Glioblastoma (GBM), a uniformly lethal brain cancer, is characterized by diffuse invasion and abnormal activation of multiple receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signaling pathways (1). Despite current therapies, the prognosis for GBM is poor and mean survival remains less than 2 years. An improved understanding of the mechanisms driving abnormal cell signaling is essential for improving treatment outcomes. The long-term goal of this innovative proposal is to define tumor-microenvironment interactions critical in brain cancer and identify clinically relevant, druggable therapeutic targets. Specifically, we focus on the role of extracellular heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) as they regulate the activity of multiple ligand-mediated signaling pathways (2), are altered in malignant brain tumors (3, 4), and have the potential to influence both tumor cells and critical tumor-microenvironment interactions, including the tumor-associated microglia/macrophage response. HSPGs, present on the cell surface and in the extracellular matrix, regulate signaling via their ability to bind and alter the bioavailability of diverse ligands, including growth factors, morphogens, chemokines, and enzymes. SULF2, an extracellular heparan sulfate endosulfatase, actively regulates HSPG-dependent signaling by removing the sulfate from 6-O- of glucosamine (6OS) and liberating protein ligands from HSPG sequestration (5). Alterations in HSPG core protein expression and SULF2 expression are common in diverse cancers and the PI of this proposal has shown SULF2 can drive carcinogenesis in malignant astrocytoma through regulation of RTK signaling pathways. As extracellular enzymes that are both tethered to the cell membrane and secreted, the SULFs and their HSPG substrates are present in the extracellular environment and have great potential as novel therapeutic targets.
Our Aims are:
Aim 1 : In human infiltrating astrocytomas, identify the alterations in HSPG expression and sulfation associated with tumor malignancy.
Aim 2 : Determine HSPG changes driving tumor biologic behavior, including microglia/macrophage response to tumor.
Aim 3 : Identify how HSPG alterations activate signaling pathways to promote GBM malignant behaviors. The proposed research will determine the mechanisms by which alterations in HSPGs drive oncogenic cell signaling pathways in malignant brain cancer and validate HSPGs as clinically relevant, novel therapeutic targets. Successful completion of these studies provides a preclinical basis to study agents that target HSPGs as a novel therapeutic option in malignant brain cancer.

Public Health Relevance

The mortality rates for primary malignant brain cancer have remained stable despite substantial advances in our understanding of disease biology. In the present proposal we will use innovative approaches to define how alterations in the tumor microenvironment drive oncogenic signaling pathways critical in brain cancer and identify clinically relevant, druggable therapeutic targets.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Clinical Neuroimmunology and Brain Tumors Study Section (CNBT)
Program Officer
Fountain, Jane W
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California San Francisco
Schools of Medicine
San Francisco
United States
Zip Code
Swartling, Fredrik J; Bolin, Sara; Phillips, Joanna J et al. (2014) Signals that regulate the oncogenic fate of neural stem cells and progenitors. Exp Neurol 260:56-68
Davies, Jason M; Robinson, Aaron E; Cowdrey, Cynthia et al. (2014) Generation of a patient-derived chordoma xenograft and characterization of the phosphoproteome in a recurrent chordoma. J Neurosurg 120:331-6
Wade, Anna; McKinney, Andrew; Phillips, Joanna J (2014) Matrix regulators in neural stem cell functions. Biochim Biophys Acta 1840:2520-5
Wade, Anna; Robinson, Aaron E; Engler, Jane R et al. (2013) Proteoglycans and their roles in brain cancer. FEBS J 280:2399-417
Abedalthagafi, Malak; Phillips, Joanna J; Kim, Grace E et al. (2013) The alternative lengthening of telomere phenotype is significantly associated with loss of ATRX expression in high-grade pediatric and adult astrocytomas: a multi-institutional study of 214 astrocytomas. Mod Pathol 26:1425-32