LABORATORY OF ANGIOGENESIS AND CANCER METABOLISM
EXPLORING THE WONDERS OF BLOOD VESSELS AND CANCER METABOLISM
The laboratory, located in the Department of Biology at the University of Padua, strives to understand blood vessels biology and cancer progression. We combine genetic and metabolic approaches coupled to advance imaging techniques to address specific biological questions and develop new therapeutic approaches. Learn more about our team and areas of study below.
Redox regulation is an important modulator of cellular physiology, integrating signals from metabolic status and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Our lab is investigating how cellular metabolism modulate ROS in normal and pathological tumorigenic conditions.
The laboratory of Prof. Massimo Santoro offers several dynamic positions to study redox homeostasis and metabolism in cancer. Our team has recently identified novel metabolic pathways that are crucial for tumor survival and cancer progression (more information available upon request). Such studies offer unique opportunities for designing new therapeutic strategies against metastasis and cancer spreading.
The candidate must be a highly motivated researcher in a relevant discipline as well as having some experience in genetic, molecular, and/or cellular biology methods. Excellent communication skills in spoken and written English are required.
We offer a dynamic work environment in a stimulating scientific surrounding with a young,enthusiastic, motivated team along the opportunity to contribute to high-impact projects.
NEWS & RESOURCES
SELECTED PUBLISHED WORK
....work in progress
December 25, 2018
Primary cilia are microtubule-based organelles that protrude from the membrane of many cells, including neurons, osteoblasts, epithelial, and endothelial cells (ECs).1 In vertebrates, primary cilia function as a signaling platform by detecting extracellular stimuli and initiating intracellular signaling response.2 Besides having chemosensory function, primary cilia are best known as mechanosensors in some cells. Indeed, recent studies indicate that endothelial primary cilia within blood vessels function as blood flow mechanosensors.3 In ECs, cilia use flow information to regulate their presence with more and longer cilia present in vascular areas with low shear stress and at vascular branch points or areas of high curvature.4 Clinical research studies have shown an augmented risk of intracranial aneurysm, as well as an increased risk of hemorrhage in patients with cilia deficiency.5 In agreement, recent work on both mouse and zebrafish models suggest a specific role for cilia in intracranial aneurysm and cerebral-vascular integrity.6,7 Overall, several indications support a role for cilia in cranial vessel stability.
November 10th, 2018
The role of endothelial metabolism represents a crucial element governing the formation and the differentiation of blood vessels, termed angiogenesis. Besides glycolysis and fatty acid oxidation, endothelial cells rely on specific amino acids to proliferate, migrate, and survive. In this review we focus on the metabolism of those amino acids and the intermediates that hold an established function within angiogenesis and endothelial pathophysiology. We also discuss recent work which provides a rationale for specific amino acid-restricted diets and its beneficial effects on vascular tissues, including extending the life span and preventing the development of a variety of diseases.
LOSS OF PYRUVATE KINASE M2 LIMITS GROWTH AND TRIGGERS INNATE IMMUNE SIGNALING IN ENDOTHELIAL CELLS
October 9th, 2018
Despite their inherent proximity to circulating oxygen and nutrients, endothelial cells (ECs) oxidize only a minor fraction of glucose in mitochondria, a metabolic specialization that is poorly understood. Here we show that the glycolytic enzyme pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) limits glucose oxidation, and maintains the growth and epigenetic state of ECs. We find that loss of PKM2 alters mitochondrial substrate utilization and impairs EC proliferation and migration in vivo. Mechanistically, we show that the NF-κB transcription factor RELB is responsive to PKM2 loss, limiting EC growth through the regulation of P53. Furthermore, S-adenosylmethionine synthesis is impaired in the absence of PKM2, resulting in DNA hypomethylation, de-repression of endogenous retroviral elements (ERVs) and activation of antiviral innate immune signalling. This work reveals the metabolic and functional consequences of glucose oxidation in the endothelium, highlights the importance of PKM2 for endothelial growth and links metabolic dysfunction with autoimmune activation in ECs.
