Graduate Student, University of Rochester


Approximately 20,000 children and adults are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) each year with associated direct and indirect healthcare costs of >16 billion dollars. Although multiple treatments have been developed for patients, the five-year survival rate of 27% has been unchanged for the past 30 years due to unexpected reemergence of the disease post-therapy. AML originates from the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. In AML, the bone marrow and normal blood production is disrupted, leading to increase numbers of premature myeloid progenitor cells. Progression of AML has been shown to correlate to decreased osteoblasts (bone building cells) in the marrow. Increasing osteoblast numbers in the marrow restores normal blood production, increases survival and decreases the number of AML blasts. A major limitation of using a drug that will increase osteoblasts in AML patients is poor bone marrow biodistribution, off-target effects in patients and the need to administer high toxic doses to observe a therapeutic outcome. To address these obstacles, we focus on development of bone targeted nanoparticles that deliver therapeutic burden to areas of deposited tartrate resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP), such as the marrow niche. To protect therapeutic agents from premature degradation and sequestration by off-target organs, we have developed amphiphilic diblock copolymers of maleic anhydride and styrene that self-assemble to micelles in the presence of water. These micelles enable loading of hydrophobic drugs to the core and functionalization of TRAP binding peptide (TBP-NPs) to the carboxylic groups on the maleic anhydride. Upon systemic administration of model drug (fluorescent dye IR780) loaded TBP-NPs, we observe improved accumulation of drug at regions of high TRAP deposition, thus demonstrating successful delivery to marrow. Our interests include improving our approach to maximize accumulation at the marrow while reducing off-target accumulation of drug. The overall goal of our work is to target the marrow niche with our therapeutic drug, deliver maximal doses to the niche to maintain osteoblasts, restore normal marrow function and prolong survival of patients. Our bone target drug delivery approach for AML is a promising, clinically relevant therapeutic approach that we expect can be used to treat AML and other bone-related disorders.


Normal hematopoiesis and lack of β-catenin activation in osteoblasts of patients and mice harboring Lrp5 gain-of-function mutations.

Abstract: Osteoblasts are emerging regulators of myeloid malignancies since genetic alterations in them, such as constitutive activation of β-catenin, instigate their appearance. The LDL receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5), initially proposed to be a co-receptor for Wnt proteins, in fact favors bone formation by suppressing gut-serotonin synthesis. This function of Lrp5 occurring in the gut is independent of β-catenin activation in osteoblasts. However, it is unknown whether Lrp5 can act directly in osteoblast to influence other functions that require β-catenin signaling, particularly, the deregulation of hematopoiesis and leukemogenic properties of β-catenin activation in osteoblasts, that lead to development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Using mice with gain-of-function (GOF) Lrp5 alleles (Lrp5(A214V)) that recapitulate the human high bone mass (HBM) phenotype, as well as patients with the T253I HBM Lrp5 mutation, we show here that Lrp5 GOF mutations in both humans and mice do not activate β-catenin signaling in osteoblasts. Consistent with a lack of β-catenin activation in their osteoblasts, Lrp5(A214V) mice have normal trilinear hematopoiesis. In contrast to leukemic mice with constitutive activation of β-catenin in osteoblasts (Ctnnb1(CAosb)), accumulation of early myeloid progenitors, a characteristic of AML, myeloid-blasts in blood, and segmented neutrophils or dysplastic megakaryocytes in the bone marrow, are not observed in Lrp5(A214V) mice. Likewise, peripheral blood count analysis in HBM patients showed normal hematopoiesis, normal percentage of myeloid cells, and lack of anemia. We conclude that Lrp5 GOF mutations do not activate β-catenin signaling in osteoblasts. As a result, myeloid lineage differentiation is normal in HBM patients and mice. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Tumor Microenvironment Regulation of Cancer Cell Survival, Metastasis, Inflammation, and Immune Surveillance edited by Peter Ruvolo and Gregg L. Semenza.

Pub.: 19 Dec '15, Pinned: 05 Jul '17

Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors Target the Leukemic Microenvironment by Enhancing a Nherf1-Protein Phosphatase 1α-TAZ Signaling Pathway in Osteoblasts.

