Sep 2018, Volume 12 Issue 4

Cover illustration

  • Killing mechanisms of NK cell against tumor cells. Upon the formation of immunological synapse between activated NK cell and tumor cell, multiple killing mechanisms can be triggered, including direct killing of the tumor cell by the (A) release of granules containing perforin and granzymes and (B) induction of apoptosis through the ligation of Fas-FasL or TRAIL-TRAIL ligand, and indirect killing through (C) the secretion of factors that recruit and promote the activation of o [Detail] ...

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    Yun Zhang, Robert A. Weinberg

    The cell-biological program termed the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays an important role in both development and cancer progression. Depending on the contextual signals and intracellular gene circuits of a particular cell, this program can drive fully epithelial cells to enter into a series of phenotypic states arrayed along the epithelial-mesenchymal phenotypic axis. These cell states display distinctive cellular characteristics, including stemness, invasiveness, drug-resistance and the ability to form metastases at distant organs, and thereby contribute to cancer metastasis and relapse. Currently we still lack a coherent overview of the molecular and biochemical mechanisms inducing cells to enter various states along the epithelial-mesenchymal phenotypic spectrum. An improved understanding of the dynamic and plastic nature of the EMT program has the potential to yield novel therapies targeting this cellular program that may aid in the management of high-grade malignancies.

    Sumedha Roy, Yuan Zhuang

    A family of transcription factors known as Id proteins, or inhibitor of DNA binding and differentiation, is capable of regulating cell proliferation, survival and differentiation, and is often upregulated in multiple types of tumors. Due to their ability to promote self-renewal, Id proteins have been considered as oncogenes, and potential therapeutic targets in cancer models. On the contrary, certain Id proteins are reported to act as tumor suppressors in the development of Burkitt’s lymphoma in humans, and hepatosplenic and innate-like T cell lymphomas in mice. The contexts and mechanisms by which Id proteins can serve in such contradictory roles to determine tumor outcomes are still not well understood. In this review, we explore the roles of Id proteins in lymphocyte development and tumorigenesis, particularly with respect to inhibition of their canonical DNA binding partners known as E proteins. Transcriptional regulation by E proteins, and their antagonism by Id proteins, act as gatekeepers to ensure appropriate lymphocyte development at key checkpoints. We re-examine the derailment of these regulatory mechanisms in lymphocytes that facilitate tumor development. These mechanistic insights can allow better appreciation of the context-dependent roles of Id proteins in cancers and improve considerations for therapy.

    Kohei Miyazono, Yoko Katsuno, Daizo Koinuma, Shogo Ehata, Masato Morikawa

    Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β regulates a wide variety of cellular responses, including cell growth arrest, apoptosis, cell differentiation, motility, invasion, extracellular matrix production, tissue fibrosis, angiogenesis, and immune function. Although tumor-suppressive roles of TGF-β have been extensively studied and well-characterized in many cancers, especially at early stages, accumulating evidence has revealed the critical roles of TGF-β as a pro-tumorigenic factor in various types of cancer. This review will focus on recent findings regarding epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) induced by TGF-β, in relation to crosstalk with some other signaling pathways, and the roles of TGF-β in lung and pancreatic cancers, in which TGF-β has been shown to be involved in cancer progression. Recent findings also strongly suggested that targeting TGF-β signaling using specific inhibitors may be useful for the treatment of some cancers. TGF-β plays a pivotal role in the differentiation and function of regulatory T cells (Tregs). TGF-β is produced as latent high molecular weight complexes, and the latent TGF-β complex expressed on the surface of Tregs contains glycoprotein A repetitions predominant (GARP, also known as leucine-rich repeat containing 32 or LRRC32). Inhibition of the TGF-β activities through regulation of the latent TGF-β complex activation will be discussed.

    Patrick A. Carroll, Brian W. Freie, Haritha Mathsyaraja, Robert N. Eisenman

    Transcription factor networks have evolved in order to control, coordinate, and separate, the functions of distinct network modules spatially and temporally. In this review we focus on the MYC network (also known as the MAX-MLX Network), a highly conserved super-family of related basic-helix-loop-helix-zipper (bHLHZ) proteins that functions to integrate extracellular and intracellular signals and modulate global gene expression. Importantly the MYC network has been shown to be deeply involved in a broad spectrum of human and other animal cancers. Here we summarize molecular and biological properties of the network modules with emphasis on functional interactions among network members. We suggest that these network interactions serve to modulate growth and metabolism at the transcriptional level in order to balance nutrient demand with supply, to maintain growth homeostasis, and to influence cell fate. Moreover, oncogenic activation of MYC and/or loss of a MYC antagonist, results in an imbalance in the activity of the network as a whole, leading to tumor initiation, progression and maintenance.

    Minhong Shen, Yibin Kang

    Tumor microenvironment (TME) is comprised of cellular and non-cellular components that exist within and around the tumor mass. The TME is highly dynamic and its importance in different stages of cancer progression has been well recognized. A growing body of evidence suggests that TME also plays pivotal roles in cancer treatment responses. TME is significantly remodeled upon cancer therapies, and such change either enhances the responses or induces drug resistance. Given the importance of TME in tumor progression and therapy resistance, strategies that remodel TME to improve therapeutic responses are under developing. In this review, we provide an overview of the essential components in TME and the remodeling of TME in response to anti-cancer treatments. We also summarize the strategies that aim to enhance therapeutic efficacy by modulating TME.

