Pediatric cancers can be considered developmental disorders in which oncogenic drivers hijack normal developmental programs to promote tumorigenesis. The scaffolding protein menin is essential for normal development and, in human cancer, can function as a tumor suppressor or an oncogene, depending on context. The diverse functions of menin are linked to its role in regulation of gene transcription via its interaction with MLL histone methyltransferases, as well as with other context-dependent binding partners. In MLL-rearranged leukemia (MLLr), protein:protein interactions between menin and MLL-fusion proteins drive epigenetic activation of oncogenic transcription programs. A critical dependence of MLLr leukemia on these interactions represents a unique therapeutic vulnerability and small molecule inhibitors of the menin:MLL interaction are being developed for leukemia-directed therapy. Ewing sarcomas are mesenchymal tumors of presumed stem cell (MSC) origin that are driven by EWS/ETS fusions, most commonly EWS/FLI1. EWS/FLI1 initiates sarcomagenesis by hijacking normal MSC differentiation. Importantly, menin plays an essential role in early mesenchymal development, where it contributes to both lineage commitment and osteoblastic differentiation. We have shown that menin is over-expressed by Ewing sarcoma relative to MSC and that loss of menin results in loss of tumorigenicity. However, the mechanisms by which menin exerts its oncogenic effects in these tumor cells remain unknown. Our preliminary data identified the serine synthesis pathway (SSP) and other metabolic pathways as downstream targets of menin in Ewing sarcoma. Our data also suggest that EWS/FLI1 itself contributes to regulation of menin and its control of cell metabolism. These data collectively support the hypothesis that menin functions as an oncogenic hub in Ewing sarcoma. In this proposal, we will investigate the mechanisms of menin function and test the innovative hypothesis that EWS/FLI1 promotes tumorigenesis by hijacking menin-dependent transcriptional regulation.
In Aim 1 we will determine the mechanism by which menin regulates cell metabolism and will elucidate the role of EWS/FLI1 in this process.
In Aim 2 we will define the key metabolites of the SSP that contribute to tumor maintenance in order to determine why Ewing sarcoma cells are so dependent on this pathway.
In Aim 3 will define genome- wide transcriptional targets of menin in MSC and Ewing sarcoma and how they are impacted by EWS/FLI1. The proposed studies will advance fundamental knowledge of the biologic underpinnings of Ewing sarcoma and discover how EWS/FLI1 hijacks normal menin physiology to promote oncogenesis. It is goal that these insights will provide opportunities to develop novel, and less toxic, menin-directed therapies for Ewing sarcoma.

Public Health Relevance

(Unchanged from parent grant) We have discovered that menin, a scaffolding protein that plays an essential role in early bone development, contributes to the pathogenesis of Ewing sarcoma, a bone and soft tissue tumor that peaks in adolescence. In this proposal we investigate the mechanistic basis by which menin promotes Ewing sarcoma tumorigenicity and define differences between menin function in normal and malignant development. The goal of these studies is to identify novel targets for Ewing sarcoma-directed therapies that will spare normal developing tissues.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Witkin, Keren L
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Schools of Medicine
Ann Arbor
United States
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Svoboda, Laurie K; Teh, Selina Shiqing K; Sud, Sudha et al. (2018) Menin regulates the serine biosynthetic pathway in Ewing sarcoma. J Pathol 245:324-336