A functional yeast survival screen of tumor-derived cDNA libraries designed to identify anti-apoptotic mammalian oncogenes
Inga Maria Melzer
Ralf Joachim Rieker
David Lukas Wachter
- Yeast cells can be killed upon expression of pro-apoptotic mammalian proteins. We have established a functional yeast survival screen that was used to isolate novel human anti-apoptotic genes overexpressed in treatment-resistant tumors. The screening of three different cDNA libraries prepared from metastatic melanoma, glioblastomas and leukemic blasts allowed for the identification of many yeast cell death-repressing cDNAs, including 28% of genes that are already known to inhibit apoptosis, 35% of genes upregulated in at least one tumor entity and 16% of genes described as both anti-apoptotic in function and upregulated in tumors. These results confirm the great potential of this screening tool to identify novel anti-apoptotic and tumor-relevant molecules. Three of the isolated candidate genes were further analyzed regarding their anti-apoptotic function in cell culture and their potential as a therapeutic target for molecular therapy. PAICS, an enzyme required for de novo purine biosynthesis, the long non-coding RNA MALAT1 and the MAST2 kinase are overexpressed in certain tumor entities and capable of suppressing apoptosis in human cells. Using a subcutaneous xenograft mouse model, we also demonstrated that glioblastoma tumor growth requires MAST2 expression. An additional advantage of the yeast survival screen is its universal applicability. By using various inducible pro-apoptotic killer proteins and screening the appropriate cDNA library prepared from normal or pathologic tissue of interest, the survival screen can be used to identify apoptosis inhibitors in many different systems.
Vaccination Directed against the Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K Envelope Protein Inhibits Tumor Growth in a Murine Model System
Sarah M. Büchner
Winfried S. Wels
Barbara S. Schnierle
- Human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) genomes are chromosomally integrated in all cells of an individual. They are normally transcriptionally silenced and transmitted only vertically. Enhanced expression of HERV-K accompanied by the emergence of anti-HERV-K-directed immune responses has been observed in tumor patients and HIV-infected individuals. As HERV-K is usually not expressed and immunological tolerance development is unlikely, it is an appropriate target for the development of immunotherapies. We generated a recombinant vaccinia virus (MVA-HKenv) expressing the HERV-K envelope glycoprotein (ENV), based on the modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA), and established an animal model to test its vaccination efficacy. Murine renal carcinoma cells (Renca) were genetically altered to express E. coli beta-galactosidase (RLZ cells) or the HERV-K ENV gene (RLZ-HKenv cells). Intravenous injection of RLZ-HKenv cells into syngenic BALB/c mice led to the formation of pulmonary metastases, which were detectable by X-gal staining. A single vaccination of tumor-bearing mice with MVA-HKenv drastically reduced the number of pulmonary RLZ-HKenv tumor nodules compared to vaccination with wild-type MVA. Prophylactic vaccination of mice with MVA-HKenv precluded the formation of RLZ-HKenv tumor nodules, whereas wild-type MVA-vaccinated animals succumbed to metastasis. Protection from tumor formation correlated with enhanced HERV-K ENV-specific killing activity of splenocytes. These data demonstrate for the first time that HERV-K ENV is a useful target for vaccine development and might offer new treatment opportunities for diverse types of cancer.
