and 57.6% in patients with high TAZ tumors (p=0.082). In HER2-enriched tumors there was no significant association between TAZ and pathological complete response, whereas in the luminal B subtype the pathological complete response rate was 82.4% in tumors with low TAZ and 44.4% in tumors with high TAZ (p=0.035). This association remained statistically significant when restricting our analysis to triple-positive tumors with expression of both estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor ≥ 50% (p=0.035). Results from this exploratory study suggest that the TAZ score efficiently predicts pathological complete response in Luminal B, HER2-positive breast cancer patients who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy and trastuzumab.
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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4259424PMC
http://dx.doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.2449DOI Listing
October 2014

Gene expression analysis of PTEN positive glioblastoma stem cells identifies DUB3 and Wee1 modulation in a cell differentiation model.

PLoS One 2013 12;8(12):e81432. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Catania, Italy.

The term astrocytoma defines a quite heterogeneous group of neoplastic diseases that collectively represent the most frequent brain tumors in humans. Among them, glioblastoma multiforme represents the most malignant form and its associated prognosis is one of the poorest among tumors of the central nervous system. It has been demonstrated that a small population of tumor cells, isolated from the brain neoplastic tissue, can reproduce the parental tumor when transplanted in immunodeficient mouse. These tumor initiating cells are supposed to be involved in cancer development and progression and possess stem cell-like features; like their normal counterpart, these cells remain quiescent until they are committed to differentiation. Many studies have shown that the role of the tumor suppressor protein PTEN in cell cycle progression is fundamental for tumor dynamics: in low grade gliomas, PTEN contributes to maintain cells in G1 while the loss of its activity is frequently observed in high grade gliomas. The mechanisms underlying the above described PTEN activity have been studied in many tumors, but those involved in the maintenance of tumor initiating cells quiescence remain to be investigated in more detail. The aim of the present study is to shed light on the role of PTEN pathway on cell cycle regulation in Glioblastoma stem cells, through a cell differentiation model. Our results suggest the existence of a molecular mechanism, that involves DUB3 and WEE1 gene products in the regulation of Cdc25a, as functional effector of the PTEN/Akt pathway.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0081432PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3861258PMC
September 2014

Mek inhibition results in marked antitumor activity against metastatic melanoma patient-derived melanospheres and in melanosphere-generated xenografts.

J Exp Clin Cancer Res 2013 Nov 16;32:91. Epub 2013 Nov 16.

Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, viale Regina Elena 299, Rome 00161, Italy.

One of the key oncogenic pathways involved in melanoma aggressiveness, development and progression is the RAS/BRAF/MEK pathway, whose alterations are found in most patients. These molecular anomalies are promising targets for more effective anti-cancer therapies. Some Mek inhibitors showed promising antitumor activity, although schedules and doses associated with low systemic toxicity need to be defined. In addition, it is now accepted that cancers can arise from and be maintained by the cancer stem cells (CSC) or tumor-initiating cells (TIC), commonly expanded in vitro as tumorspheres from several solid tumors, including melanoma (melanospheres). Here, we investigated the potential targeting of MEK pathway by exploiting highly reliable in vitro and in vivo pre-clinical models of melanomas based on melanospheres, as melanoma initiating cells (MIC) surrogates. MEK inhibition, through PD0325901, provided a successful strategy to affect survival of mutated-BRAF melanospheres and growth of wild type-BRAF melanospheres. A marked citotoxicity was observed in differentated melanoma cells regardless BRAF mutational status. PD0325901 treatment, dramatically inhibited growth of melanosphere-generated xenografts and determined impaired tumor vascularization of both mutated- and wild type-BRAF tumors, in the absence of mice toxicity. These results suggest that MEK inhibition might represent a valid treatment option for patients with both mutated- or wild type-BRAF melanomas, affecting tumor growth through multiple targets.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1756-9966-32-91DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874650PMC
November 2013

Approaching the increasing complexity of non-small cell lung cancer taxonomy.

Curr Pharm Des 2014 ;20(24):3973-81

"Regina Elena" National Cancer Institute, via E. Chianesi, n. 53, 00144, Rome, Italy.