NEW MODELS TO STUDY VASCULAR MURAL CELL EMBRYONIC ORIGIN: IMPLICATIONS IN VASCULAR DISEASES
March 15th 2018
A key question in vascular biology is how the diversity of origin of vascular mural cells, namely smooth muscle cells and pericytes influences vessel properties, in particular the regional propensity to vascular diseases. This review therefore first describes the role and regulation of mural cells during vascular formation, with a focus on embryonic origin. We then consider the evidence that connects heterogeneities in smooth muscle cell and pericyte origins with disease. Since this idea has major implications for understanding and modelling human disease, then there is a pressing need for new model systems to investigate mural cell development and the consequences of heterogeneity. Recent advances arising from in vitro strategies for deriving mural cells from human pluripotent stem cells as well as from the zebrafish model will be discussed and the medical relevance of these discoveries will be highlighted.
COMPOUND HETEROZYGOUS LOSS-OF-FUNCTION MUTATIONS IN KIF20A ARE ASSOCIATED WITH A NOVEL LETHAL CONGENITAL CARDIOMYOPATHY IN TWO SIBLINGS.
January 22, 2018
Congenital or neonatal cardiomyopathies are commonly associated with a poor prognosis and have multiple etiologies. In two siblings, a male and female, we identified an undescribed type of lethal congenital restrictive cardiomyopathy affecting the right ventricle. We hypothesized a novel autosomal recessive condition. To identify the cause, we performed genetic, in vitro and in vivo studies. Genome-wide SNP typing and parametric linkage analysis was done in a recessive model to identify candidate regions. Exome sequencing analysis was done in unaffected and affected siblings. In the linkage regions, we selected candidate genes that harbor two rare variants with predicted functional effects in the patients and for which the unaffected sibling is either heterozygous or homozygous reference. We identified two compound heterozygous variants in KIF20A; a maternal missense variant (c.544C>T: p.R182W) and a paternal frameshift mutation (c.1905delT: p.S635Tfs*15). Functional studies confirmed that the R182W mutation creates an ATPase defective form of KIF20A which is not able to support efficient transport of Aurora B as part of the chromosomal passenger complex. Due to this, Aurora B remains trapped on chromatin in dividing cells and fails to translocate to the spindle midzone during cytokinesis. Translational blocking of KIF20A in a zebrafish model resulted in a cardiomyopathy phenotype. We identified a novel autosomal recessive congenital restrictive cardiomyopathy, caused by a near complete loss-of-function of KIF20A. This finding further illustrates the relationship of cytokinesis and congenital cardiomyopathy.
DATA ON METABOLIC-DEPENDENT ANTIOXIDANT RESPONSE IN THE CARDIOVASCULAR TISSUES OF LIVING ZEBRAFISH UNDER STRESS CONDITIONS.
April 27, 2017
In this article we used transgenic zebrafish lines that express compartment-specific isoforms of the roGFP2-Orp1 and Grx1-roGFP2 biosensors, described in Panieri et al (2017) , to test the contribute of the pentose phosphate pathway and of the glutathione biosynthesis in the antioxidant capacity of myocardial and endothelial cells in vivo. The transgenic zebrafish embryos were subdued to metabolic inhibition and subsequently challenged with H2O2 or the redox-cycling agent menadione to respectively mimic acute or chronic oxidative stress. Confocal time-lapse recordings were performed to follow the compartmentalized H2O2 and EGSH changes in the cardiovascular tissues of zebrafish embryos at 48 h post fertilization. After sequential excitation at 405 nm and 488 nm the emission was collected between 500-520 nm every 2 min for an overall duration of 60 min. The 405/488 nm ratio was normalized to the initial value obtained before oxidants addition and plotted over time. The analysis and the interpretation of the data can be found in the associated article .