Murine amniotic fluid stem cells contribute mesenchymal but not epithelial components to reconstituted mammary ducts
Petra A. B. Klemmt
- Introduction: Amniotic fluid harbors cells indicative of all three germ layers, and pluripotent fetal amniotic fluid stem cells (AFSs) are considered potentially valuable for applications in cellular therapy and tissue engineering. We investigated whether it is possible to direct the cell fate of AFSs in vivo by transplantation experiments into a particular microenvironment, the mammary fat pad. This microenvironment provides the prerequisites to study stem cell function and the communication between mesenchymal and epithelial cells. On clearance of the endogenous epithelium, the ductal tree can be reconstituted by the transfer of exogenously provided mammary stem cells. Analogously, exogenously provided stem cells from other tissues can be investigated for their potential to contribute to mammary gland regeneration. Methods: We derived pluripotent murine AFSs, measured the expression of stem cell markers, and confirmed their in vitro differentiation potential. AFSs were transplanted into cleared and non cleared fat pads of immunocompromised mice to evaluate their ability to assume particular cell fates under the instructive conditions of the fat-pad microenvironment and the hormonal stimulation during pregnancy. Results: Transplantation of AFSs into cleared fat pads alone or in the presence of exogenous mammary epithelial cells caused their differentiation into stroma and adipocytes and replaced endogenous mesenchymal components surrounding the ducts in co-transplantation experiments. Similarly, transplantation of AFSs into fat pads that had not been previously cleared led to AFS-derived stromal cells surrounding the elongating endogenous ducts. AFSs expressed the marker protein α-SMA, but did not integrate into the myoepithelial cell layer of the ducts in virgin mice. With pregnancy, a small number of AFS-derived cells were present in acinar structures. Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that the microenvironmental cues of the mammary fat pad cause AFSs to participate in mammary gland regeneration by providing mesenchymal components to emerging glandular structures, but do not incorporate or differentiate into ductal epithelial cells.
Identification and Analysis of Novel Anti-Apoptotic Proteins in Pancreatic Carcinoma
The viral vector vaccine VSV-GP boosts immune response upon repeated applications
Lisa Mareike Egerer
Dorothee von Laer
- Poster presentation AIDS Vaccine 2012 Boston, MA, USA. 9-12 September 2012
Background: Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) is a potent candidate vaccine vector for various viral diseases (e.g. HIV, HCV, RSV). The biggest limitation of VSV, however, is its neurotoxicity, which limits application in humans. The second drawback is that VSV induces neutralizing antibodies rapidly and is thus ineffective as a vaccine vector upon repeated applications. Our group has recently shown that VSV pseudotyped with the glycoprotein (GP) of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), VSV-GP, is not neurotoxic. The aim of this project was to evaluate the potential of VSV-GP as a vaccine vector.
Methods: For this purpose, we used Ovalbumin (OVA) as a model antigen and analyzed immunogenicity of GP-pseudotyped and wildtype VSV containing OVA (VSV-GP-OVA and VSV-OVA) in vitro and in vivo in mouse models.
Results: We showed that both vectors infected murine bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (bmDCs) in vitro. These bmDCs were able to activate OVA specific CD8+ and CD4+ T cells. Immunization experiments in mice revealed that both VSV-OVA and VSV-GP-OVA induced functional OVA-specific cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) after a single immunization. In addition, with both viruses, mice generated antibodies against OVA. However, boosting with the same virus was only possible for the GP-pseudotyped virus but not for wild type VSV. The efficacy of repeated immunization with VSV-OVA was most likely limited by high levels of neutralizing antibodies, which we detected after the first immunization. In contrast, no neutralizing antibodies against VSV-GP were induced even after boosting.
Conclusion: Taken together, we showed that the non-neurotoxic VSV-GP is able to induce specific T cell and B cell responses against the model antigen OVA to the same level as the wild type VSV vector. However, in contrast to wild type VSV, VSV-GP-OVA boosted the immune response upon repeated applications. Thus, VSV-GP is a promising novel vaccine vector.
Next generation of antiretroviral agents targeting the RNA binding site of the HIV-1 cellular cofactor DDX3: an innovative therapeutic approach
- Introduction: Efficacy of currently approved anti-HIV drugs is hampered by mutations of the viral enzymes, leading invariably to drug resistance and chemotherapy failure. Recent data suggest that cellular co-factors also represent useful targets for anti-HIV therapy. We have recently provided evidence for the possibility to block HIV-1 replication by targeting its cellular cofactor DDX3.
Material and methods: Molecular modeling and in silico technologies were applied to rationally design small molecules specifically targeting the RNA binding site of human DDX3. Biochemical studies of mutated DDX3 enzymes were also used to identify additional potential drug binding sites.
