Gene Summary

Gene:GAS6; growth arrest specific 6
Aliases: AXSF, AXLLG
Summary:This gene encodes a gamma-carboxyglutamic acid (Gla)-containing protein thought to be involved in the stimulation of cell proliferation. This gene is frequently overexpressed in many cancers and has been implicated as an adverse prognostic marker. Elevated protein levels are additionally associated with a variety of disease states, including venous thromboembolic disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, chronic renal failure, and preeclampsia. [provided by RefSeq, Aug 2014]
Databases:VEGA, OMIM, HGNC, Ensembl, GeneCard, Gene
Protein:growth arrest-specific protein 6
Source:NCBIAccessed: 11 March, 2017


What does this gene/protein do?
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Cancer Overview

Research Indicators

Publications Per Year (1992-2017)
Graph generated 11 March 2017 using data from PubMed using criteria.

Literature Analysis

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Tag cloud generated 11 March, 2017 using data from PubMed, MeSH and CancerIndex

Specific Cancers (6)

Data table showing topics related to specific cancers and associated disorders. Scope includes mutations and abnormal protein expression.

Note: list is not exhaustive. Number of papers are based on searches of PubMed (click on topic title for arbitrary criteria used).

Latest Publications: GAS6 (cancer-related)

Brown M, Black JR, Sharma R, et al.
Gene of the month: Axl.
J Clin Pathol. 2016; 69(5):391-7 [PubMed] Related Publications
The interaction between Axl receptor tyrosine kinase and its main ligand Gas6 has been implicated in the progression of a wide number of malignancies. More recently, overexpression of Axl has emerged as a key molecular determinant underlying the development of acquired resistance to targeted anticancer agents. The activation of Axl is overexpression-dependent and controls a number of hallmarks of cancer progression including proliferation, migration, resistance to apoptosis and survival through a complex network of intracellular second messengers. Axl has been noted to influence clinically meaningful end points including metastatic recurrence and survival in the vast majority of tumour types. With Axl inhibitors having gained momentum as novel anticancer therapies, we provide an overview of the biological and clinical relevance of this molecular pathway, outlining the main directions of research.

Kim KC, Baek SH, Lee C
Curcumin-induced downregulation of Axl receptor tyrosine kinase inhibits cell proliferation and circumvents chemoresistance in non-small lung cancer cells.
Int J Oncol. 2015; 47(6):2296-303 [PubMed] Related Publications
Lung cancer is still in the first place in terms of both incidence and mortality. In the present study, we demonstrated the effect of curcumin, a phytochemical of the plant Curcuma longa, on expression and activation of Axl receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) which plays an important role in cell survival, proliferation and anti-apoptosis. Curcumin treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) A549 and H460 cells, was found to decrease Axl protein as well as mRNA levels in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Axl promoter activity was also reduced by curcumin, indicating that curcumin downregulates Axl expression at the transcriptional level. Moreover, Axl phosphorylation in response to binding of its ligand, Gas6, was abrogated by curcumin, suggesting the inhibitory effect of curcumin on Gas6-induced Axl activation. We next found cytotoxic effect of cucumin on both the parental A549 and H460 cells, and their variants which are resistant to cisplatin (A549/CisR and H460/CisR) and paclitaxel (A549/TR and H460/TR). Exposure of these cells to curcumin resulted in dose-dependent decline of cell viability and clonogenic ability. It is further observed that the anti-proliferative effect of curcumin on A549 cells overexpressing Axl protein was reduced, while that on H460 cells transfected Axl specific siRNA was augmented, confirming that curcumin inhibits cell proliferation via downregulation of Axl expression. In addition, curcumin was found to cause the induction of p21, a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, and reduction of X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP), an anti-apoptotic molecule, in parental H460 cells as well as chemoresistant cells, H460/CisR and H460/TR. Taken together, our data imply that Axl RTK is a novel target of curcumin through which it exerts anti-proliferative effect in both parental and chemoresistant NSCLC cells.

Ocal O, Pashkov V, Kollipara RK, et al.
A rapid in vivo screen for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma therapeutics.
Dis Model Mech. 2015; 8(10):1201-11 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and is projected to be second by 2025. It has the worst survival rate among all major cancers. Two pressing needs for extending life expectancy of affected individuals are the development of new approaches to identify improved therapeutics, addressed herein, and the identification of early markers. PDA advances through a complex series of intercellular and physiological interactions that drive cancer progression in response to organ stress, organ failure, malnutrition, and infiltrating immune and stromal cells. Candidate drugs identified in organ culture or cell-based screens must be validated in preclinical models such as KIC (p48(Cre);LSL-Kras(G12D);Cdkn2a(f/f)) mice, a genetically engineered model of PDA in which large aggressive tumors develop by 4 weeks of age. We report a rapid, systematic and robust in vivo screen for effective drug combinations to treat Kras-dependent PDA. Kras mutations occur early in tumor progression in over 90% of human PDA cases. Protein kinase and G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling activates Kras. Regulators of G-protein signaling (RGS) proteins are coincidence detectors that can be induced by multiple inputs to feedback-regulate GPCR signaling. We crossed Rgs16::GFP bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) transgenic mice with KIC mice and show that the Rgs16::GFP transgene is a Kras(G12D)-dependent marker of all stages of PDA, and increases proportionally to tumor burden in KIC mice. RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) analysis of cultured primary PDA cells reveals characteristics of embryonic progenitors of pancreatic ducts and endocrine cells, and extraordinarily high expression of the receptor tyrosine kinase Axl, an emerging cancer drug target. In proof-of-principle drug screens, we find that weanling KIC mice with PDA treated for 2 weeks with gemcitabine (with or without Abraxane) plus inhibitors of Axl signaling (warfarin and BGB324) have fewer tumor initiation sites and reduced tumor size compared with the standard-of-care treatment. Rgs16::GFP is therefore an in vivo reporter of PDA progression and sensitivity to new chemotherapeutic drug regimens such as Axl-targeted agents. This screening strategy can potentially be applied to identify improved therapeutics for other cancers.

