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Zygotically transcribed genes
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are postulated to be a small subset of tumor cells with tumor-initiating ability that shares features with normal tissue-specific stem cells. The origin of CSCs and the mechanisms underlying their genesis are poorly understood, and it is uncertain whether it is possible to obliterate CSCs without inadvertently damaging normal stem cells. This study shows that a functional reduction of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) in Drosophila specifically eliminates CSC-like cells in the brain and ovary without having discernible effects on normal stem cells. Brain CSC-like cells can arise from dedifferentiation of transit-amplifying progenitors upon Notch hyperactivation. eIF4E is up-regulated in these dedifferentiating progenitors, where it forms a feedback regulatory loop with the growth regulator dMyc to promote cell growth, particularly nucleolar growth, and subsequent ectopic neural stem cell (NSC) formation. Cell growth regulation is also a critical component of the mechanism by which Notch signaling regulates the self-renewal of normal NSCs. These findings highlight the importance of Notch-regulated cell growth in stem cell maintenance and reveal a stronger dependence on eIF4E function and cell growth by CSCs, which might be exploited therapeutically (Song, 2011).
The CSC hypothesis was initially developed based on studies in mammalian systems. Various studies have supported the notion that CSCs share many functional features with normal stem cells, such as signaling molecules, pathways, and mechanisms governing their self-renewal versus differentiation choice. However, the cellular origin of CSCs and the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying their development or genesis remain poorly understood. It has been proposed that CSCs could arise from (1) an expansion of normal stem cell niches, (2) normal stem cells adapting to different niches, (3) normal stem cells becoming niche-independent, or (4) differentiated progenitor cells gaining stem cell properties. This study has shown that in the Drosophila larval brain, CSCs can arise from the dedifferentiation of transit-amplifying progenitor cells back to a stem cell-like state. Importantly, eIF4E was identified as a critical factor involved in this dedifferentiation process. More significantly, it was shown that reduction of eIF4E function can effectively prevent the formation of CSCs without affecting the development or maintenance of normal stem cells. This particular dependence on eIF4E function by CSCs appears to be a general theme, as reduction of eIF4E function also effectively prevented the formation of CSCs, but not normal GSCs, in the fly ovary. These findings may have important implications for stem cell biology and cancer biology, in terms of both mechanistic understanding and therapeutic intervention (Song, 2011).
This study also offers mechanistic insights into the cellular processes leading to the dedifferentiation of progenitors back to stem cells. In Drosophila type II NB clones with overactivated N signaling, ribosome biogenesis within ectopic NBs appears to be faster than in normal NBs, as shown by the fact that the ratio of nucleolar to cellular volume of the ectopic NBs is approximately fivefold higher than that of normal NBs. The faster growth rate is accompanied by the up-regulation of dMyc and eIF4E and appears to be essential for transit-amplifying progenitors to undergo complete dedifferentiation back to a stem cell-like state. When the function of cell growth-promoting factors such as eIF4E is attenuated, the faster cell growth of ectopic NBs can no longer be sustained and the dedifferentiation process stalls. As a result, brain tumor formation caused by uncontrolled production of ectopic NBs is suppressed. In contrast, normal NBs, which presumably have relatively lower requirements for cell growth and hence eIF4E function, maintain their stem cell fate and development under similar conditions. Therefore, a potential key to a successful elimination of CSC-induced tumors would be to find the right level of functional reduction in eIF4E, which causes minimal effects on normal stem cells but effectively obliterates CSCs. An ongoing clinical trial with Ribavirin in treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a well-characterized CSC-based cancer, demonstrated exciting proof of principle that such a strategy is feasible. The current version of Ribavirin, however, has certain limitations, such as its poor specificity and the high dosage (micromolar range) required for effective treatment. Thus, more specific and effective eIF4E inhibitors are urgently needed. Drug treatment experiments with Ribavirin validated Drosophila NBs as an excellent CSC model for searching further improved drugs. More importantly, the nuclear interaction between eIF4E and Myc unraveled by the biochemical analysis not only provides a new mechanistic explanation for the synergistic effects of eIF4E and Myc in tumorigenesis, but also sheds new light on how to rationally optimize drug design and therapy for treating CSC-based cancer (Song, 2011).