The advent of molecular targeted agents is changing the treatment of solid tumors. In non-small-cell lung cancer, compounds directed against oncogenic proteins offer novel therapeutic opportunities for a fraction of patients whose tumors harbor specific genetic defects. With the increased level of resolution achieved by high-throughput technologies, the taxonomy of lung cancer is rapidly changing. For instance, by cataloguing genetic abnormalities in squamous cell lung cancer the Cancer Genome Atlas Network revealed the existence of multiple molecular entities, each one characterized by specific molecular abnormalities, and by a different spectrum of activated/ inactivated molecular networks. Although this increased complexity could be perceived as a further drawback in effective anticancer therapy, on the other hand the combined interrogation of genomic and proteomic data is expected to provide the whole molecular map of each tumor, and to determine the information flow in the explored biological system. In particular, novel genetic and proteomic approaches are offering the opportunity for matching specific genetic defects and aberrant protein-protein interactions with active pathway-targeted inhibitors. Moreover, the isolation and characterization of a cellular pool endowed with stem-like traits, and able to recapitulate the parental disease in animals, is enabling investigators to recreate the individual patient tumor in the laboratory. In this article, we discuss how novel technologies and cellular and animal models, applied to lung cancer research, hold the potential to foster a new wave of biomarker-driven clinical trials.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/13816128113196660759DOI Listing
March 2015

Proliferation state and polo-like kinase1 dependence of tumorigenic colon cancer cells.

Stem Cells 2012 Sep;30(9):1819-30

Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Tumor-initiating cells are responsible for tumor maintenance and relapse in solid and hematologic cancers. Although tumor-initiating cells were initially believed to be mainly quiescent, rapidly proliferating tumorigenic cells were found in breast cancer. In colon cancer, the proliferative activity of the tumorigenic population has not been defined, although it represents an essential parameter for the development of more effective therapeutic strategies. Here, we show that tumorigenic colon cancer cells can be found in a rapidly proliferating state in vitro and in vivo, both in human tumors and mouse xenografts. Inhibitors of polo-like kinase1 (Plk1), a mitotic kinase essential for cell proliferation, demonstrated maximal efficiency over other targeted compounds and chemotherapeutic agents in inducing death of colon cancer-initiating cells in vitro. In vivo, Plk1 inhibitors killed CD133(+) colon cancer cells leading to complete growth arrest of colon cancer stem cell-derived xenografts, whereas chemotherapeutic agents only slowed tumor progression. While chemotherapy treatment increased CD133(+) cell proliferation, treatment with Plk1 inhibitors eliminated all proliferating tumor-initiating cells. Quiescent CD133(+) cells that survived the treatment with Plk1 inhibitors could be killed by subsequent Plk1 inhibition when they exited from quiescence. Altogether, these results provide a new insight into the proliferative status of colon tumor-initiating cells both in basal conditions and in response to therapy and indicate Plk1 inhibitors as potentially useful in the treatment of colorectal cancer.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/stem.1163DOI Listing
September 2012

Identity and ranking of colonic mesenchymal stromal cells.

J Cell Physiol 2012 Sep;227(9):3291-300

Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Although ongoing clinical trials utilize systemic administration of bone-marrow mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs) in Crohn's disease (CD), nothing is known about the presence and the function of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in the normal human bowel. MSCs are bone marrow (BM) multipotent cells supporting hematopoiesis with the potential to differentiate into multiple skeletal phenotypes. A recently identified new marker, CD146, allowing to prospectively isolate MSCs from BM, renders also possible their identification in different tissues. In order to elucidate the presence and functional role of MSCs in human bowel we analyzed normal adult colon sections and isolated MSCs from them. In colon (C) sections, resident MSCs form a net enveloping crypts in lamina propria, coinciding with structural myofibroblasts or interstitial stromal cells. Nine sub-clonal CD146(+) MSC lines were derived and characterized from colon biopsies, in addition to MSC lines from five other human tissues. In spite of a phenotype qualitative identity between the BM- and C-MSC populations, they were discriminated and categorized. Similarities between C-MSC and BM-MSCs are represented by: Osteogenic differentiation, hematopoietic supporting activity, immune-modulation, and surface-antigen qualitative expression. The differences between these populations are: C-MSCs mean intensity expression is lower for CD13, CD29, and CD49c surface-antigens, proliferative rate faster, life-span shorter, chondrogenic differentiation rare, and adipogenic differentiation completely blocked. Briefly, BM-MSCs, deserve the rank of progenitors, whereas C-MSCs belong to the restricted precursor hierarchy. The presence and functional role of MSCs in human colon provide a rationale for BM-MSC replacement therapy in CD, where resident bowel MSCs might be exhausted or diverted from their physiological functions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcp.24027DOI Listing
September 2012

Thymosin beta4 targeting impairs tumorigenic activity of colon cancer stem cells.

FASEB J 2010 Nov 21;24(11):4291-301. Epub 2010 Jun 21.

