Recent Submissions

  • OSTEOPONTIN AS A NOVEL IMMUNE CHECKPOINT

    Klement, John; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Augusta University, 2020-05)
    The host adaptive immune system functions to discriminate self from non-self, eliminating threats from viral infection to tumors. Cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTLs) are the primary effector arm of adaptive immunity. To prevent aberrant activation and autoimmunity, immune checkpoints function physiologically to restrain the CTL response. Tumors pathologically express these checkpoints, preventing immune-driven tumor clearance. Accordingly, immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have shown remarkable clinical success. However, many types of malignancies, as well as many individual patients with responsive tumor types, fail to benefit from current ICI immunotherapies. This conundrum suggests that as-yet undiscovered immune checkpoints exist. We observed that mice deficient in the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor eight (IRF8) tolerated allogenic tumor grafts and demonstrated impaired CTL activation with an accumulation of CD44hi memory-like CTLs. We sought to investigate the mechanism of this immunosuppression. Conditional deletion of IRF8 in T cells, as well as a mixed chimera model, demonstrated that IRF8 did not directly control CTL activation or differentiation into a CD44hi population. Instead, global loss of IRF8 lead to an expansion of an immature myeloid CD11b+Ly6G+Ly6Clo population which highly expressed osteopontin (OPN), a physiological ligand for CD44. Elevated levels of OPN were shown to suppress murine CTL activation and proliferation. A similar IRF8-OPN-CD44 axis was observed in murine and human colorectal cancer, which is refractory to current ICI therapies. Malignant cells and human patients displayed enhanced OPN levels relative to healthy donor controls. This was shown to be mediated by loss of IRF8 expression, which directly bound to the OPN promoter to repress its transcription. Elevated levels of OPN similarly prevented human CTL activation, and higher levels of OPN were correlated with decreased survival in human patients. We have shown that the IRF8-OPN-CD44 axis functions as a novel immune checkpoint in both myeloid and tumor cells. Blockade of OPN may have potent anti-tumor activity, expanding the pool of patients responsive to ICI therapy.
  • Role of Ufl1 in CD8+ Memory T Cell Survival and Function

    Bhatt, Brinda Nikhil; Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology (Augusta University, 2020-05)
    Immunity mediated by CD8+ T cells plays an integral part of the response to eradicate both infections and tumor cells. The recognition of antigen by the T cell receptor triggers a cascade of signaling events in naïve CD8+ T cells that leads to their proliferation and differentiation into memory and effector cells. Cytotoxic effector CD8+ T cells produce large amount of cytokines and effector molecules that play a critical role in the elimination of pathogens. Following pathogen clearance, a small population of memory T cells persists long-term, which has the ability to expand robustly upon re-exposure to antigen and provide the host with rapid and specific recall responses against the pathogen. Treatments boosting an individual’s own immune response have changed the landscape of cancer research. However there are still limitations with patient responsiveness, toxic side effects, and not achieving long-term remission. As advances in immunotherapy revolutionize cancer treatment, understanding the molecular networks governing CD8+ T cell function has become more important than ever. In our studies, we found that genetic knockout of UFM1 Specific Ligase 1 (Ufl1) in T cells leads to a CD8-specific loss of central memory cells. Flow cytometry staining revealed that the population of CD8+CD122+ T cells are significantly reduced in mice lacking Ufl1 in T cells. We observed that Ufl1 deficiency leads to apoptosis of these cells in vivo. Ufl1-deficient CD8+CD122+ T cells express higher amounts of Fas on the cell surface as well as activated cleaved caspase 3. RNA-sequencing analysis demonstrated that these cells also overexpress numerous genes associated with exhaustion, including PD-1, Lag3, Tim3, and 2B4. Interestingly, the Listeria monocytogenes disease model showed that Ufl1-deficient CD8+ T cells behave similarly to wild type cells during the acute effector response, but undergo a more dramatic contraction and subsequently launch an attenuated recall response. Consistent with this, a melanoma-specific vaccine failed to protect mice lacking Ufl1 in T cells. Our present study suggests that Ufl1 plays a critical role in the suppression of apoptosis and exhaustion of memory CD8+ T cells.
  • Gene regulation by the putative Campylobacter jejuni diguanylate cyclase CbrR