The results offer new information on how N signaling helps specify and maintain NSC fate. N signaling regulates stem cell behavior in various tissues of diverse species. However, it remains unclear how differential N signaling determines distinct cell fate within the stem cell hierarchy. This study demonstrates that N signaling maintains Drosophila NSC fate at least in part through promoting cell growth. The following evidence supports that cell growth, but not cell fate, change is the early and primary effect of N signaling inhibition in type II NBs: (1) Pros expression is not immediately turned on in spdo mutant NBs with reduced cell sizes. Instead, it gradually increases during the course of spdo mutant NB divisions. (2) Up-regulation of Pros is not the cause of stem cell fate loss in spdo mutant NBs, as shown by spdo pros double-mutant analysis. (3) Cell growth defects precede the up-regulation of Ase expression in aph-1 (coding for a component of γ secretase) mutant NBs. (4) Promotion of cell growth, and particularly nucleolar growth, by dMyc is sufficient to prevent NB loss caused by N inhibition. At the molecular level, N signaling appears to regulate the transcription of dMyc, which in turn up-regulates the transcription of eIF4E. Such a transcriptional cascade and feedback regulation of dMyc activity by eIF4E may help to sustain and amplify the activity of the Notch-dMyc–eIF4E molecular circuitry. Hence, differential N signaling within the lineage can lead to different cell growth rates, which partially determine differential cell fates. Consistent with this notion, knockdown of both eIF4E and dMyc results in defects of NB cell growth and loss of stem cell fate (Song, 2011).
While many signaling pathways and molecules have been implicated in the maintenance of stem cell identity, the question of how a stem cell loses its 'stemness' at the cellular level remains poorly understood. A stem cell may lose its stem cell fate by undergoing a symmetric division to yield two daughter cells that are both committed to differentiation or through cell death. Earlier studies provided intriguing hints that cell growth and translational regulation could influence stem cell maintenance in the Drosophila ovary. Detailed clonal analyses of NSCs over multiple time points provides direct evidence that a NSC with impaired N signaling will gradually lose its identity due to a gradual slowing down of cell growth and loss of cell mass. Remarkably, such loss of stem cell fate can be prevented when cell growth is restored by dMyc, but not Rheb, overexpression, demonstrating the functional significance of regulated cell growth, particularly nucleolar growth, in stem cell maintenance. More importantly, this information offers clues on how to specifically eliminate tumor-initiating stem cells. The current studies suggest that a stem cell, normal or malignant, has to reach a certain growth rate in order to acquire and maintain its stemness, presumably because when the stem cell grows below such a threshold, its proliferative capacity becomes too low, whereas the concentration of differentiation-promoting factors becomes too high to be compatible with the maintenance of stem cell fate. Consistent with this notion are the strong correlation between the expression of ribosomal proteins and cellular proliferation as well as the correlation between the reduction of NB sizes and the up-regulation of differentiation-promoting factor Pros or Ase in different developmental contexts (Song, 2011).
The results also provide new insights into how the evolutionarily conserved tripartite motif and Ncl-1, HT2A, and Lin-41 (TRIM-NHL) domain proteins regulate stem cell homeostasis. The TRIM-NHL protein family, to which Brat and Mei-P26 belong, include evolutionarily conserved stem cell regulators that prevent ectopic stem cell self-renewal by inhibiting Myc. However, the downstream effectors of the TRIM-NHL proteins remain largely unknown. This study has identified eIF4E as such a factor. NB-specific knockdown of eIF4E completely suppresses the drastic brain tumor phenotype caused by loss of Brat. Interestingly, eIF4E knockdown is even more effective than dMyc knockdown in this regard. N signaling and Brat have been proposed to act in parallel in regulating Drosophila type II NB homeostasis. However, at the molecular level, how deregulation of these two rather distinct pathways causes similar brain tumor phenotypes remain largely unknown. The results suggest that these two pathways eventually converge on the dMyc–eIF4E regulatory loop to promote cell growth and stem cell fate. N overactivation and loss of Brat both result in up-regulation of eIF4E and dMyc in transit-amplifying progenitors, accelerating their growth rates and helping them acquire stem cell fate. Consistent with a general role of eIF4E and dMyc in stem cell regulation, it was shown that partial reduction of eIF4E or dMyc function in the Drosophila ovary effectively rescues the ovarian tumor phenotype due to the loss of Mei-P26. The vertebrate member of the TRIM-NHL family, TRIM32, is shown to suppress the stem cell fate of mouse neural progenitor cells, partially through degrading Myc. Whether eIF4E acts as a downstream effector of TRIM32 in balancing stem cell self-renewal versus differentiation in mammalian tissues awaits future investigation (Song, 2011).
Song, Y. and Lu, B. (2011). Regulation of cell growth by Notch signaling and its differential requirement in normal vs. tumor-forming stem cells in Drosophila.
Genes Dev. 25(24): 2644-58. PubMed Citation: 22190460
Zygotically transcribed genes
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