Abstract: Disrupting the protective signals provided by the bone marrow microenvironment will be critical for more effective combination drug therapies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Cells of the osteoblast lineage that reside in the endosteal niche have been implicated in promoting survival of AML cells. Here, we investigated how to prevent this protective interaction. We previously showed that SDF-1, a chemokine abundant in the bone marrow, induces apoptosis of AML cells, unless the leukemic cells receive protective signals provided by differentiating osteoblasts (8, 10). We now identify a novel signaling pathway in differentiating osteoblasts that can be manipulated to disrupt the osteoblast-mediated protection of AML cells. Treating differentiating osteoblasts with histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) abrogated their ability to protect co-cultured AML cells from SDF-1-induced apoptosis. HDACi prominently up-regulated expression of the Nherf1 scaffold protein, which played a major role in preventing osteoblast-mediated protection of AML cells. Protein phosphatase-1α (PP1α) was identified as a novel Nherf1 interacting protein that acts as the downstream mediator of this response by promoting nuclear localization of the TAZ transcriptional modulator. Moreover, independent activation of either PP1α or TAZ was sufficient to prevent osteoblast-mediated protection of AML cells even in the absence of HDACi. Together, these results indicate that HDACi target the AML microenvironment by enhancing activation of the Nherf1-PP1α-TAZ pathway in osteoblasts. Selective drug targeting of this osteoblast signaling pathway may improve treatments of AML by rendering leukemic cells in the bone marrow more susceptible to apoptosis.

Pub.: 23 Oct '15, Pinned: 05 Jul '17

FoxO1-dependent induction of acute myeloid leukemia by osteoblasts in mice.

Abstract: Osteoblasts, the bone forming cells, affect self-renewal and expansion of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), as well as homing of healthy hematopoietic cells and tumor cells into the bone marrow. Constitutive activation of β-catenin in osteoblasts is sufficient to alter the differentiation potential of myeloid and lymphoid progenitors and to initiate the development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in mice. We show here that Notch1 is the receptor mediating the leukemogenic properties of osteoblast-activated β-catenin in HSCs. Moreover, using cell-specific gene inactivation mouse models, we show that FoxO1 expression in osteoblasts is required for and mediates the leukemogenic properties of β-catenin. At the molecular level, FoxO1 interacts with β-catenin in osteoblasts to induce expression of the Notch ligand, Jagged-1. Subsequent activation of Notch signaling in long-term repopulating HSC progenitors induces the leukemogenic transformation of HSCs and ultimately leads to the development of AML. These findings identify FoxO1 expressed in osteoblasts as a factor affecting hematopoiesis and provide a molecular mechanism whereby the FoxO1/activated β-catenin interaction results in AML. These observations support the notion that the bone marrow niche is an instigator of leukemia and raise the prospect that FoxO1 oncogenic properties may occur in other tissues.

Pub.: 26 Jun '15, Pinned: 05 Jul '17

Inhibition of leukemia cell engraftment and disease progression in mice by osteoblasts.

Abstract: The bone marrow niche is thought to act as a permissive microenvironment required for emergence or progression of hematologic cancers. We hypothesized that osteoblasts, components of the niche involved in hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) function, influence the fate of leukemic blasts. We show that osteoblast numbers decrease by 55% in myelodysplasia and acute myeloid leukemia patients. Further, genetic depletion of osteoblasts in mouse models of acute leukemia increased circulating blasts and tumor engraftment in the marrow and spleen leading to higher tumor burden and shorter survival. Myelopoiesis increased and was coupled with a reduction in B lymphopoiesis and compromised erythropoiesis, suggesting that hematopoietic lineage/progression was altered. Treatment of mice with acute myeloid or lymphoblastic leukemia with a pharmacologic inhibitor of the synthesis of duodenal serotonin, a hormone suppressing osteoblast numbers, inhibited loss of osteoblasts. Maintenance of the osteoblast pool restored normal marrow function, reduced tumor burden, and prolonged survival. Leukemia prevention was attributable to maintenance of osteoblast numbers because inhibition of serotonin receptors alone in leukemic blasts did not affect leukemia progression. These results suggest that osteoblasts play a fundamental role in propagating leukemia in the marrow and may be a therapeutic target to induce hostility of the niche to leukemia blasts.

Pub.: 21 Aug '14, Pinned: 05 Jul '17

Bone marrow fibrosis at diagnosis predicts survival for primary acute myeloid leukemia.