    Fulmer, Claudia; Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology (Augusta University, 2020-05)
    As a leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis, Campylobacter jejuni incurs health care costs estimated at $290 million a year in the US and up to 40,000 deaths in children aged 5 and younger worldwide. As such, determining those proteins that regulate C. jejuni virulence factors are prime targets to possibly develop a prophylactic therapy, that as of yet does not exist. CbrR is a C. jejuni response regulator that is annotated as a diguanylate cyclase (DGC), the class of enzyme that catalyzes the synthesis of cyclic di-GMP, a universal bacterial second message molecule, from GTP. In C. jejuni strain DRH212, an unmarked deletion mutant, cbrR-, and complemented mutant, cbrR+, were constructed. Soft agar motility tests, biofilm formation assays, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) were performed. Site-directed mutagenesis was performed on cbrR to make alanine substitutions in both the autoinhibitory site (I-site) and active site and differential radial capillary of action ligand (DRaCALA) assays were performed to determine nucleotide binding by wild-type CbrR and the CbrR point mutants. Soft agar motility assays indicated a hyper-motile phenotype associated with the C. jejuni cbrR- mutant, whereas motility was all but negated in the cbrR+ complement. Biofilm assays and SEM demonstrated similar formation and robustness of biofilms between wild type and cbrR- mutant, however cbrR+ was unable to form significant biofilms in 72 hours. TEM images showed similar cellular morphology between cbrR-, wild type, and cbrR+, however cbrR+ cells had fewer flagella. DRaCALA assays showed wild-type CbrR and the active site mutant were both able to bind GTP and cyclic di-GMP, whereas the I-site mutant lost the ability to bind cyclic di-GMP, indicating the product binding site on CbrR. The highly conserved diguanylate cyclase CbrR is the only annotated DGC in the C. jejuni genome. Though the active site sequence is highly variant when compared to the consensus sequence, this protein is able to bind both substrate and product of the chemical synthesis of cyclic di-GMP and has now been shown to be a negative regulator of motility, a critical virulence factor in C. jejuni pathogenesis.
  • GLYCOSAMINOGLYCANS, CHONDROITINASE, AND MOLECULAR SUBTYPES IN BLADDER CANCER

    Morera, Daley S; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Augusta University, 2020-05)
    There is a need for novel prognostic biomarkers and targeted treatments in bladder cancer (BC), even more so for muscle-invasive disease (MIBC). Discovery of molecular markers to predict outcome in BC patients may lead to identification of impactful therapeutic targets. The hyaluronic acid (HA) family of molecules and distinct molecular subtypes have both been investigated as potential prognostic markers. HA family and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, such as CD44, have been implicated in driving aggressiveness of disease; however, a chondroitinase enzyme that cleaves chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans has not been identified in any eukaryotic system. We evaluated molecular markers of BC and the first known eukaryotic/human chondroitinase, that we identified, for their ability to predict clinical outcome in patients, and for their roles as drivers of disease. We also investigated the anti-tumor effects of HA synthesis inhibitor 4-methylumbelliferone (4MU), a non-toxic orally bioavailable supplement. This study demonstrates that transcript levels of HA family members can predict metastasis and poor survival in BC patients. HA- family expression also correlated with epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) markers β -Catenin, Twist, Snail, and E-Cadherin. HA signaled through its receptors CD44/RHAMM and the PI3-K/AKT axis. 4MU targeted HA signaling, inhibiting proliferation and motility/invasion, inducing apoptosis in vitro, and preventing tumor growth in vivo. We discovered that a previously unidentified splice variant of HYAL-4 was elevated in bladder tumors. We named this variant "V1". Our studies showed that V1 had chondroitinase activity, cleaved chondroitin-6-sulfate from CD44, and consequently increased CD44 secretion. In vivo, V1-expressing urothelial cells formed muscle-invasive tumors and V1-expressing cancer cells developed metastatic tumors. Evaluation of the prognostic significance of the molecular subtypes of MIBC that were recently identified by other groups, showed the subtypes to have little to no predictive ability for clinical outcome in multivariate analyses that included standard clinical parameters. Consistently, clinical parameters such as histopathologic tumor grade, T-stage, and lymph node status, outperformed the molecular subtypes. Contrarily, V1 levels could independently predict metastasis and survival with high efficacy, suggesting that focusing on V1 as a functional biomarker may be a better strategy to improve clinical outcome of BC patients.
  • HLA-G DIMER PROLONGS KIDNEY ALLOGRAFT SURVIVAL BY INHIBITING CD8+T CELL ACTIVATION AND GRANZYME B EXPRESSION

    Ajith, Ashwin; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-12)
    Solid organ transplantation is the preferred therapy for many patients diagnosed with end stage organ failure, however allograft rejection is a significant barrier for graft survival. Patient care involves heavy immunosuppressive drug treatment leading to elevated risk for cancer and other opportunistic infections. Hence there is a need to develop effective alternative approaches to minimize graft rejection. We focused on Human leukocyte antigen G (HLA-G), a nonclassical HLA class Ib molecule critically involved in the maintenance of maternal tolerance to semi-allogeneic fetal tissues during pregnancy and has emerged as a potential therapeutic target to control allograft rejection. We demonstrate here that the level of soluble HLA-G dimer was higher in a group of 90 patients with a functioning renal allograft compared with 40 patients who rejected (RJ) their transplants. The HLA-G dimer level was not affected by demographic status. One of the potential mechanisms in tissue organ allograft rejection involves the induction of granzymes and perforin, which are the main effector molecules expressed by CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes and function to destroy allogeneic transplants. Using genomics, molecular and cellular analyses of cells from T-cell–mediated RJ and nonrejected kidney transplant patients, cells from leukocyte Ig-like receptor B1 (LILRB1) transgenic mice, humanized mice, and genetically engineered HLA-G dimer, we demonstrated a novel mechanism by which HLA-G dimer inhibits activation and cytotoxic capabilities of human CD8+ T cells. This mechanism implicated the downregulation of Granzyme B expression and the essential involvement of LILRB1. Thus, HLA-G dimer has the potential to be a specific and effective therapy for prevention of allograft rejection and prolongation of graft survival.
  • Investigating the Role of the Hdac3 Co-Repressor Complex in Glucocorticoid Signaling-Mediated Bone Marrow Lipid Storage with Age

