All Publications

  • The neuroscience of cancer. Nature Mancusi, R., Monje, M. 2023; 618 (7965): 467-479


    The nervous system regulates tissue stem and precursor populations throughout life. Parallel to roles in development, the nervous system is emerging as a critical regulator of cancer, from oncogenesis to malignant growth and metastatic spread. Various preclinical models in a range of malignancies have demonstrated that nervous system activity can control cancer initiation and powerfully influence cancer progression and metastasis. Just as the nervous system can regulate cancer progression, cancer also remodels and hijacks nervous system structure and function. Interactions between the nervous system and cancer occur both in the local tumour microenvironment and systemically. Neurons and glial cells communicate directly with malignant cells in the tumour microenvironment through paracrine factors and, in some cases, through neuron-to-cancer cell synapses. Additionally, indirect interactions occur at a distance through circulating signals and through influences on immune cell trafficking and function. Such cross-talk among the nervous system, immune system and cancer-both systemically and in the local tumour microenvironment-regulates pro-tumour inflammation and anti-cancer immunity. Elucidating the neuroscience of cancer, which calls for interdisciplinary collaboration among the fields of neuroscience, developmental biology, immunology and cancer biology, may advance effective therapies for many of the most difficult to treat malignancies.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-023-05968-y

    View details for PubMedID 37316719

    View details for PubMedCentralID 2278670

  • Radiotherapy in combination with CD47 blockade elicits a macrophage-mediated abscopal effect. Nature cancer Nishiga, Y., Drainas, A. P., Baron, M., Bhattacharya, D., Barkal, A. A., Ahrari, Y., Mancusi, R., Ross, J. B., Takahashi, N., Thomas, A., Diehn, M., Weissman, I. L., Graves, E. E., Sage, J. 2022


    Radiation therapy is a mainstay of cancer treatment but does not always lead to complete tumor regression. Here we combine radiotherapy with blockade of the 'don't-eat-me' cell-surface molecule CD47 in small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a highly metastatic form of lung cancer. CD47 blockade potently enhances the local antitumor effects of radiotherapy in preclinical models of SCLC. Notably, CD47 blockade also stimulates off-target 'abscopal' effects inhibiting non-irradiated SCLC tumors in mice receiving radiation. These abscopal effects are independent of T cells but require macrophages that migrate into non-irradiated tumor sites in response to inflammatory signals produced by radiation and are locally activated by CD47 blockade to phagocytose cancer cells. Similar abscopal antitumor effects were observed in other cancer models treated with radiation and CD47 blockade. The systemic activation of antitumor macrophages following radiotherapy and CD47 blockade may be particularly important in patients with cancer who suffer from metastatic disease.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s43018-022-00456-0

    View details for PubMedID 36411318

  • A cell-based bioluminescence reporter assay of human Sonic Hedgehog protein autoprocessing to identify inhibitors and activators. The Journal of biological chemistry Ciulla, D. A., Dranchak, P., Pezzullo, J. L., Mancusi, R. A., Psaras, A. M., Rai, G., Giner, J., Inglese, J., Callahan, B. P. 2022: 102705


    The Sonic hedgehog (SHh) precursor protein undergoes biosynthetic autoprocessing to cleave off and covalently attach cholesterol to the SHh signaling ligand, a vital morphogen and oncogenic effector protein. Autoprocessing is self-catalyzed by SHhC, the SHh precursor's C-terminal enzymatic domain. A method to screen for small molecule regulators of this process may be of therapeutic value. Here we describe the development and validation of the first cellular reporter to monitor human SHhC autoprocessing non-invasively in high-throughput compatible plates. The assay couples intracellular SHhC autoprocessing using endogenous cholesterol to the extracellular secretion of the bioluminescent nanoluciferase enzyme. We developed a wild-type (WT) SHhC reporter line for evaluating potential autoprocessing inhibitors by concentration response-dependent suppression of extracellular bioluminescence. Additionally, a conditional mutant SHhC (D46A) reporter line was developed for identifying potential autoprocessing activators by a concentration response-dependent gain of extracellular bioluminescence. The D46A mutation removes a conserved general base that is critical for the activation of the cholesterol substrate. Inducibility of the D46A reporter was established using a synthetic sterol, 2-alpha carboxy cholestanol, designed to bypass the defect through intra-molecular general base catalysis. To facilitate direct nanoluciferase detection in the cell culture media of 1536-well plates, we designed a novel anionic phosphonylated coelenterazine, CLZ-P, as the nanoluciferase substrate. This new reporter system offers a long-awaited resource for small molecule discovery for cancer and for developmental disorders where SHh ligand biosynthesis is dysregulated.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.102705