Optimization of compounds identified by application of a high-throughput docking approach afforded a promising lead compound which proved to inhibit both the helicase and ATPase activity of DDX3 and to reduce the viral load of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) infected with HIV-1. A novel interaction site has been also identified in DDX3, which, when blocked, can reduce viral replication, representing an additional target for small molecules inhibitors.
Conclusions: We have identified the first inhibitors of HIV-1 replication targeting the RNA binding site of the cellular cofactor human DDX3. These compounds may offer superior selectivity over the ATP-competitive inhibitors previously developed. In addition, a novel RNA interacting motif specific to DDX3 has been identified, opening new venues for HIV-1 drug development.
Retargeted natural killer cells for adoptive cancer immunotherapy
- NK cells are part of the innate immune system, and are important players in the body’s first defence line against virus-infected and malignantly transformed cells. While T cells recognize neoplastic cells in an MHC-restricted fashion, NK cells do not require prior sensitization and education about the target. In leukemia and lymphoma patients undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation not only T cells but also NK cells have been found to mediate potent graft-versus-tumor effects. Hence, autologous or donor-derived NK cells hold great promise for cancer immunotherapy. Since the generation of highly purified NK cell products for clinical applications is labor-intensive and time consuming, established human NK cell lines such as NK-92 are also being considered for clinical protocols. NK-92 cells display phenotypic and functional characteristics similar to activated primary NK cells. While NK-92 cells are highly cytotoxic towards malignant cells of hematologic origin, they do not affect healthy human tissues. NK-92 cells can be expanded under GMP-compliant conditions, and can therefore be provided in sufficient numbers with defined phenotypic characteristics for clinical applications. Safety of NK-92 cells for adoptive immunotherapy was already shown in two phase I/II clinical trials. In contrast to malignant cells of hematologic origin, most solid tumor cells are not sensitive to unmodified NK-92 cells. Hence, to overcome resistance mechanisms of tumor cells and to broaden the target spectrum of NK-92 cells, gene-modified variants have been generated which express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that specifically target tumor surface antigens. The expression of these CARs is sufficient to redirect their cytotoxic activity towards otherwise NK cell-resistant target cells. Extending these earlier approaches, in the framework of this work optimized CAR constructs that target the pancarcinoma antigen epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM) were derived and functionally characterized. In collaboration with Heike Daldrup-Link’s laboratory (University of California San Francisco, USA) non-invasive imaging modalities to analyze biodistribution and tumor homing properties of retargeted NK-92 cells were evaluated. To enhance the persistence of adoptively transferred NK-92 cells in vivo, means to overcome NK-92 cells’ dependence on exogenous IL-2 for survival and cytolytic activity were investigated. EpCAM is expressed on a variety of tumors of epithelial origin including ovarian, gastric, colorectal, pancreatic, breast, lung and endometrial cancers. In epithelial cells EpCAM is mainly expressed at basolateral membranes, and EpCAM is involved in calcium-independent homotypic cell-cell adhesions. In tumor cells high and de novo EpCAM expression is not only restricted to basolateral membranes but can also be found on apical membranes. Tumor cells retain EpCAM expression throughout tumorigenesis and metastasis formation. Due to its surface expression and immunogenicity EpCAM has been exploited as target for immunotherapy. In earlier work in our group a prototypic, first generation EpCAM-specific CAR construct (31.z) harboring a murine flexible hinge region and murine CD3 ζ as signaling domain was derived and functionally characterized in NK-92 cells. To reduce the immunogenicity for their potential clinical application, this CAR construct was humanized by exchanging the hinge region and the intracellular signaling domain with corresponding sequences of human origin. In T cells incorporation of additional co-stimulatory domains derived from CD28 and 4-1BB significantly enhanced persistence and anti-tumor effects of adoptively transferred cells. Based on these findings a modified, second generation CAR construct encompassing transmembrane and intracellular regions of CD28 in addition to CD3 ζ intracellular signaling domains was derived (31.28.z). Both CAR constructs were stably expressed in NK-92 cells, and furthermore, expression of both CAR variants promoted antigen-specific lysis of antigen-expressing prostate