    Pierce, Jessica Liane; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-12)
    Aging bone is characterized by loss of tissue density, marrow fat accumulation, and dysregulated bone marrow stromal cell (BMSC) differentiation. The contribution of the epigenetic regulator histone deactylase 3 (Hdac3) is of increasing interest in bone biology. Hdac3 expression decreases with aging, and the current model for conditional deletion of Hdac3 in Osterix-expressing osteoprogenitor cells (Hdac3-CKOOsx) exhibited an aged bone phenotype in young mice along with the novel finding of osteoblastic (Runx2+ osteogenic cells) lipid droplet storage. In addition, bone-specific loss of Hdac3 activity increases expression of the glucocorticoid (GC)-activating enzyme 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (Hsd11b1), suggesting a mechanism for the increased lipid accumulation in aged and Hdac3-deficient BMSC-derived osteoblasts. The cofactor nuclear receptor corepressor 1 (NCoR1), which mediates Hdac3 enzymatic activity in a co-repressor complex (CRC), was proposed as a regulator of Hdac3 activity in bone. Both Hdac3 and NCoR1 expression decreased in aged osteoblasts, and the two factors exhibited synergy in downregulating the promoter activity of glucocorticoid-responsive elements. Because of the relationship between increased GC signaling and osteoporosis, the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) was investigated as a mediator of the marrow fat phenotype, with the hypothesis that loss of GR function in bone would be protective against common forms of osteoporosis. Chronic caloric restriction in WT and GR-deficient (GR-CKOOsx) mice was used as a short-term stressor to induce an osteoporotic phenotype, while aging of GR-deficient mice (where Hdac3 CRC expression naturally decreases) was used as a biologically-relevant model for dual loss of Hdac3 and the GR. Surprisingly, the loss of GR function in osteoprogenitors exacerbated bone loss and marrow fat accumulation in both models—and induced a chronic stress phenotype by increasing cellular bioenergetics and whole-body metabolic rate—providing evidence of a role for the GR in facilitating healthy bone maintenance as well as evidence for compensatory mechanisms that regulate bone biology through GC signaling. GR-deficient bone also induced changes to whole-body physiology (e.g., sarcopenia, decreased physical activity, metabolic dysfunction) that further demonstrate the intricacies of bone as an endocrine organ. The current study provides new avenues to investigate cell signaling, bioenergetics, and tissue crosstalk in osteoporotic bone.
  • CHOLINESTERASE INHIBITOR TOXICITY: MECHANISTIC STUDIES AND THERAPEUTIC STRATEGIES FOCUSED ON AXONAL TRANSPORT

    Naughton, Sean X; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-12)
    Organophosphates (OPs) are a broad class of chemicals with a variety of uses that include pesticides, chemical warfare agents, fuel additives, and plasticizers. Due to their sheer number of applications and known toxicological profile, OPs represent a persistent concern to human health worldwide. Furthermore, the effects of OPs that occur independently of their well-known mechanism of acute toxicity (AChE inhibition) have not been well studied. The presented research seeks to expand upon our understanding of AChE-independent mechanisms of OP toxicity as well as to identify potential therapies for treating these negative effects. In Manuscript 1 we demonstrate that the OP diisopropylfluorophosphate (DFP) induced axonal transport deficits occur in vivo at exposure levels that were not associated with cholinergic toxicity. Additionally, we observed deficits in white matter integrity following sub-acute DFP exposure. In Manuscript 2 we present a series of experiments, which were conducted to identify potential therapeutic compounds for the treatment of OP induced deficits in axonal transport. Here, we utilized a phenotypic drug-screening assay in order to identify compounds that could be protective against DFP. In Manuscript 3 we present data which demonstrates that the carbamate physostigmine does not impair axonal transport, as has been previously demonstrated with OPs. These experiments were critical to demonstrating the AChE independence of OP-induced axonal transport deficits and further elucidate the unique nature of OP toxicity in comparison to other AChE inhibitors. Collectively, these studies contribute to a better understanding of the full spectrum of toxicological effects of OPs and provide insightful findings into potential therapeutics for the treatment of OP related toxicity.
  • Primary Tumor-Induced Immunity Is Suppressed By Surgery-Induced Inflammation In The Presence Of Residual Tumor Cells

    Piranlioglu, Raziye; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Augusta University, 2019-12)
    It is widely thought that tumor cells disseminate from a primary site into the circulation during the early stages of tumor development. However, the fate of these early disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) has been elusive. By utilizing the murine mammary tumors, 4T1 and EMT6, in a syngeneic mouse model, we show that both tumors disseminate into secondary organs but only 4T1 tumors are able to generate metastasis. In contrast, EMT6 primary tumors induce an anti-tumor response that leads to elimination of DTCs. This anti-tumor immunity is CD8+ T cell-dependent and provides long-term immunity. Furthermore, the mice are free of DTCs within a couple of days when primary tumors are completely resected and they reject subsequently injected tumors, whereas mice with residual tumors following surgery show enhanced local recurrence and outgrowth of DTCs at metastatic sites; this effect may be explained by elevated levels of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF). This increase is accompanied by an accumulation of immature myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the spleen and lungs, the main target organ for metastasis. Moreover, the infiltration of a granulocytic subset of MDSCs (gMDSCs) leads to a decrease in a subset of T cells that have a role in long-term immunity. Our goal for this study is to elucidate how immune components of distant organs affect the fate of DTCs and the role of surgery induced-inflammation in generating a pre-metastatic niche. Our studies may also provide a molecular explanation of improved overall survival in breast cancer patients following complete resection of primary tumors with negative margins.
  • DISCOVERY AND VALIDATION OF A NOVEL NEUTROPHIL ACTIVATION MARKER ASSOCIATED WITH OBESITY

