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Lineage reversion drives WNT independence in intestinal cancer

By Teng Han, Sukanya Goswami, Yang Hu, Fanying Tang, Maria Paz Zafra, Charles Murphy, Zhen Cao, John T Poirier, Ekta Khurana, Olivier Elemento, Jaclyn F Hechtman, Rona Yaeger, Lukas E Dow

Posted 23 Jan 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.01.22.914689 (published DOI: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-19-1536)

The WNT pathway is a fundamental regulator of intestinal homeostasis and hyperactivation of WNT signaling is the major oncogenic driver in colorectal cancer (CRC). To date, there are no described mechanisms that bypass WNT dependence in intestinal tumors. Here, we show that while WNT suppression blocks tumor growth in most organoid and in vivo CRC models, the accumulation of CRC-associated genetic alterations enables drug resistance and WNT-independent growth. In intestinal epithelial cells harboring mutations in KRAS or BRAF, together with disruption of p53 and SMAD4, transient TGFβ exposure drives YAP/TAZ-dependent transcriptional reprogramming and lineage reversion. Acquisition of embryonic intestinal identity is accompanied by a permanent loss of adult intestinal lineages, and long-term WNT-independent growth. This work delineates genetic and microenvironmental factors that drive WNT inhibitor resistance, identifies a new mechanism for WNT-independent CRC growth and reveals how integration of associated genetic alterations and extracellular signals can overcome lineage-dependent oncogenic programs.

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