REAL-TIME QUANTIFICATION OF SUBCELLULAR H2O2 AND GLUTATHIONE REDOX POTENTIAL IN LIVING CARDIOVASCULAR TISSUES.
August 17, 2017
Detecting and measuring the dynamic redox events that occur in vivo is a prerequisite for understanding the impact of oxidants and redox events in normal and pathological conditions. These aspects are particularly relevant in cardiovascular tissues wherein alterations of the redox balance are associated with stroke, aging, and pharmacological intervention. An ambiguous aspect of redox biology is how redox events occur in subcellular organelles including mitochondria, and nuclei. Genetically-encoded Rogfp2 fluorescent probes have become powerful tools for real-time detection of redox events. These probes detect hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) levels and glutathione redox potential (EGSH), both with high spatiotemporal resolution. By generating novel transgenic (Tg) zebrafish lines that express compartment-specific Rogfp2-Orp1 and Grx1-Rogfp2 sensors we analyzed cytosolic, mitochondrial, and the nuclear redox state of endothelial cells and cardiomyocytes of living zebrafish embryos. We provide evidence for the usefulness of these Tg lines for pharmacological compounds screening by addressing the blocking of pentose phosphate pathways (PPP) and glutathione synthesis, thus altering subcellular redox state in vivo. Rogfp2-based transgenic zebrafish lines represent valuable tools to characterize the impact of redox changes in living tissues and offer new opportunities for studying metabolic driven antioxidant response in biomedical research.
CILIA CONTROL VASCULAR MURAL CELL RECRUITMENT IN VERTEBRATES.
January 25, 2017
Vascular mural cells (vMCs) are essential components of the vertebrate vascular system, controlling blood vessel maturation and homeostasis. Discrete molecular mechanisms have been associated with vMC development and differentiation. The function of hemodynamic forces in controlling vMC recruitment is unclear. Using transgenic lines marking developing vMCs in zebrafish embryos, we find that vMCs are recruited by arterial-fated vessels and that the process is flow dependent. We take advantage of tissue-specific CRISPR gene targeting to demonstrate that hemodynamic-dependent Notch activation and the ensuing arterial genetic program is driven by endothelial primary cilia. We also identify zebrafish foxc1b as a cilia-dependent Notch-specific target that is required within endothelial cells to drive vMC recruitment. In summary, we have identified a hemodynamic-dependent mechanism in the developing vasculature that controls vMC recruitment.
AN EXCLUSIVE CELLULAR AND MOLECULAR NETWORK GOVERNS INTESTINAL SMOOTH MUSCLE CELL DIFFERENTIATION IN VERTEBRATES.
February 1st, 2017
Intestinal smooth muscle cells (iSMCs) are a crucial component of the adult gastrointestinal tract and support intestinal differentiation, peristalsis and epithelial homeostasis during development. Despite these crucial roles, the origin of iSMCs and the mechanisms responsible for their differentiation and function remain largely unknown in vertebrates. Here, we demonstrate that iSMCs arise from the lateral plate mesoderm (LPM) in a stepwise process. Combining pharmacological and genetic approaches, we show that TGFβ/Alk5 signaling drives the LPM ventral migration and commitment to an iSMC fate. The Alk5-dependent induction of zeb1a and foxo1a is required for this morphogenetic process: zeb1a is responsible for driving LPM migration around the gut, whereas foxo1a regulates LPM predisposition to iSMC differentiation. We further show that TGFβ, zeb1a and foxo1a are tightly linked together by miR-145 In iSMC-committed cells, TGFβ induces the expression of miR-145, which in turn is able to downregulate zeb1a and foxo1a The absence of miR-145 results in only a slight reduction in the number of iSMCs, which still express mesenchymal genes but fail to contract. Together, our data uncover a cascade of molecular events that govern distinct morphogenetic steps during the emergence and differentiation of vertebrate iSMCs
BLOOD FLOW CONTROLS BONE VASCULAR FUNCTION AND OSTEOGENESIS.