and breast cancer cell lines. In competition experiments the cytotoxic activity of NK-92/31.z and NK-92/31.28.z cells towards antigen-expressing tumor cells was significantly reduced in the presence of parental MOC31 monoclonal antibody, indicating that binding of the EpCAM-specific CAR to its antigen on tumor cells is necessary to trigger antigen-specific cytotoxicity. At high effector to target ratios NK-92/31.28.z cells displayed slightly higher cytotoxic activity towards EpCAM-expressing target cell lines than NK-92/31.z cells, suggesting that incorporation of co-stimulatory domains had beneficial effects on the cytotoxic activity. For clinical applications the development of non-invasive imaging methods is necessary to follow the biodistribution of adoptively transferred cells and guide the identification of responders and non-responders at an early time point. In collaboration with Heike Daldrup-Link’s laboratory the homing properties of EpCAM-specific NK-92 cells to prostate tumor xenografts in rodent models was analyzed (University of California San Francisco, USA). At that time NK-92 cells expressing the second generation EpCAM-specific CAR 31.28.z were not yet available, and thus homing experiments were performed with NK-92 cells expressing the first generation CAR 31.z. For magnetic resonance imaging studies parental and EpCAM-specific NK-92 cells were labeled with clinical applicable ferumoxide particles. Labeled, gene-modified NK-92 cells displayed reduced CAR expression and reduced cytotoxic activity towards EpCAM-expressing DU145 prostate cancer cells in vitro. Nevertheless, MRI revealed specific accumulation of ferumoxide labeled EpCAM-specific NK-92 cells in DU145 tumor xenografts in athymic rats. In tumor sections of treated animals the presence of EpCAM-specific NK-92 cells was verified by Prussian blue and CD57 staining of tumor sections. In another study homing of DiD-labeled EpCAM-specific NK-92 cells to DU145 tumor xenografts was shown by optical imaging. These findings imply that specific targeting of NK-92 cells is retained in vivo, and that non-invasive imaging strategies can be employed to analyze biodistribution of NK-92 cells. Enhanced persistence of adoptively transferred cytotoxic effector cells has a major impact on the effectiveness of immunotherapy. Primary cytotoxic effector cells as well as NK-92 cells require IL-2 for their proliferation and to gain full activity of their effector functions. To bypass the need of exogenously supplied cytokines, the expression of chimeric cytokine receptors (CCR) harboring IL-2R β and IL-2R γ chains instead of CD3 ζ as signaling domains might initiate cytokine-like signals upon contact with the respective antigen. These interactions might support growth and survival of NK-92 cells in the absence of exogenous IL-2. As a starting point, a codon-optimized ErbB2-specific CAR consisting of the scFv(FRP5) single chain antibody fragment, a human CD8 α hinge region and human CD3 ζ transmembrane and intracellular domains was used. Transmembrane and intracellular domains of IL-2R β and IL-2R γ chains were amplified from NK-92 cell-derived cDNA, and were used to exchange the CD3 ζ domain in the ErbB2-specific construct. In human primary tumors EpCAM and ErbB2 overexpression are frequently found, and often correlate with poor prognosis. Hence, co-expression of ErbB2-specific CCRs with an EpCAM-specific CAR may provide NK cells with antigen-specific killing via EpCAM recognition and with antigen-dependent growth via binding to ErbB2. However, attempts to activate CCRs in NK-92 cells via co-incubation with antigen-expressing cells or cross-linking of the CCRs with recombinant antigen did not result in cytokine-independent but antigen-dependent growth. Likewise, no triggering of signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (STAT5) was observed, which is a hallmark of IL-2 mediated signal transduction. The interactions between CCRs and their antigen might not be strong enough to trigger cytokine-like signals supporting the growth of cells in the absence of exogenous cytokines, and furthermore, might not lead to a significant up-regulation of STAT5-mediated signal transduction. An alternative approach to circumvent the need of exogenous cytokines is ectopic expression of homeostatic cytokines IL-2 and IL-15 in lymphocytes. In T cells expression of these cytokines is sufficient to render cells independent from exogenously supplied cytokines. In this work a lentiviral expression vector encoding IL-15 (SIEW-IL15) was generated, and used for transduction of NK-92 cells. This resulted in ectopic expression of IL-15 and cellular proliferation in the absence of exogenously supplied cytokines. Even after prolonged culture without exogenous IL-2, NK-92/IL15 cells retained their cytotoxic activity towards NK-sensitive target cells. Although expression of IL-15 in HC11 and COS-7 cells using the same vector led to secretion of bioactive IL-15 into culture supernatants, neither secreted nor surface-bound