Department of Hematology, Oncology, and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Thymosin β4 (Tβ4) is an actin-binding peptide overexpressed in several tumors, including colon carcinomas. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of Tβ4 in promoting the tumorigenic properties of colorectal cancer stem cells (CR-CSCs), which are responsible for tumor initiation and growth. We first found that CR-CSCs from different patients have higher Tβ4 levels than normal epithelial cells. Then, we used a lentiviral strategy to down-regulate Tβ4 expression in CR-CSCs and analyzed the effects of such modulation on proliferation, survival, and tumorigenic activity of CR-CSCs. Empty vector-transduced CR-CSCs were used as a control. Targeting of the Tβ4 produced CR-CSCs with a lower capacity to grow and migrate in culture and, interestingly, reduced tumor size and aggressiveness of CR-CSC-based xenografts in mice. Moreover, such loss in tumorigenic activity was accompanied by a significant increase of phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) and a concomitant reduction of the integrin-linked kinase (ILK) expression, which resulted in a decreased activation of protein kinase B (Akt). Accordingly, exogenous expression of an active form of Akt rescued all the protumoral features lost after Tβ4 targeting in CR-CSCs. In conclusion, Tβ4 may have important implications for therapeutic intervention for treatment of human colon carcinoma.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1096/fj.10-159970DOI Listing
November 2010

The miR-15a-miR-16-1 cluster controls prostate cancer by targeting multiple oncogenic activities.

Nat Med 2008 Nov 19;14(11):1271-7. Epub 2008 Oct 19.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are noncoding small RNAs that repress protein translation by targeting specific messenger RNAs. miR-15a and miR-16-1 act as putative tumor suppressors by targeting the oncogene BCL2. These miRNAs form a cluster at the chromosomal region 13q14, which is frequently deleted in cancer. Here, we report that the miR-15a and miR-16-1 cluster targets CCND1 (encoding cyclin D1) and WNT3A, which promotes several tumorigenic features such as survival, proliferation and invasion. In cancer cells of advanced prostate tumors, the miR-15a and miR-16 level is significantly decreased, whereas the expression of BCL2, CCND1 and WNT3A is inversely upregulated. Delivery of antagomirs specific for miR-15a and miR-16 to normal mouse prostate results in marked hyperplasia, and knockdown of miR-15a and miR-16 promotes survival, proliferation and invasiveness of untransformed prostate cells, which become tumorigenic in immunodeficient NOD-SCID mice. Conversely, reconstitution of miR-15a and miR-16-1 expression results in growth arrest, apoptosis and marked regression of prostate tumor xenografts. Altogether, we propose that miR-15a and miR-16 act as tumor suppressor genes in prostate cancer through the control of cell survival, proliferation and invasion. These findings have therapeutic implications and may be exploited for future treatment of prostate cancer.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm.1880DOI Listing
November 2008

PLZF induces megakaryocytic development, activates Tpo receptor expression and interacts with GATA1 protein.

Oncogene 2002 Sep;21(43):6669-79

Department of Hematology-Oncology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy.

We investigated the expression of the PLZF gene in purified human hematopoietic progenitors induced to unilineage erythroid, granulocytic or megakaryocytic differentiation and maturation in serum-free culture. PLZF is expressed in quiescent progenitors: the expression level progressively rises through megakaryocytic development, whereas it gradually declines in erythroid and granulopoietic culture. To investigate the role of PLZF in megakaryopoiesis, we transduced the PLZF gene into the erythro-megakaryocytic TF1 cell line. PLZF overexpression upmodulates the megakaryocytic specific markers (CD42a, CD42b, CD61, PF4) and induces the thrombopoietin receptor (TpoR). The proximal promoter of the TpoR gene is activated in PLZF-expressing TF1 cells: in this promoter region, a PLZF DNA-binding site was identified by deletion constructs studies. Interestingly, PLZF and GATA1 proteins coimmunoprecipitate in PLZF-expressing TF1 cells: enforced expression of both PLZF and GATA1 in TF1 cells results in increased upregulation of megakaryocytic markers, as compared to exogenous PLZF or GATA1 alone, suggesting a functional role for the PLZF/GATA1 complex. Our data indicate that PLZF plays a significant stimulatory role in megakaryocytic development, seemingly mediated in part by induction of TpoR expression at transcriptional level. This stimulatory effect is potentiated by physical interaction of PLZF and GATA1, which are possibly assembled in a multiprotein transcriptional complex.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/sj.onc.1205884DOI Listing
September 2002