The death receptor Fas has a key role in mediating homeostasis, elimination of defective cells and more recently promotion of cancer. Many effective anti-cancer therapies depend on Fas-mediated apoptosis to eradicate tumor cells and ineffective Fas- apoptotic signaling is a basis for primary as well as acquired resistance to chemotherapy. We hypothesized that Fas is subjected to direct regulation and inhibition of Fas attained by cancer cells and may explain the emergence of chemoresistance. To screen for potential binding modulators of Fas, we analyzed lymphoma cells for Fas binding proteins.
We first purified Fas associated proteins by using activating CH-11 antibody bound to intact BJAB cells. After immunoprecipitation, any remaining Fas, considered activation–resistant, was subjected to the second immunoprecipitation with Fas antibody B-10 followed by liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectroscopy. This purification scheme identified high scoring peptides derived from nucleolin, a nuclear protein known to be overexpressed in cancer. Nucleolin is selectively expressed on the surfaces of cancer cells and blood vessels undergoing angiogenesis. In a cell culture system, we confirmed binding of nucleolin to Fas and the presence of nucleolin-Fas complexes on the surface of lymphoma cells by surface biotin labeling. Using deletion mutants of nucleolin, we identified RNA binding domain 4 and glycine/arginine rich region to be required for the binding to Fas. BJAB cells with partially knockdown (KD) nucleolin showed significantly higher rates of apoptosis in response to stimulation with CH-11 and FasL when compared to nontarget KD controls. Importantly, the lower levels of nucleolin in knockdown cells did not affect total and surface Fas expression. Nucleolin present on the cell surface prevented binding of FasL and CH-11 to the receptor and thus provides a mechanism for blocking activation of Fas apoptosis. To examine the role of nucleon in vivo, we transfected mice with nucleolin-expressing plasmids using the hydrodynamic transfection method. The mice overexpressing nucleolin showed significantly higher survival rates than vector control transfected mice (P=.01) after a challenge with a lethal dose of agonistic anti-Fas antibody.
We next examined the expression of nucleolin in human lymphomas. Cell lines derived from lymphomas of different histological types consistently expressed nucleolin protein. We found nucleolin expressed on the surface of cells in over 20 primary lymphoma isolates, whereas peripheral blood lymphocytes showed low or undetectable levels. Lymphoma tissue microarray staining showed a correlation between nucleolin and Ki-67 expression. Whether nucleolin expression also correlates with adverse clinical features in lymphoma is currently under evaluation.
Taken together, we show here that the known cancer associated protein nucleolin is overexpressed on surface of lymphoma cells where it binds to Fas receptor and blocks Fas signaling and apoptosis. We expect that further analysis of nucleolin properties will reveal how Fas-nucleolin interaction can be targeted to enhance killing of cancer cells leading eventually to cell surface nucleolin targeting therapy.
Fayad:Roche: Research Funding.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.