December 6th, 2016
While blood vessels play important roles in bone homeostasis and repair, fundamental aspects of vascular function in the skeletal system remain poorly understood. Here we show that the long bone vasculature generates a peculiar flow pattern, which is important for proper angiogenesis. Intravital imaging reveals that vessel growth in murine long bone involves the extension and anastomotic fusion of endothelial buds. Impaired blood flow leads to defective angiogenesis and osteogenesis, and downregulation of Notch signalling in endothelial cells. In aged mice, skeletal blood flow and endothelial Notch activity are also reduced leading to decreased angiogenesis and osteogenesis, which is reverted by genetic reactivation of Notch. Blood flow and angiogenesis in aged mice are also enhanced on administration of bisphosphonate, a class of drugs frequently used for the treatment of osteoporosis. We propose that blood flow and endothelial Notch signalling are key factors controlling ageing processes in the skeletal system.
PPFIA1 DRIVES ACTIVE Α5Β1 INTEGRIN RECYCLING AND CONTROLS FIBRONECTIN FIBRILLOGENESIS AND VASCULAR MORPHOGENESIS.
November 23, 2025
Basolateral polymerization of cellular fibronectin (FN) into a meshwork drives endothelial cell (EC) polarity and vascular remodelling. However, mechanisms coordinating α5β1 integrin-mediated extracellular FN endocytosis and exocytosis of newly synthesized FN remain elusive. Here we show that, on Rab21-elicited internalization, FN-bound/active α5β1 is recycled to the EC surface. We identify a pathway, comprising the regulators of post-Golgi carrier formation PI4KB and AP-1A, the small GTPase Rab11B, the surface tyrosine phosphatase receptor PTPRF and its adaptor PPFIA1, which we propose acts as a funnel combining FN secretion and recycling of active α5β1 integrin from the trans-Golgi network (TGN) to the EC surface, thus allowing FN fibrillogenesis. In this framework, PPFIA1 interacts with active α5β1 integrin and localizes close to EC adhesions where post-Golgi carriers are targeted. We show that PPFIA1 is required for FN polymerization-dependent vascular morphogenesis, both in vitro and in the developing zebrafish embryo.
ROS HOMEOSTASIS AND METABOLISM: A DANGEROUS LIASON IN CANCER CELLS.
June 9, 2016
Tumor cells harbor genetic alterations that promote a continuous and elevated production of reactive oxygen species. Whereas such oxidative stress conditions would be harmful to normal cells, they facilitate tumor growth in multiple ways by causing DNA damage and genomic instability, and ultimately, by reprogramming cancer cell metabolism. This review outlines the metabolic-dependent mechanisms that tumors engage in when faced with oxidative stress conditions that are critical for cancer progression by producing redox cofactors. In particular, we describe how the mitochondria has a key role in regulating the interplay between redox homeostasis and metabolism within tumor cells. Last, we will discuss the potential therapeutic use of agents that directly or indirectly block metabolism.
FASHIONING BLOOD VESSELS BY ROS SIGNALLING AND METABOLISM.
August 8th, 2017
Formation and maturation of a functional vascular network is a process called angiogenesis. This is a crucial biological event in all vertebrates. Precise morphogenetic and cellular mechanisms act in endothelial cells (ECs) to drive angiogenesis during growth and throughout adulthood. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) and their metabolism are proving to be crucial participants in the shaping and stabilizing of blood vessels. Often, the same mechanisms are responsible for the insurgence of vascular-associated pathologies. In this review we discuss how ROS-mediated signalling events and distinctive metabolic pathways drive the biology of endothelial cells. We support the use of alternative anti-angiogenic therapy based on the manipulation of ROS signalling and metabolism to solve angiogenesis-related diseases.
VASCULAR MURAL CELLS PROMOTE NORADRENERGIC DIFFERENTIATION OF EMBRYONIC SYMPATHETIC NEURONS.