    View details for PubMedID 36400200

  • GLIOMA SYNAPSES RECRUIT MECHANISMS OF ADAPTIVE PLASTICITY Taylor, K., Barron, T., Zhang, H., Hui, A., Hartmann, G., Ni, L., Venkatesh, H., Du, P., Mancusi, R., Yalcin, B., Chau, I., Ponnuswami, A., Aziz-Bose, R., Monje, M. OXFORD UNIV PRESS INC. 2022: 25
  • Mild respiratory COVID can cause multi-lineage neural cell and myelin dysregulation. Cell Fernández-Castañeda, A., Lu, P., Geraghty, A. C., Song, E., Lee, M. H., Wood, J., O'Dea, M. R., Dutton, S., Shamardani, K., Nwangwu, K., Mancusi, R., Yalçın, B., Taylor, K. R., Acosta-Alvarez, L., Malacon, K., Keough, M. B., Ni, L., Woo, P. J., Contreras-Esquivel, D., Toland, A. M., Gehlhausen, J. R., Klein, J., Takahashi, T., Silva, J., Israelow, B., Lucas, C., Mao, T., Peña-Hernández, M. A., Tabachnikova, A., Homer, R. J., Tabacof, L., Tosto-Mancuso, J., Breyman, E., Kontorovich, A., McCarthy, D., Quezado, M., Vogel, H., Hefti, M. M., Perl, D. P., Liddelow, S., Folkerth, R., Putrino, D., Nath, A., Iwasaki, A., Monje, M. 2022


    COVID survivors frequently experience lingering neurological symptoms that resemble cancer-therapy-related cognitive impairment, a syndrome for which white matter microglial reactivity and consequent neural dysregulation is central. Here, we explored the neurobiological effects of respiratory SARS-CoV-2 infection and found white-matter-selective microglial reactivity in mice and humans. Following mild respiratory COVID in mice, persistently impaired hippocampal neurogenesis, decreased oligodendrocytes, and myelin loss were evident together with elevated CSF cytokines/chemokines including CCL11. Systemic CCL11 administration specifically caused hippocampal microglial reactivity and impaired neurogenesis. Concordantly, humans with lasting cognitive symptoms post-COVID exhibit elevated CCL11 levels. Compared with SARS-CoV-2, mild respiratory influenza in mice caused similar patterns of white-matter-selective microglial reactivity, oligodendrocyte loss, impaired neurogenesis, and elevated CCL11 at early time points, but after influenza, only elevated CCL11 and hippocampal pathology persisted. These findings illustrate similar neuropathophysiology after cancer therapy and respiratory SARS-CoV-2 infection which may contribute to cognitive impairment following even mild COVID.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2022.06.008

    View details for PubMedID 35768006

  • Programmable siRNA pro-drugs that activate RNAi activity in response to specific cellular RNA biomarkers. Molecular therapy. Nucleic acids Han, S. P., Scherer, L., Gethers, M., Salvador, A. M., Salah, M. B., Mancusi, R., Sagar, S., Hu, R., DeRogatis, J., Kuo, Y. H., Marcucci, G., Das, S., Rossi, J. J., Goddard, W. A. 2022; 27: 797-809


    Since Paul Ehrlich's introduction of the "magic bullet" concept in 1908, drug developers have been seeking new ways to target drug activity to diseased cells while limiting effects on normal tissues. In recent years, it has been proposed that coupling riboswitches capable of detecting RNA biomarkers to small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to create siRNA pro-drugs could selectively activate RNA interference (RNAi) activity in specific cells. However, this concept has not been achieved previously. We report here that we have accomplished this goal, validating a simple and programmable new design that functions reliably in mammalian cells. We show that these conditionally activated siRNAs (Cond-siRNAs) can switch RNAi activity against different targets between clearly distinguished OFF and ON states in response to different cellular RNA biomarkers. Notably, in a rat cardiomyocyte cell line (H9C2), one version of our construct demonstrated biologically meaningful inhibition of a heart-disease-related target gene protein phosphatase 3 catalytic subunit alpha (PPP3CA) in response to increased expression of the pathological marker atrial natriuretic peptide (NPPA) messenger RNA (mRNA). Our results demonstrate the ability of synthetic riboswitches to regulate gene expression in mammalian cells, opening a new path for development of programmable siRNA pro-drugs.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.omtn.2021.12.039

    View details for PubMedID 35116191

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8789579

  • GD2-CAR T cell therapy for H3K27M-mutated diffuse midline gliomas. Nature Majzner, R. G., Ramakrishna, S., Yeom, K. W., Patel, S., Chinnasamy, H., Schultz, L. M., Richards, R. M., Jiang, L., Barsan, V., Mancusi, R., Geraghty, A. C., Good, Z., Mochizuki, A. Y., Gillespie, S. M., Toland, A. M., Mahdi, J., Reschke, A., Nie, E., Chau, I. J., Rotiroti, M. C., Mount, C. W., Baggott, C., Mavroukakis, S., Egeler, E., Moon, J., Erickson, C., Green, S., Kunicki, M., Fujimoto, M., Ehlinger, Z., Reynolds, W., Kurra, S., Warren, K. E., Prabhu, S., Vogel, H., Rasmussen, L., Cornell, T. T., Partap, S., Fisher, P. G., Campen, C. J., Filbin, M. G., Grant, G., Sahaf, B., Davis, K. L., Feldman, S. A., Mackall, C. L., Monje, M. 2022


    Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) and other H3K27M-mutated diffuse midline gliomas (DMG) are universally lethal paediatric central nervous system tumours1. We previously discovered that the disialoganglioside GD2 is highly expressed on H3K27M-mutant glioma cells and demonstrated promising preclinical efficacy of GD2-directed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells2, providing the rationale for a first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trial (NCT04196413). Because CAR T-cell-induced brainstem inflammation can result in obstructive hydrocephalus, increased intracranial pressure, and dangerous tissue shifts, neurocritical care precautions were incorporated. Here we present the clinical experience from the first four patients with H3K27M-mutant DIPG/DMG treated with GD2-CAR T cells (GD2-CART) at dose level 1 (1e6 GD2-CAR T cells/kg administered intravenously). Patients who exhibited clinical benefit were eligible for subsequent GD2-CAR T infusions administered intracerebroventricularly3. Toxicity was largely related to tumor location and reversible with intensive supportive care. On-target, off-tumor toxicity was not observed. Three of four patients exhibited clinical and radiographic improvement. Proinflammatory cytokines were increased in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Transcriptomic analyses of 65,598 single cells from CAR T cell products and CSF elucidate heterogeneity in response between subjects and administration routes. These early results underscore the promise of this approach for H3K27M+ DIPG/DMG therapy.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41586-022-04489-4

    View details for PubMedID 35130560

  • BRAFV600E-induced senescence drives Langerhans cell histiocytosis pathophysiology. Nature medicine Bigenwald, C., Le Berichel, J., Wilk, C. M., Chakraborty, R., Chen, S. T., Tabachnikova, A., Mancusi, R., Abhyankar, H., Casanova-Acebes, M., Laface, I., Akturk, G., Jobson, J., Karoulia, Z., Martin, J. C., Grout, J., Rafiei, A., Lin, H., Manz, M. G., Baccarini, A., Poulikakos, P. I., Brown, B. D., Gnjatic, S., Lujambio, A., McClain, K. L., Picarsic, J., Allen, C. E., Merad, M. 2021; 27 (5): 851-861


    Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) is a potentially fatal condition characterized by granulomatous lesions with characteristic clonal mononuclear phagocytes (MNPs) harboring activating somatic mutations in mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway genes, most notably BRAFV600E. We recently discovered that the BRAFV600E mutation can also affect multipotent hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) in multisystem LCH disease. How the BRAFV600E mutation in HPCs leads to LCH is not known. Here we show that enforced expression of the BRAFV600E mutation in early mouse and human multipotent HPCs induced a senescence program that led to HPC growth arrest, apoptosis resistance and a senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). SASP, in turn, promoted HPC skewing toward the MNP lineage, leading to the accumulation of senescent MNPs in tissue and the formation of LCH lesions. Accordingly, elimination of senescent cells using INK-ATTAC transgenic mice, as well as pharmacologic blockade of SASP, improved LCH disease in mice. These results identify senescent cells as a new target for the treatment of LCH.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41591-021-01304-x

    View details for PubMedID 33958797

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9295868

  • Improved Sonic Hedgehog Protein Autoprocessing Assay in Cells Using Luciferase Reporter System Ciulla, D., Mancusi, R., Psaras, A., Ghotra, S., Callahan, B. WILEY. 2020
  • Protein-Nucleic Acid Conjugation with Sterol Linkers Using Hedgehog Autoprocessing. Bioconjugate chemistry Zhang, X., Xu, Z., Moumin, D. S., Ciulla, D. A., Owen, T. S., Mancusi, R. A., Giner, J. L., Wang, C., Callahan, B. P. 2019; 30 (11): 2799-2804


    Hedgehog (Hh) precursor proteins contain an autoprocessing domain called HhC whose native function is protein cleavage and C-terminal glycine sterylation. The transformation catalyzed by HhC occurs in cis from a precursor protein and exhibits wide tolerance toward both sterol and protein substrates. Here, we repurpose HhC as a 1:1 protein-nucleic acid ligase, with the sterol serving as a molecular linker. A procedure is described for preparing HhC-active sterylated DNA, called steramers, using aqueous compatible chemistry and commercial reagents. Steramers have KM values of 7-11 μM and reaction t1/2 values of ∼10 min. Modularity of the HhC/steramer method is demonstrated using four different proteins along with structured and unstructured sterylated nucleic acids. The resulting protein-DNA conjugates retain the native solution properties and biochemical function. Unlike self-tagging domains, HhC does not remain fused to the conjugate; rather, enzymatic activity is mechanistically coupled to conjugate release. That unique feature of HhC, coupled with efficient kinetics and substrate tolerance, may ease access and open new applications for these suprabiological chimeras.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.9b00550

    View details for PubMedID 31600061

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7045895