Abstract: As a desmoplastic reaction, tissue fibrosis played crucial roles in solid tumor progression, chemo-resistance, and consequently heralded poor clinical outcome. Previous studies implied the effects of marrow fibrosis on prognosis for acute lymphoblastic leukemia were disputable. In this study, we aimed to investigate the potential role of bone marrow fibrosis on clinical survival in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients.Bone marrow fibrosis (evaluated as reticulin fiber density, RFD) in bone marrow sections was evaluated at diagnosis via computer technology. Receiver operating characteristic curve (ROC) was used to analyze the predictive value of RFD for relapse and survival status. Kaplan-Meier method was used to estimate survival rates per subgroup between patients with different RFD. Cox proportional hazard regression was used to model the overall survival.High RFD at diagnosis in bone marrow sections from primary AML might predict early relapse and shorter survival (P = 0.003 and 0.001, respectively). The optimal cutoff value of RFD at diagnosis was determined to be 7.2%. Furthermore, the Kaplan-Meier analysis indicated that patients with high marrow RFD had shorter relapse-free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS) than patients with low RFD (P = 0.007 and 0.000, respectively). Multivariate analysis suggested that similar with cytogenetics, marrow RFD at diagnosis was an independent prognostic factor for RFS [HR 0.564, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.338-0.940, P = 0.028] and OS (HR 0.457, 95% CI 0.225-0.929, P = 0.031) in primary AML patients.Our data suggest that marrow RFD before treatment should be seemed as prognostic factor in primary AML, it may provide valuable clues for developing new targeted therapy.

Pub.: 08 Jun '17, Pinned: 03 Jul '17

A method to establish a mouse model of bone marrow microenvironment injury.

Abstract: A normal bone marrow microenvironment plays a very important role in the normal functioning of hematopoietic stem cells. Once disturbed, this microenvironment can become favorable for the occurrence of blood disorders, cancers, and other diseases. Therefore, further studies on the bone marrow microenvironment should be performed to reveal regulatory and stem cell fate determination mechanisms and promote the development of bone marrow transplantation, tissue repair and regenerative medicine, and other fields. A small animal model for further research is also urgently needed. In this study, an electric shock device was designed to elicit a femur bone marrow microenvironment injury in mice. A wire was inserted into the distal femur but not into the proximal femur, and the bone marrow microenvironment was evidently damaged by application of 100 ± 10 V for 1.5 ± 0.5 min; mortality, however, was low in the mice. Gross observation, hematoxylin and eosin staining, immunohistochemistry, bright-field microscopy, and micro-CT scanning were also conducted. A large number of new blood capillaries and sinusoids appeared in the injured distal femur after 2 weeks. The capillaries in the injured femur disappeared after 4 weeks, and mature blood vessels were scattered throughout the injured area. Red blood cells disappeared, and the cellular structure and trabecular bone were better than those observed 2 weeks previously. Thus, we developed a simply operated, accurate, reliable, and easily controlled small animal model as a good technical platform to examine angiogenesis and segmentation damage in the bone marrow microenvironment.

Pub.: 20 Jun '17, Pinned: 02 Jul '17

Current Developments in Mobilization of Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells and Their Interaction with Niches in Bone Marrow.

Abstract: The clinical application of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) has evolved from a highly experimental stage in the 1980s to a currently clinically established treatment for more than 20,000 patients annually who suffer from hematological malignancies and other severe diseases. Studies in numerous murine models have demonstrated that HSPCs reside in distinct niches within the bone marrow environment. Whereas transplanted HSPCs travel through the bloodstream and home to sites of hematopoiesis, HSPCs can be mobilized from these niches into the blood either physiologically or induced by pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly, this review aims to give a synopsis of milestones defining niches and mobilization pathways for HSPCs, including the identification of several cell types involved such as osteoblasts, adventitial reticular cells, endothelial cells, monocytic cells, and granulocytic cells. The main factors that anchor HSPCs in the niche, and/or induce their quiescence are vascular cell adhesion molecule(VCAM)-1, CD44, hematopoietic growth factors, e.g. stem cell factor (SCF) and FLT3 Ligand, chemokines including CXCL12, growth-regulated protein beta and IL-8, proteases, peptides, and other chemical transmitters such as nucleotides. In the second part of the review, we revise the current understanding of HSPC mobilization. Here, we discuss which mechanisms found to be active in HSPC mobilization correspond to the mechanisms relevant for HSPC interaction with niche cells, but also deal with other mediators and signals that target individual cell types and receptors to mobilize HSPCs. A multitude of questions remain to be addressed for a better understanding of HSPC biology and its implications for therapy, including more comprehensive concepts for regulatory circuits such as calcium homeostasis and parathormone, metabolic regulation such as by leptin, the significance of autonomic nervous system, the consequences of alteration of niches in aged patients, or the identification of more easily accessible markers to better predict the efficiency of HSPC mobilization.

Pub.: 20 Jun '17, Pinned: 02 Jul '17