Identification and functional characterization of protein kinases that modulate Notch signaling under physiological conditions and in cancer

The Notch signaling pathway is a key regulator of cell fate decisions in embryonic development and in adult tissue homeostasis. Mounting evidence suggests that Notch signaling is frequently deregulated in human neoplasms, where depending upon the cellular context it can function both as an oncogene or a tumor suppressor. A plethora of studies shed light on how Notch crosstalks with signaling pathways downstream to manifest either its oncogenic or tumor suppressive activity. However, regulatory networks upstream of the Notch signaling pathway are still poorly understood. Since protein kinases are well-known regulators of a majority of cell signaling pathways, the aim of the current study was to identify novel positive and negative regulatory kinases that modulate Notch signaling. Using a HeLa cell based co-culture assay to read Notch-dependent luciferase activity, a small interference RNA (siRNA) library against the human kinase genome was previously tested in a high-throughput manner. Validation of top candidate kinases from the screening using both siRNA as well as pharmacological inhibitors led to further elimination of false positives and identification of Protein Kinase B (AKT2) and Calmodulin Kinase II (CaMKII) as key positive while Janus kinases (JAKs) as key negative regulators of the Notch signaling pathway. In the first part of the study, we analyzed the positive regulation of AKT2 and CaMKII kinases on Notch signaling in the T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) cells where Notch is oncogenic. It was shown that pharmacological inhibition of either AKT2 or CaMKII kinase in T-ALL cell lines in vitro abrogated the expression of active Notch1 intracellular domain (N1-ICD) as well as of Notch target genes. Moreover, inhibition of these kinases blocked proliferation of T-ALL cells. In the second part of the study, we analyzed the negative regulation of JAK kinases on Notch signaling using a distinct physiological context where Notch is tumor suppressive. It was shown that pharmacological inhibition of JAK kinases led to an induction of Notch receptor transcription and of Notch target genes in the human primary epidermal keratinocytes (HPEK) as well as in the skin squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cell lines. In addition, the pharmacological inhibition of JAK kinases induced a block in proliferation, cell cycle arrest and differentiation in HPEKs and skin SCCs by increased expression of early differentiation markers. Suppression of Notch signaling in primary keratinocytes counteracted the differentiation-inducing effect of JAK inhibition. Since JAK inhibition affected Notch transcription, global gene expression profiling using RNA sequencing was done to identify transcription factors involved in an indirect regulation of JAK kinases on the Notch cascade. EGR1 and EGR2 belonging to the early growth response family of transcription factors were significantly modulated downstream of JAK inhibition. In vivo, topical inhibition of JAK kinases provided marked resistance against chemically induced cutaneous carcinogenesis.Taken together, our data reveals a key role of AKT2 and CaMKII kinases in positive regulation while of JAK kinases in the negative regulation of Notch signaling, of potential relevance for combinatory approaches for cancer therapy. Pharmacological inhibitors against these kinases could be tested for their ability to modulate Notch signaling and may prove highly beneficial in the therapy of Notch-driven cancers.

Radtke, Freddy
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis6865-2

Note: The status of this file is: EPFL only

 Record created 2016-01-26, last modified 2018-03-17

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