    Pan, Yue; Biomedical Sciences
    Obesity and its related comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) have imposed a huge burden on public health worldwide. Identification of the mechanistic pathways by which obesity impacts cardiovascular health is urgently needed to provide new targets for prevention of obesity and its associated CVDs. Low-grade systemic inflammation accompanies obesity and etiologically contributes to obesity-induced CVD. Neutrophils represent the most abundant type of leukocytes in humans and neutrophil activation is a fundamental process in the inflammatory response. Growing evidence supports that neutrophils are most likely to be the target peripheral leukocyte subtype initiating the adipose tissue inflammatory cascade in response to obesity. As depleting neutrophils is not a choice in humans, identification of obesity induced neutrophil activation markers becomes a prerequisite to develop targeted treatment. Therefore, our central hypothesis is that there are neutrophil activation markers that can specifically respond to obesity status and mediate obesity’s effect on CVD risks. The goal of this study is to identify these markers and their roles on CVD risk using a step-wise approach including an unbiased omic step (i.e. the discovery phase) and a target step (i.e. the validation phase). To achieve this goal, we used the biological samples of 688 subjects from multiple cohorts that generally have neutrophils, white blood cells, and plasma stored. CVD risk factors including blood pressure, insulin resistance, lipid profile, and pulse wave velocity have been measured. In the discovery phase, genome wide DNA methylation, RNA-sequencing and quantitative proteomics were obtained from the purified neutrophils. A significant difference was found for one gene, ALPL, across 3 omics platforms. In the validation phase, ALPL expression and the cellular protein levels were found to be higher in obese compared with lean subjects. Within the obese population, we observed ALPL expression level positively associated with CVD risk factors including systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), mean arterial pressure (MAP), carotid intima–media thickness (IMT), triglycerides (TG), and fasting insulin. This study identified one novel marker of neutrophil activation in response to obesity and provided evidence that obesity induced changes in ALPL expression were associated with CVD risk factors.
  • ROLE OF ARGINASE IN OBESITY-INDUCED VISCERAL ADIPOSE TISSUE DYSREGULATION AND ENDOTHELIAL DYSFUNCTION

    Atawia, Reem T.; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-11-05)
    An obesity epidemic continues to rise worldwide. Visceral (central) obesity is an important concern as it correlates with metabolic and cardiovascular pathologies. Arginase is a ureahydrolase enzyme with two isoforms (A1-cytosolic and A2-mitochondrial). We found that visceral adipose tissue (VAT) from obese WT mice fed a high fat/high sucrose diet (HFHS) showed a significantly higher expression of A2 compared to mice fed normal chow diet (ND). We also observed that A2 expression is upregulated 3-fold in differentiated 3T3- L1 adipocytes exposed to high levels of palmitate and glucose, a mimic of the obese state, compared to control media. Our study focused on the involvement of A2 in obesity associated metabolic and vascular disorders. WT mice and those globally lacking A2 (A2-/-) were fed HFHS or ND for 16 weeks. The HFHS diet-induced increases in body and VAT weights and total adiposity were prevented or reduced in A2-/- mice. In concert, metabolic chamber studies revealed that energy expenditure and fatty acid oxidation rates were significantly higher in A2-/- compared to WT HFHS mice. VAT from A2-/- mice fed HFHS had higher levels of active AMPK-α, the master regulator of fatty acid metabolism, as well as higher adipocyte expression of genes involved in fatty acid β-oxidation and oxidative phosphorylation, along with preserved mitochondrial density compared to WT HFHS. A2 deletion also prevented HFHS-induced fibrous tissue deposition and inflammation in VAT, which contributed to adipocyte metabolic dysfunction. These results indicate that A2 is involved in metabolic dysfunctions. To gain insights into the role of A2 in adipocytes, primary preadipocytes isolated from VAT of A2-/- mice and differentiated in vitro showed increased expression of adiponectin and better mitochondrial function. Adenoviral overexpression of A2 in differentiated 3T3-L1 cells showed impaired mitochondrial function and increased mitochondrial ROS. Obesity-related metabolic disorders increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, the leading global cause of death. Endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation, impaired by HFHS diet, was significantly preserved in A2-/- mice, but more prominently prevented in A1+/- mice. In conclusion, A2 is critically involved in HFHS-induced obesity, VAT inflammation and metabolic dysregulation. Both A1 and A2 are involved in HFHS-induced vascular endothelial dysfunction.
  • DNA METHYLATION AS A KEY PLAYER IN INFLAMMATION-MEDIATED COLON TUMORIGENESIS

