Bernard Futscher

Bernard Futscher, PhD, and his lab focus on the molecular origins of human cancer. More specifically, the lab group has 3 inter-related research objectives based on the underlying concept that developing an in-depth understanding of epigenetic mechanismsresponsible for governing cell fate will allow for the development of more effective strategies for the prevention, treatment, and cure of cancer. First, they wish to identify which epigenetic mechanisms participate in the transcriptional control of genes important to growth and differentiation. Second, they seek to determine how these epigenetic mechanisms, and therefore epigenetic homeostasis, become compromised during oncogenesis. Third, using a new and more complete understanding of epigenetic control of the genome, Dr. Futscher and his team are developing rational new therapeutic strategies that seek to repair these defects in the cancer cell and transcriptionally reprogram the malignant cancer cell to a benign state. To reach their objectives, a variety of in vitro models of cancer have been developed to address emerging hypotheses that are inferred from the literature in basic and clinical science as well as our own data. Results from these in vitro studies are then translated to the clinical situation to determine their meaning in the actual clinical face of the disease. Similarly, they attempt to take information obtained from the genome-wide assessment of clinical specimens in order to help guide our thinking and develop new hypotheses that can be tested experimentally in our in vitro models.


Cell Type Specific Dna Methylation Patterns Define Human Breast Cellular Identity. Source: Plo S One
December 20th, 2012 PMID: 23284978 Bernard Futscher
DNA methylation plays a role in a variety of biological processes including embryonic development, imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation, and stem cell differentiation. Tissue specific differential methylation has also been well characterized. We sought to extend these studies to create a map of differential DNA methylation between different cell types derived from a single tissue. Using three pairs of isogenic human mammary epithelial and fibroblast cells, promoter region DNA methylation was characterized using MeDIP coupled to microarray analysis. Comparison of DNA methylation between these cell types revealed nearly three thousand cell-type specific differentially methylated regions (ctDMRs). MassARRAY was performed upon 87 ctDMRs to confirm and quantify differential DNA methylation. Each of the examined regions exhibited statistically significant differences ranging from 10-70%. Gene ontology analysis revealed the overrepresentation of many transcription factors involved in developmental processes. Additionally, we have shown that ctDMRs are associated with histone related epigenetic marks and are often aberrantly methylated in breast cancer. Overall, our data suggest that there are thousands of ctDMRs which consistently exhibit differential DNA methylation and may underlie cell type specificity in human breast tissue. In addition, we describe the pathways affected by these differences and provide insight into the molecular mechanisms and physiological overlap between normal cellular differentiation and breast carcinogenesis.<br /><br />
Agglomerates Of Aberrant Dna Methylation Are Associated With Toxicant Induced Malignant Transformation. Source: Epigenetics : Official Journal Of The Dna Methylation Society
September 13th, 2012 PMID: 22976526 Bernard Futscher
Epigenetic dysfunction is a known contributor in carcinogenesis, and is emerging as a mechanism involved in toxicant-induced malignant transformation for environmental carcinogens such as arsenicals or cadmium. In addition to aberrant DNA methylation of single genes, another manifestation of epigenetic dysfunction in cancer is agglomerative DNA methylation, which can participate in long-range epigenetic silencing that targets many neighboring genes and has been shown to occur in several types of clinical cancers. Using in vitro model systems of toxicant-induced malignant transformation, we found hundreds of aberrant DNA methylation events that emerge during malignant transformation, some of which occur in an agglomerative fashion. In an arsenite-transformed prostate epithelial cell line, the protocadherin (PCDH), HOXC and HOXD gene family clusters are targeted for agglomerative DNA methylation. The agglomerative DNA methylation changes induced by arsenicals appear to be common and clinically relevant events, since they occur in other human cancer cell lines and models of malignant transformation, as well as clinical cancer specimens. Aberrant DNA methylation in general occurred more often within histone H3 lysine-27 trimethylation stem cell domains. We found a striking association between enrichment of histone H3 lysine-9 trimethylation stem cell domains and toxicant-induced agglomerative DNA methylation, suggesting these epigenetic modifications may become aberrantly linked during malignant transformation. In summary, we found an association between toxicant-induced malignant transformation and agglomerative DNA methylation, which lends further support to the hypothesis that epigenetic dysfunction plays an important role in toxicant-induced malignant transformation.<br /><br />