June 23, 2015
The sympathetic nervous system controls smooth muscle tone and heart rate in the cardiovascular system. Postganglionic sympathetic neurons (SNs) develop in close proximity to the dorsal aorta (DA) and innervate visceral smooth muscle targets. Here, we use the zebrafish embryo to ask whether the DA is required for SN development. We show that noradrenergic (NA) differentiation of SN precursors temporally coincides with vascular mural cell (VMC) recruitment to the DA and vascular maturation. Blocking vascular maturation inhibits VMC recruitment and blocks NA differentiation of SN precursors. Inhibition of platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR) signaling prevents VMC differentiation and also blocks NA differentiation of SN precursors. NA differentiation is normal in cloche mutants that are devoid of endothelial cells but have VMCs. Thus, PDGFR-mediated mural cell recruitment mediates neurovascular interactions between the aorta and sympathetic precursors and promotes their noradrenergic differentiation.
ROS SIGNALING AND REDOX BIOLOGY IN ENDOTHELIAL CELLS.
The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of redox mechanisms, sources and antioxidants that control signaling events in ECs. In particular, we describe which molecules are involved in redox signaling and how they influence the relationship between ECs and other vascular component with regard to angiogenesis. Recent and new tools to investigate physiological ROS signaling will be also discussed. Such findings are providing an overview of the ROS biology relevant for endothelial cells in the context of normal and pathological angiogenic conditions.
ZEBRAFISH AS A MODEL TO EXPLORE CELL METABOLISM
October 25, 2014
Cell metabolism plays a key role in many essential biological processes. The recent availability of novel technologies and organisms to model cell metabolism in vivo is expanding current knowledge of cell metabolism. In this context, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) is emerging as a valuable model system to learn about the metabolic routes critical for cellular homeostasis. Here, the most recent methods and studies on cell metabolism are summarized, which support the overall value for the zebrafish model system not only to study metabolism but also metabolic disease states. It is envisioned that this small vertebrate system will help in the understanding of pathogenesis for numerous metabolic-related disorders in humans and in the identification of their therapeutic treatments.
ANTIANGIOGENIC CANCER DRUG USING THE ZEBRAFISH MODEL
The process of de novo vessel formation, called angiogenesis, is essential for tumor progression and spreading. Targeting of molecular pathways involved in such tumor angiogenetic processes by using specific drugs or inhibitors is important for developing new anticancer therapies. Drug discovery remains to be the main focus for biomedical research and represents the essence of antiangiogenesis cancer research. To pursue these molecular and pharmacological goals, researchers need to use animal models that facilitate the elucidation of tumor angiogenesis mechanisms and the testing of antiangiogenic therapies. The past few years have seen the zebrafish system emerge as a valid model organism to study developmental angiogenesis and, more recently, as an alternative vertebrate model for cancer research. In this review, we will discuss why the zebrafish model system has the advantage of being a vertebrate model equipped with easy and powerful transgenesis as well as imaging tools to investigate not only physiological angiogenesis but also tumor angiogenesis. We will also highlight the potential of zebrafish for identifying antitumor angiogenesis drugs to block tumor development and progression. We foresee the zebrafish model as an important system that can possibly complement well-established mouse models in cancer research to generate novel insights into the molecular mechanism of the tumor angiogenesis.
13C-ISOTOPE-BASED PROTOCOL FOR PRENYL LIPID METABOLIC ANALYSIS IN ZEBRAFISH EMBRYOS.
Metabolism has a decisive role in many fundamental biological processes, including organism development and tissue homeostasis. Here we describe a protocol for fast and reliable (13)C-isotope-based in vivo metabolic profiling. This protocol covers the loading of isotope precursor; extraction, preparation and quantification of the labeled lipid metabolites (e.g., the prenyl lipid CoQ10) by the means of HPLC-MS; and its analysis in zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be applied to different types of experimental settings, including tissue-specific metabolic analyses or dynamic metabolic changes that occur during vertebrate embryogenesis. The protocol takes 5-7 d to complete, requiring minimal equipment and analytical expertise, and it represents a unique alternative to the existing ex vivo (e.g., cell lines) isotope-based metabolic methods. This procedure represents a valuable approach for researchers interested in studying the effect of gene manipulation on lipid metabolism in zebrafish and in understanding the genetic conditions that result in metabolism dysfunction.