    Ibrahim, Mohammed Mahmoud Labib; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-05)
    A causal link between chronic inflammation and tumorigenesis is now well established in the literature with a great deal of supporting evidences from genetic, epigenetic, pharmacological and epidemiological perspectives. In particular, inflammatory bowel diseases represent an important risk factor for colon cancer development. Moreover, it seems that even sporadic colon cancers that do not develop as a complication of chronic colitis are also driven by inflammation. However, the molecular mechanisms behind inflammation-mediated colon tumorigenesis have remained largely unknown. Colitis associated cancer development is thought to be multifaceted due to a combination of genetic and epigenetic aberrations. Recently, epigenetic alterations -particularly aberrant DNA methylation- have gained great attention in cancer biology and have been observed to play a key role in the pathogenesis of inflammation-associated tumors; especially in colitis-associated cancer. IRF8, a key transcription factor originally identified in myeloid cells, has been reported to play a crucial role in myeloid cells differentiation and immune response regulation. IRF8 deficiency is associated with deregulation of myeloid cell differentiation and accumulation of immature myeloid subsets phenotypically and functionally resemble MDSCs (Myeloid Derived Suppressor Cells). IRF8 is thought to function as a tumor suppressor and was found to be silenced in different types of cancers including colon cancer. Myeloid derived-IRF8 has been extensively studied. However, the role of epithelial-derived IRF8 in colon inflammation and colon cancer initiation remains a point to be addressed. In this study, we generated conditional Irf8cKO mice in which IRF8 is specifically deleted in colon epithelium. Irf8cKO mice exhibit a more aggressive pattern of colitis associated cancer with higher tumor incidence and severe loss of body weight. Additionally, we provide evidence that chronic inflammation promotes the accumulation and infiltration of CD11b+Gr1+ MDSCs, which plentifully secrete IL10 in colon tissue. IL10 then induces STAT3 phosphorylation and nuclear translocation to bind to Dnmt1 and Dnmt3b promoters to upregulate their expression, leading to DNA hyper-methylation at the Irf8 promoter to silence IRF8 expression in colonic epithelial cells and promote colon tumorigenesis. Collectively, our data pinpoint the MDSC-IL10-STAT3-DNMT3b-IRF8 axis as a novel bridge between chronic inflammation and colon cancer formation.
  • The c-MYC oncogene deregulates global DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation to control genome-wide gene expression for tumor maintenance in leukemia/lymphoma

    Poole, Candace Jean; Biomedical Sciences (Augusta University, 2019-05)
    Aberrant DNA methylation is a characteristic feature of tumor cells. However, our knowledge of how DNA methylation patterns are established and maintained to contribute to tumorigenesis is limited. Inactivation of the c-MYC oncogene triggers tumor regression in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) resulting in dramatic changes to the chromatin landscape including DNA methylation. In this study, I investigated how MYC regulates DNA methylation and hydroxymethylation patterns to contribute to gene expression programs important for tumor maintenance in T-ALL and Burkitt lymphoma. I report that MYC maintains 5-methylcytosine (5mC) and 5-hydroxy-methylcytosine (5hmC) patterns by regulating the DNA methylation machinery, which is important for gene expression in T-ALL. DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) initiate 5mC marks, while Ten-eleven translocation methylcytosine dioxygenases (TETs) oxidize 5mC to produce 5hmC as an intermediate modification, ultimately leading to active DNA de-methylation. I demonstrated that DNMT1 and DNMT3B are MYC target genes and that their expression is dependent on high MYC levels. Knockdown of DNMT3B in T-ALL reduced cell proliferation through cell cycle arrest and caused the reactivation of gene transcription through reversing promoter/CpG island methylation. Furthermore, I demonstrated that TET1 and TET2 expression is MYC-dependent, as high TET1 and low TET2 levels depend on oncogenic MYC. Knockdown of TET1 in T-ALL reduced cell proliferation through cell cycle arrest and caused genome-wide changes in 5mC and 5hmC corresponding to changes in gene programs important for ribosomal biosynthesis and protein synthesis. In contrast, ectopic expression of TET2 reduced tumor cell proliferation through apoptosis/necrosis and caused genome-wide changes in 5mC and 5hmC corresponding to changes in transcriptional regulatory gene programs. My finding that a coordinated interplay between components of the DNA methylation machinery is necessary for MYC-driven tumor maintenance highlights the potential of targeting specific DNMT or TET proteins for therapeutic strategies.
  • DEVELOPMENT OF TRANSGENIC ZEBRAFISH MODEL FOR INVESTIGATION OF THE FUNCTION OF MICROGLIA