Epigenetic Changes During Cell Transformation. Source: Advances In Experimental Medicine And Biology
September 7th, 2012 PMID: 22956502 Bernard Futscher
Malignant cancer emerges from normal healthy cells in a multistep -process that involves both genetic and epigenetic lesions. Both genetic and environmental inputs participate in driving the epigenetic changes that occur during human carcinogenesis. The pathologic changes seen in DNA methylation and histone posttranslational modifications are complex, deeply intertwined, and act in concert to produce malignant transformation. To better understand the causes and consequences of the pathoepigenetic changes in cancer formation, a variety of experimentally tractable human cell line model systems that accurately reflect the molecular alterations seen in the clinical disease have been developed. Results from studies using these cell line model systems suggest that early critical epigenetic events occur in a stepwise fashion prior to cell immortalization. These epigenetic steps coincide with the cell's transition through well-defined cell proliferation barriers of stasis and telomere dysfunction. Following cell immortalization, stressors, such as environmental toxicants, can induce malignant transformation in a process in which the epigenetic changes occur in a smoother progressive fashion, in contrast to the stark stepwise epigenetic changes seen prior to cell immortalization. It is hoped that developing a clearer understanding of the identity, timing, and consequences of these epigenetic lesions will prove useful in future clinical applications that range from early disease detection to therapeutic intervention in malignant cancer.<br /><br />
Epigenetic Regulation Of Normal Human Mammary Cell Type Specific Mi Rn As. Source: Genome Research
August 26th, 2011 PMID: 21873453 Bernard Futscher
Epigenetic mechanisms are important regulators of cell type-specific genes, including miRNAs. In order to identify cell type-specific miRNAs regulated by epigenetic mechanisms, we undertook a global analysis of miRNA expression and epigenetic states in three isogenic pairs of human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) and human mammary fibroblasts (HMF), which represent two differentiated cell types typically present within a given organ, each with a distinct phenotype and a distinct epigenotype. While miRNA expression and epigenetic states showed strong interindividual concordance within a given cell type, almost 10% of the expressed miRNA showed a cell type-specific pattern of expression that was linked to the epigenetic state of their promoter. The tissue-specific miRNA genes were epigenetically repressed in nonexpressing cells by DNA methylation (38%) and H3K27me3 (58%), with only a small set of miRNAs (21%) showing a dual epigenetic repression where both DNA methylation and H3K27me3 were present at their promoters, such as MIR10A and MIR10B. Individual miRNA clusters of closely related miRNA gene families can each display cell type-specific repression by the same or complementary epigenetic mechanisms, such as the MIR200 family, and MIR205, where fibroblasts repress MIR200C/141 by DNA methylation, MIR200A/200B/429 by H3K27me3, and MIR205 by both DNA methylation and H3K27me3. Since deregulation of many of the epigenetically regulated miRNAs that we identified have been linked to disease processes such as cancer, it is predicted that compromise of the epigenetic control mechanisms is important for this process. Overall, these results highlight the importance of epigenetic regulation in the control of normal cell type-specific miRNA expression.<br /><br />
Hypomethylation Of The 14 3 3σ Promoter Leads To Increased Expression In Non Small Cell Lung Cancer. Source: Genes, Chromosomes & Cancer
July 13th, 2011 PMID: 21755566 Bernard Futscher
The 14-3-3 proteins are a set of seven highly conserved proteins that have recently been implicated in having a role in human tumorigenesis. However, the mechanism by which 14-3-3 proteins may act in this capacity is not well understood. In this study, we examined the expression of one of the 14-3-3 family members, 14-3-3σ, since it was shown previously to be aberrantly altered in human tumors. Using quantitative rtPCR and immunohistochemistry, we found that the expression levels of 14-3-3σ were elevated in the majority of human non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) we examined. Surprisingly, we found that the 14-3-3σ gene was hypomethylated in lung tumors relative to normal lung tissue suggesting that decreased DNA methylation resulted in increased expression of 14-3-3σ in NSCLC. We also determined the gene copy number for 14-3-3σ in tumor samples and found no significant correlation with elevated mRNA expression. And also no mutations were found in 14-3-3σ gene. Overall, our data suggest that misregulated expression of 14-3-3σ gene may be due to altered methylation status. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.<br /><br />
