Mechanisms of miRNA control of cell signaling

We perform genome-wide miRNome screens to study the impact miRNAs have in the regulation of individual signaling pathways as well as on entire signaling networks.

Global microRNA level regulation of EGFR-driven cell-cycle protein network in breast cancer

The EGFR-driven cell-cycle pathway has been extensively studied due to its pivotal role in breast cancer proliferation and pathogenesis. Although several studies reported regulation of individual pathway components by microRNAs (miRNAs), little is known about how miRNAs coordinate the EGFR protein network on a global miRNA (miRNome) level. Here, we combined a large-scale miRNA screening approach with a high-throughput proteomic readout and network-based data analysis to identify which miRNAs are involved, and to uncover potential regulatory patterns. Our results indicated that the regulation of proteins by miRNAs is dominated by the nucleotide matching mechanism between seed sequences of the miRNAs and 3'-UTR of target genes. Furthermore, the novel network-analysis methodology we developed implied the existence of consistent intrinsic regulatory patterns where miRNAs simultaneously co-regulate several proteins acting in the same functional module. Finally, our approach led us to identify and validate three miRNAs (miR-124, miR-147 and miR-193a-3p) as novel tumor suppressors that co-target EGFR-driven cell-cycle network proteins and inhibit cell-cycle progression and proliferation in breast cancer. Reference: Uhlmann 2012. This project is currently extended to study the interaction of the same miRNAs in other cancer signaling pathways, aiming to eventually determine the global miRNA-signaling network.

MicroRNA-520/373 family functions as a tumor suppressor in estrogen receptor negative breast cancer by targeting NF-kappaB and TGF-beta signaling pathways

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) as modulators of gene expression have been described to display both tumor-promoting and tumor-suppressive functions. Although their role has been studied in different tumor types, little is known about how they regulate nuclear factor kappaB (NF-kappaB) signaling in breast cancer. Here, we performed an unbiased whole genome miRNA (miRome) screen to identify novel modulators of NF-kappaB pathway in breast cancer. The screen identified 13 miRNA families whose members induced consistent effects on NF-kappaB activity. Among those, the miR-520/373 family inhibited NF-kappaB signaling through direct targeting of RELA and thus strongly reduced expression and secretion of the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8. With a combination of in vitro and in vivo approaches, we propose a metastasis-suppressive role of miR-520/373 family. miR-520c and miR-373 abrogated both in vitro cell invasion and in vivo intravasation of highly invasive MDA-MB-231 cells. However, knockdown of RELA did not affect their metastatic ability. mRNA profiling of MDA-MB-231 cells on overexpression of miR-520/373 members revealed a strong downregulation of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) signaling. Mechanistically, the metastasis-suppressive role of miR-520/373 can be attributed to direct suppression of TGFBR2, as the silencing of TGFBR2 phenocopied the effects of miR-520/373 overexpression on suppression of Smad-dependent expression of the metastasis-promoting genes parathyroid hormone-related protein, plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 and angiopoietin-like 4 as well as tumor cell invasion, in vitro and in vivo. A negative correlation between miR-520c and TGFBR2 expression was observed in estrogen receptor negative (ER(-)) breast cancer patients but not in the ER positive (ER(+)) subtype. Remarkably, decreased expression of miR-520c correlated with lymph node metastasis specifically in ER(-) tumors. Taken together, our findings reveal that miR-520/373 family has a tumor-suppressive role in ER(-) breast cancer by acting as a link between the NF-kappaB and TGF-beta pathways and may thus contribute to the interplay of tumor progression, metastasis and inflammation. Reference: Keklikoglou 2012. This project is currently extended to study the interplay of cancer cells with their microenvironment and how the different cell types impact on one another.

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