A pinboard by
Yejing Ge

postdoc associate, The Rockefeller University


Stem cell plasticity drives cancer and wound repair

Human tissues harbor resident adult stem cells that, upon environmental insults, undergo tightly regulated self-renewal, lineage commitment, and fate conversion to repair damage and restore homeostasis. Although it’s long been postulated tumor is a wound that never heals, it is unclear what are the determinants of homeostasis restoration versus point-of-no-return toward malignancy. I aim to tackle this important question by developing novel tools to analyze in vivo stress response and conducting functional screens to interrogate genes that dictate stem cell behaviors at the bifurcation point between skin wound and hyperplasic disorders. Over the past decades, we start to understand some of the molecular mechanisms involved in wound repair. We have also acquired substantial insights into oncogenic and tumor suppressive pathways in cancer. However, despite the long posited hypothesis that cancer is a wound that never heals, it is still unclear whether wounds and cancer functionally rely on the same stress components and if so, at which point they diverge. These are the primary focus of my current and future proposed research.


MicroRNA-146b promotes myogenic differentiation and modulates multiple gene targets in muscle cells.

Abstract: MicroRNAs are established as crucial modulators of skeletal myogenesis, but our knowledge about their identity and targets remains limited. In this study, we have identified microRNA-146b (miR-146b) as a novel regulator of skeletal myoblast differentiation. Following up on a previous microRNA profiling study, we establish that the expression of miR-146b is up-regulated during myoblast differentiation in vitro and muscle regeneration in vivo. Inhibition of miR-146b led to reduced myoblast differentiation, whereas overexpression of miR-146b enhanced differentiation. Computational prediction combined with gene expression information has revealed candidates for miR-146b targets in muscles. Among them, the expression of Smad4, Notch1, and Hmga2 are significantly suppressed by miR-146b overexpression in myocytes. In addition, expression levels of Smad4, Notch1 and Hmga2 are decreased during myoblast differentiation and muscle regeneration, inversely correlating to the levels of miR-146b. Importantly, inhibition of endogenous miR-146b prevents the down-regulation of Smad4, Notch1 and Hmga2 during differentiation. Furthermore, miR-146b directly targets the microRNA response elements (MREs) in the 3'UTR of those genes as assessed by reporter assays. Reporters with the seed regions of MREs mutated are insensitive to miR-146b, further confirming the specificity of targeting. In conclusion, miR-146b is a positive regulator of myogenic differentiation, possibly acting through multiple targets.

Pub.: 24 Jun '14, Pinned: 28 Jun '17

mTOR regulates skeletal muscle regeneration in vivo through kinase-dependent and kinase-independent mechanisms.

Abstract: Rapamycin-sensitive signaling is required for skeletal muscle differentiation and remodeling. In cultured myoblasts, the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) has been reported to regulate differentiation at different stages through distinct mechanisms, including one that is independent of mTOR kinase activity. However, the kinase-independent function of mTOR remains controversial, and no in vivo studies have examined those mTOR myogenic mechanisms previously identified in vitro. In this study, we find that rapamycin impairs injury-induced muscle regeneration. To validate the role of mTOR with genetic evidence and to probe the mechanism of mTOR function, we have generated and characterized transgenic mice expressing two mutants of mTOR under the control of human skeletal actin (HSA) promoter: rapamycin-resistant (RR) and RR/kinase-inactive (RR/KI). Our results show that muscle regeneration in rapamycin-administered mice is restored by RR-mTOR expression. In the RR/KI-mTOR mice, nascent myofiber formation during the early phase of regeneration proceeds in the presence of rapamycin, but growth of the regenerating myofibers is blocked by rapamycin. Igf2 mRNA levels increase drastically during early regeneration, which is sensitive to rapamycin in wild-type muscles but partially resistant to rapamycin in both RR- and RR/KI-mTOR muscles, consistent with mTOR regulation of Igf2 expression in a kinase-independent manner. Furthermore, systemic ablation of S6K1, a target of mTOR kinase, results in impaired muscle growth but normal nascent myofiber formation during regeneration. Therefore, mTOR regulates muscle regeneration through kinase-independent and kinase-dependent mechanisms at the stages of nascent myofiber formation and myofiber growth, respectively.

Pub.: 02 Oct '09, Pinned: 28 Jun '17

A phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/protein kinase B-independent activation of mammalian target of rapamycin signaling is sufficient to induce skeletal muscle hypertrophy.

Abstract: It has been widely proposed that signaling by mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is both necessary and sufficient for the induction of skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Evidence for this hypothesis is largely based on studies that used stimuli that activate mTOR via a phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (PKB)-dependent mechanism. However, the stimulation of signaling by PI3K/PKB also can activate several mTOR-independent growth-promoting events; thus, it is not clear whether signaling by mTOR is permissive, or sufficient, for the induction of hypertrophy. Furthermore, the presumed role of mTOR in hypertrophy is derived from studies that used rapamycin to inhibit mTOR; yet, there is very little direct evidence that mTOR is the rapamycin-sensitive element that confers the hypertrophic response. In this study, we determined that, in skeletal muscle, overexpression of Rheb stimulates a PI3K/PKB-independent activation of mTOR signaling, and this is sufficient for the induction of a rapamycin-sensitive hypertrophic response. Transgenic mice with muscle specific expression of various mTOR mutants also were used to demonstrate that mTOR is the rapamycin-sensitive element that conferred the hypertrophic response and that the kinase activity of mTOR is necessary for this event. Combined, these results provide direct genetic evidence that a PI3K/PKB-independent activation of mTOR signaling is sufficient to induce hypertrophy. In summary, overexpression of Rheb activates mTOR signaling via a PI3K/PKB-independent mechanism and is sufficient to induce skeletal muscle hypertrophy. The hypertrophic effects of Rheb are driven through a rapamycin-sensitive (RS) mechanism, mTOR is the RS element that confers the hypertrophy, and the kinase activity of mTOR is necessary for this event.