    Sura, Survasha; Department of Biological Sciences; Department of Biochemical and Molecular Biology; Georgia Cancer Center; Rajpurohit, Surendra K; Augusta University (2019-02-13)
    Zebrafish have emerged as a powerful model organism for elucidating the development and function of microglia. Generation of new transgenic reporter lines and imaging tools strengthen the zebrafish model in microglia study�in-vivo. The aim is to develop a novel compound transgenic line to study the inflammatory process mediated by NF-kB in microglia cells. This novel compound transgenic line will establish a new model for microglia study. To generate the novel compound zebrafish transgenic model for microglia, we are crossbreeding microglia transgenic line zebrafish (Tg(mpeg1:mCherry) with the NF-kB Tg(6xNFkB:EGFP) transgenic progeny. We first generate a heterozygous F1 progeny which will be bred to generate an F2 homozygous progeny. Once the F1 progeny of the Microglia-NfkB transgenic line is developed, they will be crossbred to develop the Homozygous compound transgenic line. Fluorescent Microscopy will be used to screen the larvae generated from the breeding events. By developing the compound transgenic line, we are optimizing microglia isolation and sorting methodology by using the related antibodies as the marker. The NF-kB microglia transgenic line will provide a unique platform for drug screening to address microglial based ailments, thus furthering the understanding and treatment of human disease.
  • The Role of GPR109A in NAD+ Metabolism in Aging RPE

    Fuller, Jasmine; Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology (Augusta University, 2018-12-28)
    Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50 worldwide. The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), located in the back of the eye, is most affected in AMD. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is a coenzyme common to most metabolic pathways. Reductions in NAD+ and NAD+- dependent enzymes (e.g., SIRT1) have been linked causally to the development/progression of many age-related pathologies. None, however, have evaluated NAD+ directly or the mechanisms governing its biosynthesis and related availability in RPE. In our previous study, we have shown that NAD+ levels decline with age in the RPE. This correlated directly with decreased nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) expression. SIRT1 expression and activity was also significantly reduced. Using the human RPE cell line, ARPE-19, primary mouse RPE cells and FK866, a highly specific, noncompetitive NAMPT inhibitor, we simulated in vitro the age-dependent decline in NAD+ and the related increase in RPE senescence. Using this model, we demonstrated the positive impact that therapies that provide supplemental or alternate energy sources such as nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) and β-hydroxybutyrate (B-HB) have on RPE viability and the possible role of G-protein coupled receptor, GPR109A in this process.
  • Immune regulation of tumor cell plasticity: A promising molecular target in breast cancer metastasis

    LEE, EUNMI; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / Cancer Center (2018-11-29)
    It is widely accepted that phenotypic plasticity of malignant cells is required during metastatic cascade. However, the specific mechanism of how the tumor microenvironment regulates tumor cell plasticity in metastasis is under intense investigation. We demonstrate here that monocytic and granulocytic subsets of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC), hereafter called mMDSCs and gMDSCs, infiltrate in the primary tumor and distant organs with different time kinetics and regulate spatiotemporal tumor plasticity. Using co-culture experiments and mouse transcriptome analyses in syngeneic mouse models, we provide evidence that tumor-infiltrating mMDSCs facilitate dissemination from the primary site by inducing the EMT/CSC phenotype. In contrast, pulmonary gMDSC infiltrates support metastatic growth by reverting the EMT/CSC phenotype and promoting tumor cell proliferation. We also observe that lung-derived gMDSCs isolated from tumor-bearing mice enhance metastatic growth of already disseminated tumor cells. Our ongoing studies reveal that calprotectin (S100A8 and S100A9 heterotetramer) is an important regulator of gMDSCs, which play a critical role in promoting breast cancer metastasis by inducing MET-like CSCs as well as suppressing anti-tumor immunity within the pre-metastatic niche. Furthermore, we develop a novel gMDSC-targeting compound that potentially binds to calprotectin and validate its therapeutic utility in a preclinical breast cancer model. Our goal for this study is to elucidate the molecular co-evolution of tumor and immune cells in cancer development and to identify molecular targets to provide alternative therapeutic options for women with metastatic disease.
  • THE TUMOR SECRETORY FACTOR ZAG PROMOTES WHITE ADIPOSE TISSUE BROWNING AND ENERGY WASTING IN CACHEXIA

    Elattar, Sawsan; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / Cancer Center (8/7/2018)
    SAWSAN ELATTAR The Tumor Secretory Factor ZAG Promotes White Adipose Tissue Browning and Energy Wasting in Cachexia (Under the direction of SATYANARAYANA ANDE) Cachexia is a complex tissue-wasting syndrome characterized by inflammation, hyper-metabolism, increased energy expenditure and anorexia. Browning of white adipose tissue (WAT) is one of the significant factors that contribute to energy wasting in cachexia. Tumors secrete an array of secretory factors, such as tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interferon γ (IFNγ) and zinc-α2-glycoprotein (ZAG), that have been implicated in altering metabolism and promoting cachexia. Previous studies have demonstrated that ZAG can induce lipolysis; however, whether ZAG plays a role beyond lipolysis remains unclear. Here, by utilizing a cell implantation model, we demonstrate that the lipid-mobilizing factor, ZAG, induces WAT browning in mice. Increased circulating levels of ZAG not only induced lipolysis in the adipose tissues, but also caused robust browning in the WAT. Stimulating white adipose progenitors with ZAG recombinant protein or expression of ZAG in mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) strongly enhanced brown-like differentiation. At the molecular level, ZAG stimulated peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARƔ) and early B cell factor 2 (Ebf2) expression and promoted their recruitment to the PR/SET domain 16 (Prdm16) promoter, leading to enhanced expression of Prdm16, which determines brown cell fate. In the brown adipose tissue (BAT), ZAG stimulated the expression of PPARƔand peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC1α) and promoted recruitment of PPARƔ to the uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) promoter, leading to increased expression of UCP1. Collectively, by promoting WAT browning and by activating thermogenesis in the BAT, ZAG increased body energy expenditure. Overall, our results revealed a novel function of ZAG in WAT browning and highlight that targeting ZAG may have therapeutic applications in humans with cachexia. KEYWORDS: (Cachexia, beige adipocyte, brown fat, adipose atrophy, Zinc-α2-glycoprotein, Ebf2, Prdm16, PPARƔ, UCP1)
  • Canonical Wnt Signaling in Antigen Presenting Cells Regulates Microbiota-Induced Inflammation and Immune Cell Homeostasis in the Colon