    Fang Fang, Weihua Xiao, Zhigang Tian

    Natural killer cells (NKs) have a great potential for cancer immunotherapy because they can rapidly and directly kill transformed cells in the absence of antigen presensitization. Various cellular sources, including peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), stem cells, and NK cell lines, have been used for producing NK cells. In particular, NK cells that expanded from allogeneic PBMCs exhibit better efficacy than those that did not. However, considering the safety, activities, and reliability of the cell products, researchers must develop an optimal protocol for producing NK cells from PBMCs in the manufacture setting and clinical therapeutic regimen. In this review, the challenges on NK cell-based therapeutic approaches and clinical outcomes are discussed.

    Xiao-Dong Yang, Shao-Cong Sun

    T cells efficiently respond to foreign antigens to mediate immune responses against infections but are tolerant to self-tissues. Defect in T cell activation is associated with severe immune deficiencies, whereas aberrant T cell activation contributes to the pathogenesis of diverse autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. An emerging mechanism that regulates T cell activation and tolerance is ubiquitination, a reversible process of protein modification that is counter-regulated by ubiquitinating enzymes and deubiquitinases (DUBs). DUBs are isopeptidases that cleave polyubiquitin chains and remove ubiquitin from target proteins, thereby controlling the magnitude and duration of ubiquitin signaling. It is now well recognized that DUBs are crucial regulators of T cell responses and serve as potential therapeutic targets for manipulating immune responses in the treatment of immunological disorders and cancer. This review will discuss the recent progresses regarding the functions of DUBs in T cells.

    Zhilin Hu, Qiang Zou, Bing Su

    T cells are an important adaptive immune response arm that mediates cell-mediated immunity. T cell metabolism plays a central role in T cell activation, proliferation, differentiation, and effector function. Specific metabolic programs are tightly controlled to mediate T cell immune responses, and alterations in T cell metabolism may result in many immunological disorders. In this review, we will summarize the main T cell metabolic pathways and the important factors participating in T cell metabolic programming during T cell homeostasis, differentiation, and function.

    Chia-Wei Li, Yun-Ju Lai, Jennifer L. Hsu, Mien-Chie Hung

    Inhibition of macrophage-mediated phagocytosis has emerged as an essential mechanism for tumor immune evasion. One mechanism inhibiting the innate response is the presence of the macrophage inhibitory molecule, signal regulatory protein-α (SIRPα), on tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) and its cognate ligand cluster of differentiation 47 (CD47) on tumor cells in the tumor microenvironment. On the basis of a recently discovered programmed death protein 1 (PD-1) in TAMs, we discuss the potential inhibitory receptors that possess new functions beyond T cell exhaustion in this review. As more and more immune receptors are found to be expressed on TAMs, the corresponding therapies may also stimulate macrophages for phagocytosis and thereby provide extra anti-tumor benefits in cancer therapy. Therefore, identification of biomarkers and combinatorial therapeutic strategies, have the potential to improve the efficacy and safety profiles of current immunotherapies.

    Jiyu Tong, Richard A. Flavell, Hua-Bing Li

    N6-methyladenosine (m6A) is the most common post-transcriptional RNA modification throughout the transcriptome, affecting fundamental aspects of RNA metabolism. m6A modification could be installed by m6A “writers” composed of core catalytic components (METTL3/METTL14/WTAP) and newly defined regulators and removed by m6A “erasers” (FTO and ALKBH5). The function of m6A is executed by m6A “readers” that bind to m6A directly (YTH domain-containing proteins, eIF3 and IGF2BPs) or indirectly (HNRNPA2B1). In the past few years, advances in m6A modulators (“writers,” “erasers,” and “readers”) have remarkably renewed our understanding of the function and regulation of m6A in different cells under normal or disease conditions. However, the mechanism and the regulatory network of m6A are still largely unknown. Moreover, investigations of the m6A physiological roles in human diseases are limited. In this review, we summarize the recent advances in m6A research and highlight the functional relevance and importance of m6A modification in in vitro cell lines, in physiological contexts, and in cancers.

    Liqin Wang, Rene Bernards

    Identification of the driver mutations in cancer has resulted in the development of a new category of molecularly targeted anti-cancer drugs. However, as was the case with conventional chemotherapies, the effectiveness of these drugs is limited by the emergence of drug-resistant variants. While most cancer therapies are given in combinations that are designed to avoid drug resistance, we discuss here therapeutic approaches that take advantage of the changes in cancer cells that arise upon development of drug resistance. This approach is based on notion that drug resistance comes at a fitness cost to the cancer cell that can be exploited for therapeutic benefit. We discuss the development of sequential drug therapies in which the first therapy is not given with curative intent, but to induce a major new sensitivity that can be targeted with a second drug that selectively targets the acquired vulnerability. This concept of collateral sensitivity has hitherto not been used on a large scale in the clinic and holds great promise for future cancer therapy.