UBIAD1 IS AN ANTIOXIDANT ENZYME THAT REGULATES ENOS ACTIVITY BY COQ10 SYNTHESIS
January 25, 2013
Protection against oxidative damage caused by excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) by an antioxidant network is essential for the health of tissues, especially in the cardiovascular system. Here, we identified a gene with important antioxidant features by analyzing a null allele of zebrafish ubiad1, called barolo (bar). bar mutants show specific cardiovascular failure due to oxidative stress and ROS-mediated cellular damage. Human UBIAD1 is a nonmitochondrial prenyltransferase that synthesizes CoQ10 in the Golgi membrane compartment. Loss of UBIAD1 reduces the cytosolic pool of the antioxidant CoQ10 and leads to ROS-mediated lipid peroxidation in vascular cells. Surprisingly, inhibition of eNOS prevents Ubiad1-dependent cardiovascular oxidative damage, suggesting a crucial role for this enzyme and nonmitochondrial CoQ10 in NO signaling. These findings identify UBIAD1 as a nonmitochondrial CoQ10-forming enzyme with specific cardiovascular protective function via the modulation of eNOS activity.
CARD-MEDIATED AUTOINHIBITION OF CIAP1'S E3 LIGASE ACTIVITY SUPPRESSES CELL PROLIFERATION AND MIGRATION
June 25, 2011
E3 ligases mediate the covalent attachment of ubiquitin to target proteins thereby enabling ubiquitin-dependent signaling. Unraveling how E3 ligases are regulated is important because miscontrolled ubiquitylation can lead to disease. Cellular inhibitor of apoptosis (cIAP) proteins are E3 ligases that modulate diverse biological processes such as cell survival, proliferation, and migration. Here, we have solved the structure of the caspase recruitment domain (CARD) of cIAP1 and identified that it is required for cIAP1 autoregulation. We demonstrate that the CARD inhibits activation of cIAP1's E3 activity by preventing RING dimerization, E2 binding, and E2 activation. Moreover, we show that the CARD is required to suppress cell proliferation and migration. Further, CARD-mediated autoregulation is also necessary to maximally suppress caspase-8-dependent apoptosis and vascular tree degeneration in vivo. Taken together, our data reveal mechanisms by which the E3 ligase activity of cIAP1 is controlled, and how its deregulation impacts on cell proliferation, migration and cell survival.
LABORATORY OF ANGIOGENESIS
AND REDOX METABOLISM
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Staying connected with former students and colleagues helps us to develop future collaborations while encouraging professional growth for all lab members.
Lorenza Penengo (Associate Professor, UZH)
Silvia Grisendi (Founder, Shanti Wellbeing, UK)
Gabriella Pesce (High School Teacher, IT)
Elisa de Luca (Research Associate ITT, UNILE, IT)
Floriana Francalanci (High School Teacher, IT)
Simona Danio (Specialist, Nutkao Srl)
Vera Mugoni (Research Associate, UNITN)
Dafne Gays (Post-doc, KUL, BE)
Emiliano Panieri (Freelance medical writer, IT)
Raj Sewduth (Post-doc, VIB, BE)
Xiaowen Chen (Post-doc, VIB, BE)
Carlo Millia (Area Sales Specialist, Resnova, Srl, IT)
Elisabetta Grillo (post-doc, UNIBS, IT)
Valentina Panero (lab technician, UNITO, IT)
Federica Logrand (lab technician, UNITO, IT)
Douglas Norris (Research Associate, AU)
Marina Ricci (Research Associate, Merck Group, DE)