    Swafford, Daniel Joseph; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / Cancer Center (8/3/2018)
    Aberrant Wnt/β-catenin-signaling occurs in several inflammatory diseases including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and IBD-associated colon carcinogenesis. However, its role in shaping mucosal immune responses to commensals in the gut remains unknown. Here, we investigated the importance of canonical Wnt signaling in CD11c+ antigen presenting cells (APCs) in controlling intestinal inflammation. Using a mouse model of ulcerative colitis, we demonstrated that canonical Wnt-signaling in intestinal CD11c+ antigen presenting cells (APCs) controls intestinal inflammation by imparting an anti-inflammatory phenotype. Genetic deletion of Wnt co-receptors, low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 and 6 (LRP5/6) in CD11c+ APCs in mice (LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice) resulted in enhanced intestinal inflammation with increased histopathological severity of colonic tissue. This was due to microbiota-dependent increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased expression of immune regulatory factors such as IL-10, retinoic acid (RA), and IDO. In addition, loss of LRP5/6-mediated signaling in CD11c+ APCs resulted in altered microflora and T cell homeostasis, which led to a loss of systemic tolerance to oral antigen. Furthermore, our study demonstrates that conditional activation of β-catenin in CD11c+ APCs in LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice resulted in reduced acute intestinal inflammation with decreased histopathological severity of colonic tissue. Loss of canonical Wnt signaling in CD11c+ APCs also results in an increase in colonic polyp formation and exacerbation of chronic inflammation/injury. This was also heavily dependent on the presence and composition of the gut microbiota, as fecal transfers from LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice to floxed control (LRP5/6FL/FL) mice that were administered an antibiotic cocktail produces a polyp load and weight loss similar to that of LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice without treatment. Additionally, our study demonstrates that conditional activation of β-catenin in CD11c+ APCs in LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice reduces severity of inflammation-associated colon carcinogenesis in these mice. Furthermore, we show that treatment of LRP5/6ΔCD11c mice with either RA or IL-10 reduces severity of inflammation-associated colon carcinogenesis. Mechanistically, RA and IL-10 may independently reduce key inflammatory factors at the acute phase of colitis. These results ultimately reveal a mechanism by which intestinal APCs control intestinal inflammation and immune homeostasis via the canonical Wnt signaling pathway, which may serve as a promising target for chronic inflammatory disorders.
  • CXCR2 EXPRESSING TUMOR CELLS DRIVE VASCULAR MIMICRY IN ANTI-ANGIOGENIC THERAPY RESISTANT GLIOBLASTOMA

    Angara, Kartik Prasad; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Augusta University, 7/20/2018)
    Glioblastoma (GBM) is a hypervascular and hypoxic neoplasia of the central nervous system with an extremely high rate of mortality. Owing to its hypervascularity, anti-angiogenic therapies (AAT) have been used as an adjuvant to the traditional surgical resection, chemotherapy, and radiation to normalize blood vessels, control abnormal vasculatures and prevent recurrence. The benefits of AAT have been transient and the tumors were shown to relapse faster and demonstrated particularly high rates of AAT-induced therapy resistance due to activation of alternative neovascularization mechanisms. Vascular Mimicry (VM) is the uncanny ability of tumor cells to acquire endothelial-like properties, lay down vascular patterned networks reminiscent of host endothelial blood vessels and served as an irrigation system for the tumors to meet with the increasing metabolic and nutrient demands in the event of the ensuing hypoxia resulting from AAT. In our studies, we have demonstrated that AAT accelerates VM. We observed that Vatalanib (a VEGFR2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor) induced VM vessels are positive for periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) matrix but devoid of any endothelium on the inner side and lined by tumor cells on the outer side. Interestingly, 20-HETE synthesis inhibitor HET0016 significantly decreased GBM tumors through decreasing VM structures both at the core and at the periphery of the tumors. During our extensive studies to understand the tumor-inherent mechanisms of AAT-induced resistance, we identified a crucial chemokine, CXCL8 or IL-8, to be highly upregulated in the GBM tumors treated with AAT. IL-8 has been well established as a highly prevalent cytokine in GBM with potent pro-migratory and pro-angiogenic functions. AAT-treated groups had significantly higher populations of CXCR2+ glioma stem cells and endothelial-like subpopulations and these populations were decreased following treatment with HET0016 and SB225002 (a CXCR2 antagonist). CXCR2+ GBM tumor cells were shown to form VM-like vascular channels carrying functional RBCs. Knocking down CXCR2 led to smaller tumor size in the animals and improperly developed vascular structures without CXCR2+ GBM cells lining them. This confirms our hypothesis that CXCR2+ GBM cells initiate VM and contribute to AAT resistance in GBM. Our present study suggests that HET0016 and SB225002 have potential to target therapeutic resistance and can be combined with other antitumor agents in preclinical and clinical trials.
  • MECHANISM OF 12/15 LIPOXYGENASE-INDUCED RETINAL MICROVASCULAR DYSFUNCTION IN DIABETIC RETINOPATHY

