Unlocking the
Mysteries of
Extracellular RNA
Communication

Once thought to exist only inside cells, RNA is
known to travel outside of cells and play a role in newly
discovered mechanisms of cell-to-cell communication.

Cancer cells actively reprogram gene expression to promote their ability to produce tumors. One way this reprogramming is carried out is by subverting the main routes of cell-to-cell communication by loading exosomes (vesicles that bud off from cells) with specific miRNAs that either promote or suppress tumors and then releasing them into the tumor microenvironment. In a Cancer Research paper published online recently (Kanlikilicer et al., 2016), we found that miR-6126, a miRNA that was reported to be correlated with better overall survival in high-grade serous ovarian cancer patients, is ubiquitously removed from ovarian cancer cells via exosomes.

miR-6126 is ubiquitously removed from ovarian cancer cells via exosomes

We found that miR-6126 suppresses tumors by directly targeting integrin ß1, a key regulator of cancer cell metastasis. Treatment of orthotopic mouse models of ovarian cancer with miR-6126 reduced tumor growth, proliferating cells, and microvessel density. Our findings provide new insights into the role of exosomes in mediating tumor progression and suggest a new therapeutic approach to disrupt the origin and growth of tumors.

Citation:
Ubiquitous release of exosomal tumor suppressor miR-6126 from ovarian cancer cells
Pinar Kanlikilicer, Mohammed Saber, Recep Bayraktar, Rahul Mitra, Cristina Ivan, Burcu Aslan, Xinna Zhang, Justyna Filant, Andreia M Silva, Cristian Rodriguez-Aguayo, Emine Bayraktar, Martin Pichler, Bulent Ozpolat, George A Calin, Anil K. Sood and Gabriel Lopez-Berestein*
Cancer Res. October 14, 2016 doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-16-0714
*Corresponding author

The concept of a hype cycle is a well-established business concept, in which novel ideas are said to have an initial wave of hype followed by disillusionment. Only after that, the novel concept takes off and become truly useful entering a so-called plateau of productivity. In biomedical science, the field of microRNAs (miRNAs) certainly had a peak of interest in the end of the last decade. This led by high impact publications (1) and characterization of both novel miRNA-entities as well as their associations to a broad range of diseases. Nonetheless, no clear pharmaceutical successes emerged: miRNA targets are being pursued as therapeutic targets, but none have as of yet successfully made it through clinical trials (2). Likewise the use of miRNA-based treatment strategies targeting regular mRNA is an area of interest (3). In this editorial we focus on a third aspect of miRNAs: the use of miRNAs as prognostic biomarkers in disease, asking the question if miRNAs are now entering this plateau of productivity in which actual benefit will be seen.

We focus on the recent paper by Bye et al.: “Circulating microRNAs predict future fatal myocardial infarction in healthy individuals – The HUNT study” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27192016).

 
The hunt for fatal myocardial infarction biomarkers: predictive circulating microRNAs.
Russo F, Rizzo M, Belling K, Brunak S, Folkersen L.

Ann Transl Med. 2016 Oct;4(Suppl 1):S1.

PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27867969

Journal: http://atm.amegroups.com/article/view/11314

As part of the Extracellular RNA Communication Consortium (ERCC) seminar series, on 30 June 2016, Dr. Janusz Rak from McGill University presented his work on “Extracellular Oncogenes as Biological Effectors and Biomarkers.”

When focusing on a single cancer cell, we consider how particular mutations alter the cell’s properties, causing it to grow, replicate, evade immune detection, and do all the other things cancer cells can do. But it’s clear that cancer is more than a collection of cells operating autonomously. Perhaps the most interesting and frightening part of cancer is that tumors are complex, heterogeneous entities that operate and interact with each other and with their environment in characteristic ways. Researchers have been studying cancer cell signaling pathways for years. An example is paracrine interactions with neighboring cells that induce irregular vascular growth. What is new and exciting about Dr. Rak’s work is the focus on oncogenes as cargo in extracellular vesicles (EVs), which is a nontraditional means of communication between cancer cells and from cancer to non-cancer cells.

Dr. Rak has followed several interesting lines of research. He addresses fundamental questions; for example:

  • With which cell types do cancer-cell-derived EVs (CCEV) interact?
  • Are tumor-associated mutant proteins found on or in CCEVs?
  • Are these mutant proteins then expressed on recipient cells?

Preliminary work in these areas has led to the question: Can cancer cells transform non-cancer cells (i.e. make them cancer-like) via EV-mediated transfer of oncogenic proteins? And is this process complete and permanent? Numerous lines of inquiry, from in vitro to mouse studies, lead to the conclusion that the answer is probably no. Dr. Rak argues that such a finding is not surprising: if horizontal oncogenic transformation were occurring regularly between cell types, we would see more cancer patients with mixed tumor types. Secondly, phylogenetic approaches have been used to trace tumors back to single cell ancestors, another argument against the model of horizontal transformation. The current leading hypothesis is that CCEVs, rather than inducing oncogenic transformation, play a modulatory role, regulating interactions between cancer cells and between cancer and host cells but without changing their identity.

A better understanding of cancer EV biology has promise for improving cancer therapy and diagnosis. CCEVs and their oncogene cargo may represent interesting and novel pharmaceutical targets. They also constitute a unique reservoir of mutant molecules in blood, far away from an inaccessible tumor. Efforts are underway to advance cancer diagnosis through detection of CCEVs, particularly in tumor classes like glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) where no other methods of early detection are available. Research in humans has indicated that GBM patients can be identified by EVs in blood serum. As research such as Dr. Rak’s progresses, and EV biology is further elucidated, we will continue moving towards a future where we can utilize EVs in clinical practice to improve health outcomes.