PhD Student, University of Sheffield


Test the effects of pharmacological inhibition and genetic manipulation of TRAF6 in prostate cancer

Inflammation is a normal physiological immune response based on the production of several substances to repair tissue. When inflammation persists, it can contribute to the initiation and progression of cancer. In cancer, several inflammatory signalling pathways that are implicated in immunity are altered. Among these is the TRAF/NFB signalling pathway. Tumour necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6), a key component of NFB signalling, is implicated in inflammation, cell proliferation and survival and immune responses. Emergent evidence has shown that TRAF6 plays an important role in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer often metastasises to bone and TRAF6 has been shown to play a key role in early bone growth and inflammation induced bone loss. However, the role of TRAF6 in prostate cancer bone metastasis and the bone damage associated with it has not been fully elucidated. My project is based on testing the effects of a panel of novel TRAF6 inhibitors and genetic manipulation of TRAF6 on the ability of human and mouse prostate cancer cells to grow, move, and disrupt the activity of bone and immune cells in vitro and in mouse models of human and mouse prostate cancers. If successful, the findings of this research will have translational potential in demonstrating that TRAF6 inhibitors may be of value in the treatment of the incurable advanced prostate cancer. This addresses a huge unmet clinical need, as metastasis, poor response to chemotherapy and acquired resistance to chemotherapeutic agents are major clinical problems in prostate cancer patients with metastatic disease.


SKP2 loss destabilizes EZH2 by promoting TRAF6-mediated ubiquitination to suppress prostate cancer.

Abstract: EZH2 is crucial for the progression of prostate cancer (PCa) and castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) through upregulation and activation of progenitor genes, as well as androgen receptor (AR)-target genes. However, the mechanisms by which EZH2 is regulated in PCa and CRPC remain elusive. Here we report that EZH2 is post-transcriptionally regulated by SKP2 in vitro in cultured cells and in vivo in mouse models. We observed aberrant upregulation of Skp2, Ezh2 and histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) in both Pten null mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and Pten null mouse prostate tissues. Loss of Skp2 resulted in a striking decrease of Ezh2 levels in Pten/Trp53 double-null MEFs and in prostate tumors of Pten/Trp53 double-null mutant mice. SKP2 knockdown decreased EZH2 levels in human PCa cells through upregulation of TRAF6-mediated and lysine(K) 63-linked ubiquitination of EZH2 for degradation. Ectopic expression of TRAF6 promoted the K63-linked ubiquitination of EZH2 to decrease EZH2 and H3K27me3 levels in PCa cells. In contrast, TRAF6 knockdown resulted in a reduced EZH2 ubiquitination with an increase of EZH2 and H3K27me3 levels in PCa cells. Furthermore, the catalytically dead mutant TRAF6 C70A abolished the TRAF6-mediated polyubiquitination of recombinant human EZH2 in vitro. Most importantly, a concurrent elevation of Skp2 and Ezh2 was found in CRPC tumors of Pten/Trp53 mutant mice, and expression levels of SKP2 and EZH2 were positively correlated in human PCa specimens. Taken together, our findings revealed a novel mechanism on EZH2 ubiquitination and an important signaling network of SKP2-TRAF6-EZH2/H3K27me3, and targeting SKP2-EZH2 pathway may be a promising therapeutic strategy for CRPC treatment.Oncogene advance online publication, 21 November 2016; doi:10.1038/onc.2016.300.

Pub.: 22 Nov '16, Pinned: 24 May '18

Downregulation of miR-141-3p promotes bone metastasis via activating NF-κB signaling in prostate cancer.

Abstract: Clinically, prostate cancer (PCa) exhibits a high avidity to metastasize to bone. miR-141-3p is an extensively studied miRNA in cancers and downregulation of miR-141-3p has been widely reported to be involved in the progression and metastasis of several human cancer types. However, the clinical significance and biological roles of miR-141-3p in bone metastasis of PCa are still unclear.miR-141-3p expression was examined in 89 non-bone metastatic and 52 bone metastatic PCa tissues by real-time PCR. Statistical analysis was performed to investigate the clinical correlation between miR-141-3p expression levels and clinicopathological characteristics in PCa patients. The biological roles of miR-141-3p in bone metastasis of PCa were evaluated both in vitro and a mouse intracardial model in vivo. Bioinformatics analysis, Western blot, luciferase reporter and miRNA immunoprecipitation assays were performed to explore and examine the relationship between miR-141-3p and its potential targets. Clinical correlation of miR-141-3p with its targets was examined in clinical PCa tissues.miR-141-3p expression is reduced in bone metastatic PCa tissues compared with non-bone metastatic PCa tissues. Low expression of miR-141-3p positively correlates with serum PSA levels, Gleason grade and bone metastasis status in PCa patients. Furthermore, upregulating miR-141-3p suppresses the EMT, invasion and migration of PCa cells in vitro. Conversely, silencing miR-141-3p yields an opposite effect. Importantly, upregulating miR-141-3p dramatically reduces bone metastasis of PC-3 cells in vivo. Our results further show that miR-141-3p inhibits the activation of NF-κB signaling via directly targeting tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 5(TRAF5) and 6 (TRAF6), which further suppresses invasion, migration and bone metastasis of PCa cells. The clinical negative correlation of miR-141-3p expression with TRAF5, TRAF6 and NF-κB signaling activity is demonstrated in PCa tissues.Our findings unravel a novel mechanism underlying the bone metastasis of PCa, suggesting that miR-141-3p mimics might represent a potential therapeutic avenue for the treatment of PCa bone metastasis.

Pub.: 06 Dec '17, Pinned: 24 May '18

TGF-β promotes PI3K-AKT signaling and prostate cancer cell migration through the TRAF6-mediated ubiquitylation of p85α.

Abstract: Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) is a pluripotent cytokine that regulates cell fate and plasticity in normal tissues and tumors. The multifunctional cellular responses evoked by TGF-β are mediated by the canonical SMAD pathway and by noncanonical pathways, including mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways and the phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase (PI3K)-protein kinase B (AKT) pathway. We found that TGF-β activated PI3K in a manner dependent on the activity of the E3 ubiquitin ligase tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 6 (TRAF6). TRAF6 polyubiquitylated the PI3K regulatory subunit p85α and promoted the formation of a complex between the TGF-β type I receptor (TβRI) and p85α, which led to the activation of PI3K and AKT. Lys(63)-linked polyubiquitylation of p85α on Lys(513) and Lys(519) in the iSH2 (inter-Src homology 2) domain was required for TGF-β-induced activation of PI3K-AKT signaling and cell motility in prostate cancer cells and activated macrophages. Unlike the activation of SMAD pathways, the TRAF6-mediated activation of PI3K and AKT was not dependent on the kinase activity of TβRI. In situ proximity ligation assays revealed that polyubiquitylation of p85α was evident in aggressive prostate cancer tissues. Thus, our data reveal a molecular mechanism by which TGF-β activates the PI3K-AKT pathway to drive cell migration.

Pub.: 06 Jul '17, Pinned: 24 May '18