IL-15 was detected in NK-92/IL15 cells, implying that IL-15 promotes survival of gene-modified cells in a strictly autocrine fashion. In addition, NK-92 cells that were freshly transduced with SIEW-IL15 could be efficiently enriched by cytokine withdrawal. NK-92/IL15 cells that were co-transduced with an EpCAM-specific CAR retained their ability to grow in the absence of exogenously supplied cytokines and their antigen-specific cytotoxic activity. Based on these results, a bicistronic vector construct was generated allowing the simultaneous expression of a CAR construct and IL-15 as selection marker. EpCAM-specific CAR constructs (31.28.z and 31.TM) were inserted into the bicistronic expression cassette. NK-92 cells were transduced with these bicistronic expression constructs and selected by cytokine withdrawal. After 14 to 21 days of culture in the absence of IL-2 transduced cells grew out from which CAR-expressing NK-92 cells with high and homogenous surface expression were further enriched by FACS sorting. NK-92/31.28.z.IL15 cells displayed high cytotoxic activity towards EpCAM-expressing breast cancer cell lines, while EpCAM-negative melanoma cells were not lysed. The results of this work demonstrate that the expression of first (31.z) and second (31.28.z) generation CARs in NK-92 cells is sufficient to induce antigen-specific cytotoxicity. Furthermore, a specific accumulation of NK-92/31.z cells but not unmodified NK-92 cells was detected in EpCAM-expressing prostate carcinoma xenografts in athymic rats, indicating that specific targeting of these cells is retained in vivo. Ectopic expression of IL-15 renders the cells independent from exogenous cytokines, while they retain their cytotoxic activity even after prolonged culture without IL-2. Furthermore, ectopic expression of IL-15 in NK-92 cells can be used for selective enrichment of gene-modified cells by cytokine withdrawal. Subsequently, bicistronic expression constructs that allow simultaneous expression of a CAR construct and IL-15 as selection marker were generated. Expression of these bicistronic expression vectors in NK-92 cells is feasible, and might facilitate enrichment of gene-modified cells for clinical applications.
Protection of stem cell-derived lymphocytes in a primate AIDS gene therapy model after in vivo selection
Grant D. Trobridge
Robert A. Wu
Brian C. Beard
Sum Ying Chiu
Nina M. Muñoz
Dorothee von Laer
John J. Rossi
- Background: There is currently no effective AIDS vaccine, emphasizing the importance of developing alternative therapies. Recently, a patient was successfully transplanted with allogeneic, naturally resistant CCR5-negative (CCR5 delta 32) cells, setting the stage for transplantation of naturally resistant, or genetically modified stem cells as a viable therapy for AIDS. Hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) gene therapy using vectors that express various anti-HIV transgenes has also been attempted in clinical trials, but inefficient gene transfer in these studies has severely limited the potential of this approach. Here we evaluated HSC gene transfer of an anti-HIV vector in the pigtailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) model, which closely models human transplantation. Methods and Findings: We used lentiviral vectors that inhibited both HIV-1 and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)/HIV-1 (SHIV) chimera virus infection, and also expressed a P140K mutant methylguanine methyltransferase (MGMT) transgene to select gene-modified cells by adding chemotherapy drugs. Following transplantation and MGMT-mediated selection we demonstrated transgene expression in over 7% of stem-cell derived lymphocytes. The high marking levels allowed us to demonstrate protection from SHIV in lymphocytes derived from gene-modified macaque long-term repopulating cells that expressed an HIV-1 fusion inhibitor. We observed a statistically significant 4-fold increase of gene-modified cells after challenge of lymphocytes from one macaque that received stem cells transduced with an anti-HIV vector (p<0.02, Student's t-test), but not in lymphocytes from a macaque that received a control vector. We also established a competitive repopulation assay in a second macaque for preclinical testing of promising anti-HIV vectors. The vectors we used were HIV-based and thus efficiently transduce human cells, and the transgenes we used target HIV-1 genes that are also in SHIV, so our findings can be rapidly translated to the clinic. Conclusions: Here we demonstrate the ability to select protected HSC-derived lymphocytes in vivo in a clinically relevant nonhuman primate model of HIV/SHIV infection. This approach can now be evaluated in human clinical trials in AIDS lymphoma patients. In this patient setting, chemotherapy would not only kill malignant cells, but would also increase the number of MGMTP140K-expressing HIV-resistant cells. This approach should allow for high levels of HIV-protected cells in AIDS patients to evaluate AIDS gene therapy.
