In healthy cells, pro- and anti-apoptotic BCL2 family and BH3-only proteins are expressed in a delicate equilibrium. In contrast, this homeostasis is frequently perturbed in cancer cells due to the overexpression of anti-apoptotic BCL2 family proteins. Variability in the expression and sequestration of these proteins in Diffuse Large B cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) likely contributes to variability in response to BH3-mimetics. Successful deployment of BH3-mimetics in DLBCL requires reliable predictions of which lymphoma cells will respond. Here we show that a computational systems biology approach enables accurate prediction of the sensitivity of DLBCL cells to BH3-mimetics. We found that fractional killing of DLBCL, can be explained by cell-to-cell variability in the molecular abundances of signaling proteins. Importantly, by combining protein interaction data with a knowledge of genetic lesions in DLBCL cells, our in silico models accurately predict in vitro response to BH3-mimetics. Furthermore, through virtual DLBCL cells we predict synergistic combinations of BH3-mimetics, which we then experimentally validated. These results show that computational systems biology models of apoptotic signaling, when constrained by experimental data, can facilitate the rational assignment of efficacious targeted inhibitors in B cell malignancies, paving the way for development of more personalized approaches to treatment.
Introduction. Improving treatments for Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) is challenged by the vast heterogeneity of the disease. Nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) is frequently aberrantly activated in DLBCL. Transcriptionally active NF-κB is a dimer containing either RelA, RelB or cRel, but the variability in the composition of NF-κB between and within DLBCL cell populations is not known. Results. Here we describe a new flow cytometry-based analysis technique termed “NF-κB fingerprinting” and demonstrate its applicability to DLBCL cell lines, DLBCL core-needle biopsy samples, and healthy donor blood samples. We find each of these cell populations has a unique NF-κB fingerprint and that widely used cell-of-origin classifications are inadequate to capture NF-κB heterogeneity in DLBCL. Computational modeling predicts that RelA is a key determinant of response to microenvironmental stimuli, and we experimentally identify substantial variability in RelA between and within ABC-DLBCL cell lines. We find that when we incorporate NF-κB fingerprints and mutational information into computational models we can predict how heterogeneous DLBCL cell populations respond to microenvironmental stimuli, and we validate these predictions experimentally. Discussion. Our results show that the composition of NF-κB is highly heterogeneous in DLBCL and predictive of how DLBCL cells will respond to microenvironmental stimuli. We find that commonly occurring mutations in the NF-κB signaling pathway reduce DLBCL’s response to microenvironmental stimuli. NF-κB fingerprinting is a widely applicable analysis technique to quantify NF-κB heterogeneity in B cell malignancies that reveals functionally significant differences in NF-κB composition within and between cell populations.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the most prevalent type of leukemia in the western world. Despite the positive clinical effects of new targeted therapies, CLL still remains an incurable and refractory disease and resistance to treatments are commonly encountered. The Nuclear Factor-Kappa B (NF-κB) transcription factor has been implicated in the pathology of CLL, with high levels of NF-κB associated with disease progression and drug resistance. This aberrant NF-κB activation can be caused by genetic mutations in the tumor cells and microenvironmental factors, which promote NF-κB signaling. Activation can be induced via two distinct pathways, the canonical and non-canonical pathway, which result in tumor cell proliferation, survival and drug resistance. Therefore, understanding how the CLL microenvironment drives NF-κB activation is important for deciphering how CLL cells evade treatment and may aid the development of novel targeting therapeutics. The CLL microenvironment is comprised of various cells, including nurse like cells, mesenchymal stromal cells, follicular dendritic cells and CD4+ T cells. By activating different receptors, including the B cell receptor and CD40, these cells cause overactivity of the canonical and non-canonical NF-κB pathways. Within this review, we will explore the different components of the CLL microenvironment that drive the NF-κB pathway, investigating how this knowledge is being translated in the development of new therapeutics.
The nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) system is critical for various biological functions in numerous cell types, including the inflammatory response, cell proliferation, survival, differentiation, and pathogenic responses. Each cell type is characterized by a subset of 15 NF-κB dimers whose activity is regulated in a stimulus-responsive manner. Numerous studies have produced different mathematical models that account for cell type–specific NF-κB activities. However, whereas the concentrations or abundances of NF-κB subunits may differ between cell types, the biochemical interactions that constitute the NF-κB signaling system do not. Here, we synthesized a consensus mathematical model of the NF-κB multidimer system, which could account for the cell type–specific repertoires of NF-κB dimers and their cell type–specific activation and cross-talk. Our review demonstrates that these distinct cell type–specific properties of NF-κB signaling can be explained largely as emergent effects of the cell type–specific expression of NF-κB monomers. The consensus systems model represents a knowledge base that may be used to gain insights into the control and function of NF-κB in diverse physiological and pathological scenarios and that describes a path for generating similar regulatory knowledge bases for other pleiotropic signaling systems.
