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Molecular Oncology Research Institute (MORI)

Tsichlis Laboratory

Dr. Philip Tsichlis, Director, Molecular Oncology Research InstituteThe Tsichlis Laboratory uses insertional mutagenesis and other genetic strategies to identify genes that are involved in oncogenesis, or regulate phenotypic changes in tumor cells. Genes identified via these strategies are used as probes to explore function from the molecular to the animal level. Some of the genes we have identified and exploited to date include Akt1, Tpl2, Gfi-1 and Gfi-1B. Our work highlights the value of genetic studies in animal models for understanding the molecular basis of cancer and other diseases in humans.

Today, we use genome-wide insertional mutagenesis screens, in genetically modified animals to identify genes whose oncogenic potential is realized in the context of defined genetic settings. In addition, we use molecular strategies and animal models based on genes identified via our earlier genetic screens, to explore the role of signaling networks in the biology of cancer and in the biology of the immune system.

Cancer Genetics and Dissection of Signaling Networks in Normal and Malignant Cells

We are using insertional mutagenesis and other genetic strategies to identify genes that are involved in oncogenesis or regulate phenotypic changes in tumor cells. Genes identified via these strategies are used as probes to explore function from the molecular to the animal level. Some of the genes we have identified and exploited to date include Akt1, Tpl2, Gfi-1 and Gfi-1B. Our work highlights the value of genetic studies in animal models for understanding the molecular basis of cancer and other diseases in humans.

Akt Signaling

Akt1 is the founding member of a protein kinase family composed of three members, Akt1, Akt2 and Akt3. The Akt kinases are activated by phosphorylation via a P1-3 kinase-dependent process, and they regulate a diverse array of cellular functions including apoptosis, cellular proliferation, differentiation and intermediary metabolism. Akt activation depends on PtdIns-3,4,5-P3, and to a lesser extent on PtdIns-3,4-P2, both of which are products of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI-3K). The interaction of PtdIns-3,4,5-P3 with the PH domain of Akt, promotes the translocation of Akt to the plasma membrane where it undergoes phosphorylation at two sites: Thr308 in the activation loop and Ser473 in the carboxy-terminal tail. The kinase that phosphorylates Akt at Thr308 is PI-3K-dependent kinase-1 (PDK-1). The identity of the kinase that phosphorylates Akt at Ser473 (PDK-2) remain elusive, although it appears to be membrane-associated. Several kinases, including ILK-1, PDK1, Akt itself and perhaps other AGC kinases, have the potential to phosphorylate Akt at this site. Phosphorylated Akt translocates from the plasma membrane to the cytosol or the nucleus. Activated Akt ultimately undergoes dephosphorylation by phosphatases and returns to the inactive state (Figure 1). Other regulatory molecules include proteins that interact with the kinase. Such Akt interactors may regulate Akt phosphorylation, subcellular localization or stability.

Figure 1. The figure illustrates the mechanisms by which Akt family members are activated.

Akt plays a critical role in the induction and/or progression of a variety of human neoplasms. Its role may be direct, as in the case of Akt2 amplification in epithelial neoplasms, or indirect, consisting in the transduction of oncogenic signals initiated by mutations in other oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes. Because of its role in human cancer and other diseases, Akt has been recognized as an important target for the development of antineoplastic drugs.

Our current studies on Akt focus on the function of the three Akt isoforms. Researchers are working on the identification of isoform-specific Akt targets and the role of the three isoforms in the development of the immune system and in the regulation of the immune response. Finally, Daniel Tiber focuses on the role of the three Akt isoforms in the transduction of oncogenic signals initiated by mutated oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes involved in Akt regulation.


Tpl2 is also a serine-threonine protein kinase that is activated by provirus insertion in retrovirus-induced T cell lymphomas and mammary adenocarcinomas in rodents. Overexpression of Tpl-2 in a variety of cell types, activates ERK, JNK, p38 MAPK, and the transcription factors NF-AT and NF-kB. Moreover, transgenic mice expressing a constitutively-active form of Tpl-2 under the control of a T cell specific promoter develop thymic lymphomas. Finally, Tpl2 contributes to the transduction of oncogenic signals induced by LMP1. Our studies using Tpl-2 knockout mice, revealed that Tpl-2 plays an obligatory role in the transduction of Toll-like receptor and death receptor signals that activate ERK and regulate the expression of cytokines, chemokines and other molecules involved in the regulation of innate and adaptive immunity, inflammation and oncogenesis. Interestingly, the mechanism by which the Tpl2/ERK pathway regulates the expression of different genes is variable. Thus, Tpl2 regulates the induction of TNF-α by LPS, by transducing ERK activation signals that target the 3’ARE of the TNF-α mRNA and regulate its transport from the nucleus to the cytoplasm.

Figure 2. The model depicts the pathway by which LPS activates Tpl2.

