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Imaging transforming growth factor-β signaling dynamics and therapeutic response in breast cancer bone metastasis


Although the transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) pathway has been implicated in breast cancer metastasis, its in vivo dynamics and temporal-spatial involvement in organ-specific metastasis have not been investigated. Here we engineered a xenograft model system with a conditional control of the TGF-β–SMAD signaling pathway and a dual-luciferase reporter system for tracing both metastatic burden and TGF-β signaling activity in vivo. Strong TGF-β signaling in osteolytic bone lesions is suppressed directly by genetic and pharmacological disruption of the TGF-β–SMAD pathway and indirectly by inhibition of osteoclast function with bisphosphonates. Notably, disruption of TGF-β signaling early in metastasis can substantially reduce metastasis burden but becomes less effective when bone lesions are well established. Our in vivo system for real-time manipulation and detection of TGF-β signaling provides a proof of principle for using similar strategies to analyze the in vivo dynamics of other metastasis-associated signaling pathways and will expedite the development and characterization of therapeutic agents.

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Figure 1: In vitro and in vivo characterization of the SCP28-SMAD4Tet Duo system.
Figure 2: Temporal dependence of bone metastasis on the TGF-β–SMAD pathway in vivo.
Figure 3: Therapeutic response of bone metastasis to TGF-β receptor I kinase inhibitor LY2109761.
Figure 4: Pamidronate treatment substantially reduces skeletal morbidity and TGF-β signaling activity in metastatic bone lesions.
Figure 5: Tumor-induced osteolysis enhances TGF-β signaling in tumor cells.


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We thank members of the Kang laboratory for insightful discussions and technical suggestions, J. Yingling (Eli Lilly and Company) for the TGF-β receptor I kinase inhibitor and suggestions for the manuscript, S. Gambhir (Stanford University) for triple-reporter plasmids, R. Agami (The Netherlands Cancer Institute) for pRS-GFP, T. Guise and K. Mohammad for technical advice in bone histology and G. Hu for statistical support. Y.K. is a Champalimaud Investigator funded by a Department of Defense Era of Hope Scholar Award and grants from the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. M.K. is supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program.

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Y.K. and M.K. designed experiments. Y.K. supervised experiments. M.K. and J.Y. performed the experiments. M.K., J.Y., X.L., S.X. and D.A.L. contributed to molecular cloning and engineering of cell lines. M.K. and Y.K. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yibin Kang.

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Korpal, M., Yan, J., Lu, X. et al. Imaging transforming growth factor-β signaling dynamics and therapeutic response in breast cancer bone metastasis. Nat Med 15, 960–966 (2009).

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