Passenger gene co-amplifications create collateral therapeutic vulnerabilities in cancer

DNA amplifications in cancer do not only harbor oncogenes. We sought to determine whether passenger co-amplifications could create collateral therapeutic vulnerabilities. Through an analysis of >3,000 cancer genomes followed by the interrogation of CRISPR-Cas9 loss-of-function screens across >700 cancer cell lines, we determined that passenger co-amplifications are accompanied by distinct dependency profiles. In a proof-of-principle study, we demonstrate that co-amplification of the bona fide passenger gene DEAD-Box Helicase 1 (DDX1) creates an increased dependency to the mTOR pathway. Interaction proteomics identified tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle components as previously unrecognized DDX1 interaction partners. Live-cell metabolomics highlighted that this interaction could impair TCA activity, which in turn resulted in enhanced mTORC1 activity. Consequently, genetic and pharmacologic disruption of mTORC1 resulted in pronounced cell death in vitro and in vivo. Thus, structurally linked co-amplification of a passenger gene and an oncogene can result in collateral vulnerabilities.

Team eDyNAmiC
Journal Cancer Discovery
Authors Yi Bei et al
DATE 10 January 2024
Hotspot propensity across mutational processes

The sparsity of mutations observed across tumours hinders our ability to study mutation rate variability at nucleotide resolution. To circumvent this, here we investigated the propensity of mutational processes to form mutational hotspots as a readout of their mutation rate variability at single base resolution. Mutational signatures 1 and 17 have the highest hotspot propensity (5–78 times higher than other processes). After accounting for trinucleotide mutational probabilities, sequence composition and mutational heterogeneity at 10 Kbp, most (94–95%) signature 17 hotspots remain unexplained, suggesting a significant role of local genomic features. For signature 1, the inclusion of genome-wide distribution of methylated CpG sites into models can explain most (80–100%) of the hotspot propensity. There is an increased hotspot propensity of signature 1 in normal tissues and de novo germline mutations. We demonstrate that hotspot propensity is a useful readout to assess the accuracy of mutation rate models at nucleotide resolution. This new approach and the findings derived from it open up new avenues for a range of somatic and germline studies investigating and modelling mutagenesis.

Journal Molecular Systems Biology
Authors Claudia Arnedo-Pac et al
DATE 02 January 2024
KRAS allelic imbalance drives tumour initiation yet suppresses metastasis in colorectal cancer in vivo

Oncogenic KRAS mutations are well-described functionally and are known to drive tumorigenesis. Recent reports describe a significant prevalence of KRAS allelic imbalances or gene dosage changes in human cancers, including loss of the wild-type allele in KRAS mutant cancers. However, the role of wild-type KRAS in tumorigenesis and therapeutic response remains elusive. We report an in vivo murine model of colorectal cancer featuring deletion of wild-type Kras in the context of oncogenic Kras. Deletion of wild-type Kras exacerbates oncogenic KRAS signalling through MAPK and thus drives tumour initiation. Absence of wild-type Kras potentiates the oncogenic effect of KRASG12D, while incidentally inducing sensitivity to inhibition of MEK1/2. Importantly, loss of the wild-type allele in aggressive models of KRASG12D-driven CRC significantly alters tumour progression, and suppresses metastasis through modulation of the immune microenvironment. This study highlights the critical role for wild-type Kras upon tumour initiation, progression and therapeutic response in Kras mutant CRC.

Journal Nature Communications
Authors Arafath K. Najumudeen et al
DATE 02 January 2024
EGFR-activated myofibroblasts promote metastasis of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has a dismal prognosis. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are recognized potential therapeutic targets, but poor understanding of these heterogeneous cell populations has limited the development of effective treatment strategies. We previously identified transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) as a main driver of myofibroblastic CAFs (myCAFs). Here, we show that epidermal growth factor receptor/Erb-B2 receptor (EGFR/ERBB2) signaling is induced by TGF-β in myCAFs through an autocrine process mediated by amphiregulin. Inhibition of this EGFR/ERBB2-signaling network in PDAC organoid-derived cultures and mouse models differentially impacts distinct CAF subtypes, providing insights into mechanisms underpinning their heterogeneity. Remarkably, EGFR-activated myCAFs promote PDAC metastasis in mice, unmasking functional significance in myCAF heterogeneity. Finally, analyses of other cancer datasets suggest that these processes might operate in other malignancies. These data provide functional relevance to myCAF heterogeneity and identify a candidate target for preventing tumor invasion in PDAC.

Journal Cancer Cell
Authors Gianluca Mucciolo et al
DATE 28 December 2023
Chance, ignorance, and the paradoxes of cancer: Richard Peto on developing preventative strategies under uncertainty

During the early 1980s both cancer biology and epidemiological methods were being transformed. In 1984 the leading cancer epidemiologist Richard Peto – who, in 1981, had published the landmark Causes of Cancer with Richard Doll – wrote a short chapter on “The need for ignorance in cancer research”, in which the worlds of epidemiology and speculative Darwinian biology met. His reflections on how evolutionary theory related to cancer have become known as “Peto’s paradox”, whilst his articulation of “black box epidemiology” provided the logic of subsequent practice in the field. We reprint this sparkling and prescient example of biologically-informed epidemiological theorising at its best in this issue of the European Journal of Epidemiology, together with four commentaries that focus on different aspects of its rich content. Here were provide some contextual background to the 1984 chapter, and our own speculations regarding various paradoxes in cancer epidemiology. We suggest that one reason for the relative lack of progress in indentifying novel modifiable causes of cancer over the last 40 years may reflect such exposures being ubiquitous within environments, and discuss the lessons for epidemiology that would follow from this.

Journal European Journal of Epidemiology
Authors George Davey Smith, Albert Hofman and Paul Brennan
DATE 26 December 2023