Pub.: 30 Jul '10, Pinned: 28 Jun '17

Raptor and Rheb negatively regulate skeletal myogenesis through suppression of insulin receptor substrate 1 (IRS1).

Abstract: The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is essential for skeletal myogenesis through controlling distinct cellular pathways. The importance of the canonical mTOR complex 1 signaling components, including raptor, S6K1, and Rheb, had been suggested in muscle maintenance, growth, and metabolism. However, the role of those components in myogenic differentiation is not entirely clear. In this study we have investigated the functions of raptor, S6K1, and Rheb in the differentiation of C2C12 mouse myoblasts. We find that although mTOR knockdown severely impairs myogenic differentiation as expected, the knockdown of raptor, as well as Rheb, enhances differentiation. Consistent with a negative role for these proteins in myogenesis, overexpression of raptor or Rheb inhibits C2C12 differentiation. On the other hand, neither knockdown nor overexpression of S6K1 has any effect. Moreover, the enhanced differentiation elicited by raptor or Rheb knockdown is accompanied by increased Akt activation, elevated IRS1 protein levels, and decreased Ser-307 (human Ser-312) phosphorylation on IRS1. Finally, IRS1 knockdown eliminated the enhancement in differentiation elicited by raptor or Rheb knockdown, suggesting that IRS1 is a critical mediator of the myogenic functions of raptor and Rheb. In conclusion, the Rheb-mTOR/raptor pathway negatively regulates myogenic differentiation by suppressing IRS1-PI3K-Akt signaling. These findings underscore the versatility of mTOR signaling in biological regulations and implicate the existence of novel mTOR complexes and/or signaling mechanism in skeletal myogenesis.

Pub.: 20 Aug '11, Pinned: 28 Jun '17

Flt3L is a novel regulator of skeletal myogenesis.

Abstract: Various cues initiate multiple signaling pathways to regulate the highly coordinated process of skeletal myogenesis. Myoblast differentiation comprises a series of ordered events starting with cell cycle withdrawal and ending with myocyte fusion, with each step probably controlled by multiple extracellular signals and intracellular signaling pathways. Here we report the identification of Fms-like tyrokine kinase 3 ligand (Flt3L) signaling as a novel regulator of skeletal myogenesis. Flt3L is a multifunctional cytokine in immune cells, but its involvement in skeletal muscle formation has not been reported. We found that Flt3L is expressed in C2C12 myoblasts, with levels increasing throughout differentiation. Knockdown of Flt3L, or its receptor Flt3, suppresses myoblast differentiation, which is rescued by recombinant Flt3L or Flt3, respectively. Differentiation is not rescued, however, by recombinant ligand when the receptor is knocked down, or vice versa, suggesting that Flt3L and Flt3 function together. Flt3L knockdown also inhibits differentiation in mouse primary myoblasts. Both Flt3L and Flt3 are highly expressed in nascent myofibers during muscle regeneration in vivo, and Flt3L siRNA impairs muscle regeneration, validating the physiological significance of Flt3L function in myogenesis. We have identified a cellular mechanism for the myogenic function of Flt3L, as we show that Flt3L promotes cell cycle exit that is necessary for myogenic differentiation. Furthermore, we identify Erk as a relevant target of Flt3L signaling during myogenesis, and demonstrate that Flt3L suppresses Erk signaling through p120RasGAP. In summary, our work reveals an unexpected role for an immunoregulatory cytokine in skeletal myogenesis and a new myogenic pathway.

Pub.: 25 May '13, Pinned: 28 Jun '17

miR-125b can enhance skin tumor initiation and promote malignant progression by repressing differentiation and prolonging cell survival.

Abstract: Previously, we identified miR-125b as a key regulator of the undifferentiated state of hair follicle stem cells. Here, we show that in both mice and humans, miR-125b is abundantly expressed, particularly at early stages of malignant progression to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most prevalent cancer worldwide. Moreover, when elevated in normal murine epidermis, miR-125b promotes tumor initiation and contributes to malignant progression. We further show that miR-125b can confer "oncomiR addiction" in early stage malignant progenitors by delaying their differentiation and favoring an SCC cancer stem cell (CSC)-like transcriptional program. To understand how, we systematically identified and validated miR125b targets that are specifically associated with tumors that are dependent on miR-125b. Through molecular and genetic analysis of these targets, we uncovered new insights underlying miR-125b's oncogenic function. Specifically, we show that, on the one hand, mir-125b directly represses stress-responsive MAP kinase genes and associated signaling. On the other hand, it indirectly prolongs activated (phosphorylated) EGFR signaling by repressing Vps4b (vacuolar protein-sorting 4 homolog B), encoding a protein implicated in negatively regulating the endosomal sorting complexes that are necessary for the recycling of active EGFR. Together, these findings illuminate miR-125b as an important microRNA regulator that is shared between normal skin progenitors and their early malignant counterparts.

Pub.: 19 Nov '14, Pinned: 28 Jun '17