We have recently developed a novel method to control the production of the transcription factor Brachyury/T in cells by using a lentivirus that produces an shRNA directed against Brachyury and, when introduced into cells (or animals), causes the loss of Brachyury/T. This novel tool will enable us to alter Brachyury function during mouse development to understand how it regulates cell fate and behavior, and then to determine whether its function is necessary for notochord cell survival. It has been hypothesized that Brachyury plays a central role in the formation of cancers that arise from notochord (chordomas), and this tool may also provide the impetus for devising new therapies for these very difficult to treat cancers. We have introduced this shRNA construct into transgenic mice and employed Cre-lox technology to enable us to selectively activate its expression in different embryonic tissues at specific times. We have shown that early activation of this knock-down construct in mouse embryos that are heterozygous for the Brachyury null mutation (T+/-) reproduces the null embryonic lethal phenotype with loss of the body axis caudal to the forelimb level. The knock-down on a T wild-type background produces a weaker phenotype with loss of the body axis at the hindlimb bud level. Now that we have shown that Brachyury can be effectively removed from cells and animals using this approach, we are using it to study the normal function of Brachyury in regulating growth and cell fate during notochord formation, primitive streak migration to produce the main body mesoderm, and in limb development. The activation of Brachyury expression has been proposed to be essential for the genesis of chordomas, cancers that arise in notochord remnants. The gene knock-down tools we have developed to study Brachyury function will help to test this hypothesis and unravel the possible mechanisms by which this gene may promote tumor formation, and may also give new insights on developing potential therapeutic interventions for chordoma. Finally, we are developing a genetic mouse model for chordoma based on activated canonical Wnt pathway in the notochord lineage. The genetic model will allow us to introduce and evaluate the effects of mutant alleles for tuberous sclerosis complex genes (TSC1,2) which are know to predsipose to chordoma in humans, but not in mice, suggesting other factors are also necessary in the pathogenesis of TSC-related chordoma. If successful, we also plan to use the shRNA transgene approach to knock-down brachyury expression in this mouse model, to assess the potential of such an approach in treating this tumor.
|Zhu, Jianjian; Kwan, Kin Ming; Mackem, Susan (2016) Putative oncogene Brachyury (T) is essential to specify cell fate but dispensable for notochord progenitor proliferation and EMT. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:3820-5|