A motif unique to the human DEAD-box protein DDX3 is important for nucleic acid binding, ATP hydrolysis, RNA/DNA unwinding and HIV-1 replication
Giulia Di Cicco
- DEAD-box proteins are enzymes endowed with nucleic acid-dependent ATPase, RNA translocase and unwinding activities. The human DEAD-box protein DDX3 has been shown to play important roles in tumor proliferation and viral infections. In particular, DDX3 has been identified as an essential cofactor for HIV-1 replication. Here we characterized a set of DDX3 mutants biochemically with respect to nucleic acid binding, ATPase and helicase activity. In particular, we addressed the functional role of a unique insertion between motifs I and Ia of DDX3 and provide evidence for its implication in nucleic acid binding and HIV-1 replication. We show that human DDX3 lacking this domain binds HIV-1 RNA with lower affinity. Furthermore, a specific peptide ligand for this insertion selected by phage display interferes with HIV-1 replication after transduction into HelaP4 cells. Besides broadening our understanding of the structure-function relationships of this important protein, our results identify a specific domain of DDX3 which may be suited as target for antiviral drugs designed to inhibit cellular cofactors for HIV-1 replication.
Remission of invasive, cancer stem-like glioblastoma xenografts using lentiviral vector-mediated suicide gene therapy
Peter C. Huszthy
Kai Ove Skaftnesmo
Dorothee von Laer
- Background: Glioblastoma is the most frequent and most malignant primary brain tumor with a poor prognosis. The translation of therapeutic strategies for glioblastoma from the experimental phase into the clinic has been limited by insufficient animal models, which lack important features of human tumors. Lentiviral gene therapy is an attractive therapeutic option for human glioblastoma, which we validated in a clinically relevant animal model. Methodology/Principal Findings: We used a rodent xenograft model that recapitulates the invasive and angiogenic features of human glioblastoma to analyze the transduction pattern and therapeutic efficacy of lentiviral pseudotyped vectors. Both, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus glycoprotein (LCMV-GP) and vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein (VSV-G) pseudotyped lentiviral vectors very efficiently transduced human glioblastoma cells in vitro and in vivo. In contrast, pseudotyped gammaretroviral vectors, similar to those evaluated for clinical therapy of glioblastoma, showed inefficient gene transfer in vitro and in vivo. Both pseudotyped lentiviral vectors transduced cancer stem-like cells characterized by their CD133-, nestin- and SOX2-expression, the ability to form spheroids in neural stem cell medium and to express astrocytic and neuronal differentiation markers under serum conditions. In a therapeutic approach using the suicide gene herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-1-tk) fused to eGFP, both lentiviral vectors mediated a complete remission of solid tumors as seen on MRI resulting in a highly significant survival benefit (p<0.001) compared to control groups. In all recurrent tumors, surviving eGFP-positive tumor cells were found, advocating prodrug application for several cycles to even enhance and prolong the therapeutic effect. Conclusions/Significance: In conclusion, lentiviral pseudotyped vectors are promising candidates for gene therapy of glioma in patients. The inefficient gene delivery by gammaretroviral vectors is in line with the results obtained in clinical therapy for GBM and thus confirms the high reproducibility of the invasive glioma animal model for translational research.