B-cell progenitor fate determinant interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF4) exerts key roles in the pathogenesis and progression of multiple myeloma (MM), a currently incurable plasma cell malignancy. Aberrant expression of IRF4 and the establishment of a positive auto-regulatory loop with oncogene MYC, drives a MM specific gene-expression programme leading to the abnormal expansion of malignant immature plasma cells. Targeting the IRF4-MYC oncogenic loop has the potential to provide a selective and effective therapy for MM. Here we evaluate the use of bromodomain inhibitors to target the IRF4-MYC axis through combined inhibition of their known epigenetic regulators, BRD4 and CBP/EP300. Although all inhibitors induced cell death, we found no synergistic effect of targeting both of these regulators on the viability of MM cell-lines. Importantly, for all inhibitors over a time period up to 72 hours, we detected reduced IRF4 mRNA, but a limited decrease in IRF4 protein expression or mRNA levels of downstream target genes. This indicates that inhibitor-induced loss of cell viability is not mediated through reduced IRF4 protein expression, as previously proposed. Further analysis revealed a long half-life of IRF4 protein in MM cells. In support of our experimental observations, gene network modelling of MM suggests that bromodomain inhibition is exerted primarily through MYC and not IRF4. These findings suggest that despite the autofeedback positive regulatory loop between IRF4 and MYC, bromodomain inhibitors are not effective at targeting IRF4 in MM and that novel therapeutic strategies should focus on the direct inhibition or degradation of IRF4.
Brain organoids represent a powerful tool for studying human neurological diseases, particularly those that affect brain growth and structure. However, many diseases manifest with clear evidence of physiological and network abnormality in the absence of anatomical changes, raising the question of whether organoids possess sufficient neural network complexity to model these conditions. Here, we explore the network-level functions of brain organoids using calcium sensor imaging and extracellular recording approaches that together reveal the existence of complex network dynamics reminiscent of intact brain preparations. We demonstrate highly abnormal and epileptiform-like activity in organoids derived from induced pluripotent stem cells from individuals with Rett syndrome, accompanied by transcriptomic differences revealed by single-cell analyses. We also rescue key physiological activities with an unconventional neuroregulatory drug, pifithrin-$α$. Together, these findings provide an essential foundation for the utilization of brain organoids to study intact and disordered human brain network formation and illustrate their utility in therapeutic discovery.
Humoral immunity depends on efficient activation of B cells and their subsequent differentiation into antibody-secreting cells (ASCs). The transcription factor NFκB cRel is critical for B cell proliferation, but incorporating its known regulatory interactions into a mathematical model of the ASC differentiation circuit prevented ASC generation in simulations. Indeed, experimental ectopic cRel expression blocked ASC differentiation by inhibiting the transcription factor Blimp1, and in wild-type (WT) cells cRel was dynamically repressed during ASC differentiation by Blimp1 binding the Rel locus. Including this bi-stable circuit of mutual cRel-Blimp1 antagonism into a multi-scale model revealed that dynamic repression of cRel controls the switch from B cell proliferation to ASC generation phases and hence the respective cell population dynamics. Our studies provide a mechanistic explanation of how dysregulation of this bi-stable circuit might result in pathologic B cell population phenotypes and thus offer new avenues for diagnostic stratification and treatment.
Rapid antibody production in response to invading pathogens requires the dramatic expansion of pathogen-derived antigen-specific B lymphocyte populations. Whether B cell population dynamics are based on stochastic competition between competing cell fates, as in the development of competence by the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, or on deterministic cell fate decisions that execute a predictable program, as during the development of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, remains unclear. Here, we developed long-term live-cell microscopy of B cell population expansion and multiscale mechanistic computational modeling to characterize the role of molecular noise in determining phenotype heterogeneity. We show that the cell lineage trees underlying B cell population dynamics are mediated by a largely predictable decision-making process where the heterogeneity of cell proliferation and death decisions at any given timepoint largely derives from nongenetic heterogeneity in the founder cells. This means that contrary to previous models, only a minority of genetically identical founder cells contribute the majority to the population response. We computationally predict and experimentally confirm nongenetic molecular determinants that are predictive of founder cells’ proliferative capacity. While founder cell heterogeneity may arise from different exposure histories, we show that it may also be due to the gradual accumulation of small amounts of intrinsic noise during the lineage differentiation process of hematopoietic stem cells to mature B cells. Our finding of the largely deterministic nature of B lymphocyte responses may provide opportunities for diagnostic and therapeutic development.
Phenotypic differences often occur even in clonal cell populations. Many potential sources of such variation have been identified, from biophysical rate variance intrinsic to all chemical processes to asymmetric division of molecular components extrinsic to any particular signaling pathway. Identifying the sources of phenotypic variation and quantifying their contributions to cell fate variation is not possible without accurate single cell data. By combining such data with mathematical models of potential noise sources it is possible to characterize the impact of varying levels of each noise source and identify which sources of variation best explain the experimental observations. The mathematical framework of information theory provides metrics of the impact of noise on the reliability of a cell to sense its environment. While the presence of noise in a single cellular system reduces the reliability of signal transduction its impact on a population of varied single cells remains unclear.