    Elmasry, Khaled; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / Cancer Center (5/22/2018)
    Our earlier studies have established the role of 12/15-lipoxygenase (LO) in mediating the inflammatory reaction in diabetic retinopathy. However, the exact mechanism is still unclear. The goal of the current study was to identify the potential role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress as a major cellular stress response in the 12/15-LO-induced retinal changes in diabetic retinopathy. We used in vivo and in vitro approaches. For in vivo studies, experimental diabetes was induced in wild-type (WT) mice and 12/15-Lo (also known as Alox15) knockout mice (12/15-Lo−/−); ER stress was then evaluated after 12-14 weeks of diabetes. We also tested the effect of intravitreal injection of 12-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid (HETE) on retinal ER stress in WT mice and in mice lacking the catalytic subunit of NADPH oxidase, encoded by Nox2 (also known as Cybb) (Nox2−/− mice). In vitro studies were performed using human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) treated with 15-HETE (0.1 µmol/l) or vehicle, with or without ER stress or NADPH oxidase inhibitors. This was followed by evaluation of ER stress response, NADPH oxidase expression/activity and the levels of phosphorylated vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 (p-VEGFR2) by western blotting and immunoprecipitation assays. Moreover, real-time imaging of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) release in HRECs treated with or without 15-HETE was performed using confocal microscopy. Deletion of 12/15-Lo significantly attenuated diabetes-induced ER stress in mouse retina. In vitro, 15-HETE upregulated ER stress markers such as phosphorylated RNA-dependent protein kinase-like ER-regulated kinase (p-PERK), activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) and protein disulfide isomerase (PDI) in HRECs. Inhibition of ER stress reduced 15-HETE-induced-leukocyte adhesion, VEGFR2 phosphorylation and NADPH oxidase expression/activity. However, inhibition of NADPH oxidase or deletion of Nox2 had no effect on ER stress induced by the 12/15-LO-derived metabolites both in vitro and in vivo. We also found that 15-HETE increases the intracellular calcium in HRECs. ER stress contributes to 12/15-LO-induced retinal inflammation in diabetic retinopathy via activation of NADPH oxidase and VEGFR2. Perturbation of calcium homeostasis in the retina might also play a role in linking 12/15-LO to retinal ER stress and subsequent microvascular dysfunction in diabetic retinopathy.
  • β-adrenergic receptor/β-arrestin-mediated microRNA maturation regulatory network: A new player in cardioprotective signaling

    Teoh, Jian Peng; Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / Cancer Center (2017)
    Chronic treatment with the β-blocker carvedilol (Carv) has been shown to reduce established maladaptive left ventricle (LV) hypertrophy and to improve LV function in experimental heart failure. However, the detailed mechanisms by which carvedilol improves LV failure are poorly understood. We previously showed that carvedilol is a β-arrestin-biased β1-adrenergic receptor ligand, which activates cellular pathways through β-arrestins in the heart independent of G protein-mediated second messenger signaling, a concept known as biased signaling. Here, we sought to (i) identify the effects of Carv on LV gene expression on a genome-wide basis and (ii) investigate whether Carv could regulate novel miR expression/biogenesis, thereby providing a novel mechanism for its cardioprotective effects. Gene expression profiling analysis revealed that subsets of genes are differentially expressed after Carv treatment. Further analysis categorized these genes into pathways involved in tight junction, cardiac response to malaria, viral myocarditis, glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis, and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Genes encoding proteins in the tight junction, malaria, and viral myocarditis pathways were upregulated in the LV by Carv, while genes encoding proteins in the glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis and ARVC pathways were downregulated by Carv. In addition, our findings also revealed that Carv indeed upregulates 3 mature miRs, but not their pre-miRs and pri-miRs, in a β-arrestin1/2-dependent manner. Interestingly, Carv-mediated activation of miR-466g or miR-532-5p, and miR-674 is dependent on β2AR and β1AR, respectively. Mechanistically, β-arrestins regulate maturation of 3 newly identified βAR/β-arrestin-responsive miRs (β-miRs) by associating with the Dicer complex as well as two RNA binding proteins (hnRNPK and dyskerin) on three pre-miRs. Cardiac cell approaches uncover that β-miRs act as gatekeepers of cardiac cell function by repressing deleterious targets. Our findings indicate a novel role for βAR-mediated β-arrestin signaling activated by Carv in miR maturation, which may be linked to its protective mechanism. Altogether, our findings indicate that (i) the gene expression changes may reflect the molecular mechanisms that underlie the functional benefits of Carv therapy and (ii) the novel role for βAR-mediated β-arrestin signaling activated by Carv in miR maturation, which may be linked to its protective mechanism.

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