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  • Author: Antonio Di Cristofano x
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Kristen Wong, Francesca Di Cristofano, Michela Ranieri, Daniela De Martino and Antonio Di Cristofano

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer. Despite its low incidence, it accounts for a disproportionate number of thyroid cancer-related deaths, because of its resistance to current therapeutic approaches. Novel actionable targets are urgently needed to prolong patient survival and increase their quality of life. Loss and mutation of the RB1 tumor suppressor are rare events in ATC, which suggests that therapies directed at inhibiting the cyclin D/CDK4complexes, responsible for RB phosphorylation and inactivation, might be effective in this tumor type. In fact, we found that the CDK4/6 inhibitor, palbociclib, strongly inhibits proliferation in all the RB1 wild-type ATC cell lines tested. Efficacy was also observed in vivo, in a xenograft model. However, ATC cells rapidly developed resistance to palbociclib. Resistance was associated with increased levels of cyclin D1 and D3. To counter cyclin D overexpression, we tested the effect of combining palbociclib with the PI3K/mTOR dual inhibitor, omipalisib. Combined treatment synergistically reduced cell proliferation, even in cell lines that do not carry PI3K-activating mutations. More importantly, low-dose combination was dramatically effective in inhibiting tumor growth in a xenograft model. Thus, combined PI3K/mTOR and CDK4/6 inhibition is a highly promising novel approach for the treatment of aggressive, therapy-resistant thyroid cancer.

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Devora Champa, Marika A Russo, Xiao-Hui Liao, Samuel Refetoff, Ronald A Ghossein and Antonio Di Cristofano

Poorly differentiated tumors of the thyroid gland (PDTC) are generally characterized by a poor prognosis due to their resistance to available therapeutic approaches. The relative rarity of these tumors is a major obstacle to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms leading to tumor aggressiveness and drug resistance, and consequently to the development of novel therapies. By simultaneously activating Kras and deleting p53 (Trp53) in thyroid follicular cells, we have generated a novel mouse model that develops papillary thyroid cancer invariably progressing to PDTC. In several cases, tumors further progress to anaplastic carcinomas. The poorly differentiated tumors are morphologically and functionally similar to their human counterparts and depend on MEK/ERK signaling for proliferation. Using primary carcinomas as well as carcinoma-derived cell lines, we also demonstrate that these tumors are intrinsically resistant to apoptosis due to high levels of expression of the Bcl2 family members, Bcl2a1 (Bcl2a1a) and Mcl1, and can be effectively targeted by Obatoclax, a small-molecule pan-inhibitor of the Bcl2 family. Furthermore, we show that Bcl2 family inhibition synergizes with MEK inhibition as well as with doxorubicin in inducing cell death. Thus, our studies in a novel, relevant mouse model have uncovered a promising druggable feature of aggressive thyroid cancers.

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Xhesika Shanja-Grabarz, Anouchka Coste, David Entenberg and Antonio Di Cristofano

Genetically engineered and orthotopic xenograft mouse models have been instrumental for increasing our understanding of thyroid cancer progression and for the development of novel therapeutic approaches in a setting that is more physiologically relevant than the classical subcutaneous flank implants. However, the anatomical location of the thyroid gland precludes a non-invasive analysis at the cellular level of the interactions between tumor cells and the surrounding microenvironment and does not allow a real-time evaluation of the response of tumor cells to drug treatments. As a consequence, such studies have generally only relied on endpoint approaches, limiting the amount and depth of the information that could be gathered. Here we describe the development of an innovative approach to imaging specific aspects of thyroid cancer biology, based on the implantation of a permanent, minimally invasive optical window that allows high-resolution, multi-day, intravital imaging of the behavior and cellular dynamics of thyroid tumors in the mouse. We show that this technology allows visualization of fluorescently tagged tumor cells both in immunocompetent, genetically engineered mouse models of anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) and in immunocompromised mice carrying orthotopic implanted human or mouse ATC cells. Furthermore, the use of recipient mice in which endothelial cells and macrophages are fluorescently labeled allows the detection of the spatial and functional relationship between tumor cells and their microenvironment. Finally, we show that ATC cells expressing a fluorescent biosensor for caspase 3 activity can be effectively utilized to evaluate, in real-time, the efficacy and kinetics of action of novel small molecule therapeutics. This novel approach to intravital imaging of thyroid cancer represents a platform that will allow, for the first time, the longitudinal, in situ analysis of tumor cell responses to therapy and of their interaction with the microenvironment.