Monomethylarsonous Acid Produces Irreversible Events Resulting In Malignant Transformation Of A Human Bladder Cell Line Following 12 Weeks Of Low Level Exposure. Source: Toxicological Sciences : An Official Journal Of The Society Of Toxicology
April 7th, 2010 PMID: 20375083 A Gandolfi Bernard Futscher
Arsenic is a known human bladder carcinogen; however, the mechanisms underlying arsenical-induced bladder carcinogenesis are not understood. Previous research has demonstrated that exposure of a nontumorigenic human urothelial cell line, UROtsa, to 50 nM monomethylarsonous acid (MMA(III)) for 52 weeks resulted in malignant transformation. To focus research on the early mechanistic events leading to MMA(III)-induced malignancy, the goal of this research was to resolve the critical period in which continuous MMA(III) exposure (50 nM) induces the irreversible malignant transformation of UROtsa cells. An increased growth rate of UROtsa cells results after 12 weeks of MMA(III) exposure. Anchorage-independent growth occurred after 12 weeks with a continued increase in colony formation when 12-week exposed cells were cultured for an additional 12 or 24 weeks without MMA(III) exposure. UROtsa cells as early as 12 weeks MMA(III) exposure were tumorigenic in severe combined immunodeficiency mice with tumorigenicity increasing when 12-week exposed cells were cultured for an additional 12 or 24 weeks in the absence of MMA(III) exposure. To assess potential underlying mechanisms associated with the early changes that occur during MMA(III)-induced malignancy, DNA methylation was assessed in known target gene promoter regions. Although DNA methylation remains relatively unchanged after 12 weeks of exposure, aberrant DNA methylation begins to emerge after an additional 12 weeks in culture and continues to increase through 24 weeks in culture without MMA(III) exposure, coincident with the progression of a tumorigenic phenotype. Overall, these data demonstrate that 50 nM MMA(III) is capable of causing irreversible malignant transformation in UROtsa cells after 12 weeks of exposure. Having resolved an earlier timeline in which MMA(III)-induced malignant transformation occurs in UROtsa cells will allow for mechanistic studies focused on the critical biological changes taking place within these cells prior to 12 weeks of exposure, providing further evidence about potential mechanisms of MMA(III)-induced carcinogenesis.<br><br>
Role For Dna Methylation In The Regulation Of Mi R 200c And Mi R 141 Expression In Normal And Cancer Cells. Source: Plo S One
January 13th, 2010 PMID: 20084174 Bernard Futscher
BACKGROUND:<br />The microRNA-200 family participates in the maintenance of an epithelial phenotype and loss of its expression can result in epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). Furthermore, the loss of expression of miR-200 family members is linked to an aggressive cancer phenotype. Regulation of the miR-200 family expression in normal and cancer cells is not fully understood.<br /><br />METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:<br />Epigenetic mechanisms participate in the control of miR-200c and miR-141 expression in both normal and cancer cells. A CpG island near the predicted mir-200c/mir-141 transcription start site shows a striking correlation between miR-200c and miR-141 expression and DNA methylation in both normal and cancer cells, as determined by MassARRAY technology. The CpG island is unmethylated in human miR-200/miR-141 expressing epithelial cells and in miR-200c/miR-141 positive tumor cells. The CpG island is heavily methylated in human miR-200c/miR-141 negative fibroblasts and miR-200c/miR-141 negative tumor cells. Mouse cells show a similar inverse correlation between DNA methylation and miR-200c expression. Enrichment of permissive histone modifications, H3 acetylation and H3K4 trimethylation, is seen in normal miR-200c/miR-141-positive epithelial cells, as determined by chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled to real-time PCR. In contrast, repressive H3K9 dimethylation marks are present in normal miR-200c/miR-141-negative fibroblasts and miR-200c/miR-141 negative cancer cells and the permissive histone modifications are absent. The epigenetic modifier drug, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, reactivates miR-200c/miR-141 expression showing that epigenetic mechanisms play a functional role in their transcriptional control.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:<br />We report that DNA methylation plays a role in the normal cell type-specific expression of miR-200c and miR-141 and this role appears evolutionarily conserved, since similar results were obtained in mouse. Aberrant DNA methylation of the miR-200c/141 CpG island is closely linked to their inappropriate silencing in cancer cells. Since the miR-200c cluster plays a significant role in EMT, our results suggest an important role for DNA methylation in the control of phenotypic conversions in normal cells.<br /><br />
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