Tpl2 is also required for the induction of COX-2 by LPS. COX-2 induction however, depends on Tpl2-transduced signals that control COX-2 mRNA levels by regulating COX-2 transcription and mRNA stability. Because of its role in oncogenesis and inflammation, Tpl2 has been recognized as an important target for the development of antineoplastic and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Figure 3. Model of Tpl2-mediated COX-2 transactivation and PGE2 production in response to LPS.

Our current studies on Tpl2 focus on the regulation of the Tpl2 kinase activity by Toll-like receptor and Death receptor signals. Along these lines, lab members are addressing the role of posttranslational modifications in Tpl2 regulation. In addition, we are interested on the role of Tpl2 in the transduction of signals that regulate innate and adaptive immunity, inflammation and oncogenesis. Along these lines, we are focusing on the role of Tpl2 in tumor induction by a variety of oncogenic signals and on the role of Tpl2 in immune regulation and its role in the regulation of gene expression.


Gfi-1 was identified as a gene that is involved in the transition of IL-2-dependent T cell lymphoma lines to IL-2 independence. Gfi-1, and its homolog Gfi-1B, are nuclear proteins that function as transcriptional repressors. Both proteins contain a DNA binding zinc finger domain and an N terminal repressor domain SNAG that is shared by the Gfi-1 and the Snail and Slug families of transcription factors (Snail-Gfi1). Our earlier studies had shown that Gfi-1 promotes cell cycle progression and inhibits apoptosis of T cells deprived of IL-2 and that Gfi-1B controls the differentiation of hematopoietic cell lines in culture. More recent studies revealed that the anti apoptotic and proliferative properties of Gfi-1 are required for the survival and proliferation of Th2 T cells. In addition both Gfi-1 and Gfi-1B are required for hematopoietic and neuronal cell differentiation in animals.

Our current studies focus on the regulation of Gfi-1 by upstream signals and on the identification of genes that co-operate with Gfi-1 in oncogenesis.

More recent studies, using genome wide screens for loci of common integration in retrovirus induced lymphomas in rodents, revealed that more than 50% of provirus integrations target genes that may be involved in tumor induction and progression. Such screens led to the identification of several novel oncogenes, which we are presently characterizing.

Philip N. Tsichlis, MD
Elia Aguado Fraile, Postdoctoral Scholar  
Jatin Roper, Assistant Professor of Medicine
Oksana Serebrennikova, PhD

View all publications via PubMed

Ezell SA, Polytarchou C, Hatziapostolou M, Guo A, Sanidas I, Bihani T, Comb MJ, Sourvinos G, Tsichlis PN. 2012. The protein kinase Akt1 regulates the interferon response through phosphorylation of the transcriptional repressor EMSY. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Epub ahead of print. Abstract

Gugasyan R, Horat E, Kinkel SA, Ross F, Grigoriadis G, Gray D, O'Keeffe M, Berzins SP, Belz GT, Grumont RJ, Banerjee A, Strasser A, Godfrey DI, Tsichlis PN, Gerondakis S. 2011. The NF-κB1 transcription factor prevents the intrathymic development of CD8 T cells with memory properties. EMBO J. 31(3): 692-706. Abstract

Hatziapostolou M, Koukos G, Polytarchou C, Kottakis F, Serebrennikova O, Kuliopulos A, Tsichlis PN. 2011. Tumor progression locus 2 mediates signal-induced increases in cytoplasmic calcium and cell migration. Sci Signal. 4(187): ra55. Abstract

Kottakis F, Polytarchou C, Foltopoulou P, Sanidas I, Kampranis SC, Tsichlis PN. 2011. FGF-2 regulates cell proliferation, migration, and angiogenesis through an NDY1/KDM2B-miR-101-EZH2 pathway. Mol Cell. 43(2): 285-98. Abstract

Polytarchou C, Iliopoulos D, Hatziapostolou M, Kottakis F, Maroulakou I, Struhl K, Tsichlis PN. 2011. Akt2 regulates all Akt isoforms and promotes resistance to hypoxia through induction of miR-21 upon oxygen deprivation. Cancer Res. 71(13): 4720-31. Abstract

Perfield JW 2nd, Lee Y, Shulman GI, Samuel VT, Jurczak MJ, Chang E, Xie C, Tsichlis PN, Obin MS, Greenberg AS. 2011. Tumor progression locus 2 (TPL2) regulates obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Diabetes 60:1168-1176. Abstract

Stankovic S, Gugasyan R, Kyparissoudis K, Grumont R, Banerjee A, Tsichlis P, Gerondakis S, Godfrey DI. 2011. Distinct roles in NKT cell maturation and function for the different transcription factors in the classical NF-κB pathway. Immunnol Cell Biol. 89: 294-303. Abstract

Iliopoulos D, Lindahl-Allen M, Polytarchou C, Hirsch HA, Tsichlis PN, Struhl K. 2010. Loss of miR-200 inhibition of Suz12 leads to polycomb-mediated repression required for the formation and maintenance of cancer stem cells. Mol Cell 39: 761-772. Abstract

