Regulation of Cerebellar Development and Tumorigenesis by CXCR4 and by Aurora and Polo-Like Kinases
During development, the precise regulation of the processes of proliferation, migration, and differentiation is required to establish proper organ structure and function and to prevent the deregulation that can lead to disease, such as cancer. Improved understanding of the signals that regulate these processes is therefore necessary to both gain insight into the mechanisms by which organ development proceeds and to identify strategies for treating the consequences of deregulation of these processes. In the cerebellum, some of the factors that regulate these processes have been identified but remain incompletely understood. Our studies have focused on the signals that regulate the migration of cerebellar granule neuron progenitors (GNPs) and the contribution of the SDF-1/CXCR4 signaling axis to postnatal cerebellar development. Using conditional knockout mice to delete CXCR4 specifically in GNPs, we show that loss of CXCR4 results in premature migration of a subset of GNPs throughout postnatal development that are capable of proliferation and survival outside of their normal mitogenic niche. Loss of CXCR4 also causes a reduction in the activity of the Sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathway (the primary mitogen for GNPs) but does not affect GNP proliferation, differentiation, or capacity for tumor formation. Our data suggest that while other factors likely contribute, SDF-1/CXCR4 signaling is necessary for proper migration of GNPs throughout cerebellar development.
In addition to understanding the signals that regulate normal development, the identification of vulnerabilities of established tumors is also necessary to improve cancer treatment. One strategy to improve treatment involves targeting the cells that are critical for maintaining tumor growth, known as tumor-propagating cells (TPCs). In the context of the cerebellar tumor medulloblastoma (MB), we have previously identified a population of TPCs in tumors from patched mutant mice that express the cell surface carbohydrate antigen CD15/SSEA-1. Here, we employed multiple approaches in an effort to target these cells, including a biochemical approach to identify molecules that carry the CD15 carbohydrate epitope as well as an immunotoxin approach to specifically target CD15-expressing cells. Unfortunately, these strategies were ultimately unsuccessful, but an alternative approach that recognized a vulnerability of CD15+ cells was identified. We show that CD15+ cells express elevated levels of genes associated with the G2/M phases of the cell cycle, progress more rapidly through the cell cycle than CD15- cells, and contain an increased proportion of cells in G2/M. Exposure of tumor cells to inhibitors of Aurora and Polo-like kinases, key regulators of G2/M, induces cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and enhanced sensitivity to conventional chemotherapy, and treatment of tumor-bearing mice with these agents significantly inhibits tumor progression. Importantly, cells from human patient-derived MB xenografts are also sensitive to Aurora and Polo-like kinase inhibitors. Our findings suggest that targeting G2/M regulators may represent a novel approach for the treatment of human MB.
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