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Catia Mio, Elisa Lavarone, Ketty Conzatti, Federica Baldan, Barbara Toffoletto, Cinzia Puppin, Sebastiano Filetti, Cosimo Durante, Diego Russo, Arturo Orlacchio, Antonio Di Cristofano, Carla Di Loreto and Giuseppe Damante

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is an extremely aggressive thyroid cancer subtype, refractory to the current medical treatment. Among various epigenetic anticancer drugs, bromodomain and extra-terminal inhibitors (BETis) are considered to be an appealing novel class of compounds. BETi target the bromodomain and extra-terminal of BET proteins that act as regulators of gene transcription, interacting with histone acetyl groups. The goal of this study is to delineate which pathway underlies the biological effects derived from BET inhibition, in order to find new potential therapeutic targets in ATC. We investigated the effects of BET inhibition on two human anaplastic thyroid cancer-derived cell lines (FRO and SW1736). The treatment with two BETis, JQ1 and I-BET762, decreased cell viability, reduced cell cycle S-phase, and determined cell death. In order to find BETi effectors, FRO and SW1736 were subjected to a global transcriptome analysis after JQ1 treatment. A significant portion of deregulated genes belongs to cell cycle regulators. Among them, MCM5 was decreased at both mRNA and protein levels in both tested cell lines. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments indicate that MCM5 is directly bound by the BET protein BRD4. MCM5 silencing reduced cell proliferation, thus underlining its involvement in the block of proliferation induced by BETis. Furthermore, MCM5 immunohistochemical evaluation in human thyroid tumor tissues demonstrated its overexpression in several papillary thyroid carcinomas and in all ATCs. MCM5 was also overexpressed in a murine model of ATC, and JQ1 treatment reduced Mcm5 mRNA expression in two murine ATC cell lines. Thus, MCM5 could represent a new target in the therapeutic approach against ATC.

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Caterina Tiozzo, Soula Danopoulos, Maria Lavarreda-Pearce, Sheryl Baptista, Radka Varimezova, Denise Al Alam, David Warburton, Rehan Virender, Stijn De Langhe, Antonio Di Cristofano, Saverio Bellusci and Parviz Minoo

Even though the role of the tyrosine phosphatase Pten as a tumor suppressor gene has been well established in thyroid cancer, its role during thyroid development is still elusive. We therefore targeted Pten deletion in the thyroid epithelium by crossing Pten flox/flox with a newly developed Nkx2.1-cre driver line in the BALB/c and C57BL/6 genetic backgrounds. C57BL/6 homozygous Pten mutant mice died around 2 weeks of age due to tracheal and esophageal compression by a hyperplasic thyroid. By contrast, BALB/c homozygous Pten mutant mice survived up to 2 years, but with a slightly increased thyroid volume. Characterization of the thyroid glands from C57BL/6 homozygous Pten mutant mice at postnatal day 14 (PN14) showed abnormally enlarged tissue with areas of cellular hyperplasia, disruption of the normal architecture, and follicular degeneration. In addition, differing degrees of hypothyroidism, thyroxine (T4) decrease, and thyroid-stimulating hormone elevation between the strains in the mutants and the heterozygous mutant were detected at PN14. Finally, C57BL/6 heterozygous Pten mutant mice developed thyroid tumors after 2 years of age. Our results indicate that Pten has a pivotal role in thyroid development and its deletion results in thyroid tumor formation, with the timing and severity of the tumor depending on the particular genetic background.

Free access

Caterina Tiozzo, Soula Danopoulos, Maria Lavarreda-Pearce, Sheryl Baptista, Radka Varimezova, Denise Al Alam, David Warburton, Virender Rehan, Stijn De Langhe, Antonio Di Cristofano, Saverio Bellusci and Parviz Minoo