Hirsch HA, Iliopoulos D, Joshi A, Zhang Y, Jaeger SA, Bulyk M, Tsichlis PN, Shirley Liu X, Struhl K. 2010. A transcriptional signature and common gene networks link cancer with lipid metabolism and diverse human diseases. Cancer Cell 17: 348-361. Abstract

Watford WT, Wang CC, Tsatsanis C, Mielke LA, Eliopoulos AG, Daskalakis C, Charles N, Odom S, Rivera J, O'Shea J, Tsichlis PN. 2010. Ablation of tumor progression locus 2 promotes a type 2 Th cell response in ovalbumin-immunized mice. J. Immunol. 184: 105-113. Abstract

Mielke LA, Elkins KL, Wei L, Starr R, Tsichlis PN, O'Shea JJ, Watford WT. 2009. Tumor progression locus 2 (Map3k8) is critical for host defense against Listeria monocytogenes and IL-1β production. J Immunol. 183: 7984-7993. Abstract

Iliopoulos D, Polytarchou C, Hatziapostolou M, Kottakis F, Maroulakou IG, Struhl K, Tsichlis PN. 2009. MicroRNAs differentially regulated by Akt isoforms control EMT and stem cell renewal in cancer cells. Sci Signal 2: ra62. Abstract

Hirsch HA, Iliopoulos D, Tsichlis PN, Struhl K. 2009. Metformin selectively targets cancer stem cells, and acts together with chemotherapy to block tumor growth and prolong remission. Cancer Res 69: 7507-7511. Abstract

Androulidaki A, Iliopoulos D, Arranz A, Doxaki C, Schworer S, Zacharioudaki V, Margioris AN, Tsichlis PN, Tsatsanis C. 2009. The kinase Akt1 controls macrophage response to lipopolysaccharide by regulating microRNAs. immunity 31: 220-231. Abstract

Kaiser F, Cook D, Papoutsopoulou S, Rajsbaum R, Wu X, Yang HT, Grant S, Ricciardi-Castagnoli P, Tsichlis PN, Ley SC, O'Garra A. 2009. TPL-2 negatively regulates interferon-β production in macrophages and myeloid dendritic cells. J Exp Med 206: 1863-1871. Abstract

Kampranis SC, Tsichlis PN. 2009. Histone demethylases and cancer. Adv Cancer Res 102: 103-169. Abstract

Tzatsos A, Pfau R, Kampranis SC, Tsichlis PN. 2009. Ndy1/KDM2B immortalizes mouse embryonic fibroblasts by repressing the Ink4a/Arf locus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106: 2641-2646. Abstract

Hu MG, Deshpande A, Enos M, Mao D, Hinds EA, Hu GF, Chang R, Guo Z, Dose M, Mao C, Tsichlis PN, Gounari F, Hinds PW. 2009. A requirement for cyclin-dependent kinase 6 in thymocyte development and tumorigenesis. Cancer Res 69: 810-818. Abstract

Watford WT, Hissong BD, Durant LR, Yamane H, Muul LM, Kanno Y, Tato CM, Ramos HL, Berger AE, Mielke L, Pesu M, Solomon B, Frucht DM, Paul WE, Sher A, Jankovic D, Tsichlis PN, O'Shea JJ. 2008. Tpl2 kinase regulates T cell interferon-gamma production and host resistance to Toxoplasma gondii. J Exp Med 205: 2803-2812. Abstract

Polytarchou C, Pfau, R, Hatziapostolou M, Tsichlis PN. 2008. The JmjC domain histone demethylase Ndy1 regulates redox homeostasis and protects cells from oxidative stress. Mol Cell Biol 28: 7451-7464. Abstract

Maroulakou IG, Oemler W, Naber SP, Klebba I, Kuperwasser C, Tsichlis PN. 2008. Distinct roles of the three Akt isoforms in lactogenic differentiation and involution. J Cell Physiol 217: 468-477. Abstract

Wright GL, Maroulakou IG, Eldridge J, Liby TL, Sridharan V, Tsichlis PN, Muise-Helmericks RC. 2008. VEGF stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis: requirement of AKT3 kinase. FASEB J 22: 3264-3275. Abstract

Hatziapostolou M, Polytarchou C, Panutsopulos D, Covic L, Tsichlis PN. 2008. Proteinase-activated receptor-1-triggered activation of tumor progression locus-2 promotes actin cytoskeleton reorganization and cell migration. Cancer Res. 68: 1851-1861. Abstract

Tsatsanis C, Vaporidi K, Zacharioudaki V, Androulidaki A, Sykulev Y, Margioris AN,Tsichlis PN. 2008. Tpl2 and ERK transduce antiproliferative T cell receptor signals and inhibit transformation of chronically stimulated T cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105, 2987-2992. Abstract

Pfau R, Tzatsos A, Kampranis SC, Serebrennikova OB, Bear SE, Tsichlis PN. 2008. Members of a family of JmjC domain-containing oncoproteins immortalize embryonic fibroblasts via a JmjC domain-dependent process. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105, 1907-1912. Abstract