Rea K, Pinciroli P, Sensi M, et al.
Novel Axl-driven signaling pathway and molecular signature characterize high-grade ovarian cancer patients with poor clinical outcome.
Oncotarget. 2015; 6(31):30859-75 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
High-grade epithelial ovarian cancer (HGEOC) is a clinically diverse and molecularly heterogeneous disease comprising subtypes with distinct biological features and outcomes. The receptor tyrosine kinases, expressed by EOC cells, and their ligands, present in the microenvironment, activate signaling pathways, which promote EOC cells dissemination. Herein, we established a molecular link between the presence of Gas6 ligand in the ascites of HGEOCs, the expression and activation of its receptor Axl in ovarian cancer cell lines and biopsies, and the progression of these tumors. We demonstrated that Gas6/Axl signalling converges on the integrin β3 pathway in the presence of the adaptor protein p130Cas, thus inducing tumor cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix and invasion. Accordingly, Axl and p130Cas were significantly co-expressed in HGEOC samples. Clinically, we identified an Axl-associated signature of 62 genes able to portray the HGEOCs with the shortest overall survival. These data biologically characterize a group of HGEOCs and could help guide a more effective therapeutic approach to be taken for these patients.

Hattori S, Kikuchi E, Kosaka T, et al.
Relationship Between Increased Expression of the Axl/Gas6 Signal Cascade and Prognosis of Patients with Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinoma.
Ann Surg Oncol. 2016; 23(2):663-70 [PubMed] Related Publications
PURPOSE: Axl, which is in the TAM family of receptor tyrosine kinases, and its ligand, growth arrest-specific gene 6 (Gas6), have been associated with worse prognoses after the surgical treatment of some types of cancers. We herein investigated the biological significance of the protein expression of Axl and Gas6 on the outcomes of patients with upper tract urothelial carcinoma (UTUC).
METHODS: The protein expression of Axl and Gas6 was evaluated by immunohistochemistry, and their relationships with clinicopathological features were investigated in surgical specimens obtained from 161 patients who had been surgically treated for UTUC.
RESULTS: Axl labeling was strong in 67 of 161 (42 %) cases, while Gas6 labeling was strong in 72 of 161 (45 %) cases. The strong expression of Axl correlated with that of Gas6. A high pathological stage (p = 0.009), strong expression of Gas6 (p = 0.038), and strong expression of Axl (p = 0.016) were independent factors for predicting worse cancer-specific survival (CSS). In a subgroup analysis of patients with pT < 2 (N = 53), no significant difference in CSS was observed between patients weakly and strongly expressing Axl/Gas6. In contrast, a subgroup analysis of patients with pT ≥ 2 (N = 108) revealed that the expression levels of Axl and Gas6 correlated with CSS.
CONCLUSION: The protein expression of Axl and its ligand Gas6 may be a useful indicator for a worse clinical outcome in UTUC patients, especially patients with pT ≥ 2, who underwent radical nephroureterectomy.

Kirane A, Ludwig KF, Sorrelle N, et al.
Warfarin Blocks Gas6-Mediated Axl Activation Required for Pancreatic Cancer Epithelial Plasticity and Metastasis.
Cancer Res. 2015; 75(18):3699-705 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Repurposing "old" drugs can facilitate rapid clinical translation but necessitates novel mechanistic insight. Warfarin, a vitamin K "antagonist" used clinically for the prevention of thrombosis for more than 50 years, has been shown to have anticancer effects. We hypothesized that the molecular mechanism underlying its antitumor activity is unrelated to its effect on coagulation, but is due to inhibition of the Axl receptor tyrosine kinase on tumor cells. Activation of Axl by its ligand Gas6, a vitamin K-dependent protein, is inhibited at doses of warfarin that do not affect coagulation. Here, we show that inhibiting Gas6-dependent Axl activation with low-dose warfarin, or with other tumor-specific Axl-targeting agents, blocks the progression and spread of pancreatic cancer. Warfarin also inhibited Axl-dependent tumor cell migration, invasiveness, and proliferation while increasing apoptosis and sensitivity to chemotherapy. We conclude that Gas6-induced Axl signaling is a critical driver of pancreatic cancer progression and its inhibition with low-dose warfarin or other Axl-targeting agents may improve outcome in patients with Axl-expressing tumors.

Tsai WB, Long Y, Park JR, et al.
Gas6/Axl is the sensor of arginine-auxotrophic response in targeted chemotherapy with arginine-depleting agents.
Oncogene. 2016; 35(13):1632-42 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Many human malignancies lack de novo biosynthesis of arginine (Arg) as the key enzyme argininosuccinate synthetase 1 (ASS1) is silenced. These tumors acquire ectopic Arg for survival, and depleting this source by Arg-depleting recombinant enzyme ADI-PEG20 results in cell death. Mechanisms underlying Arg auxotrophy in these tumors and how they respond to Arg-auxotrophic stress are poorly understood. Here, we report that an immediate-early event of Arg-auxotrophic response involves reactive oxygen species-mediated secretion of Gas6, which interacts with its receptor Axl and activates the downstream Ras/PI3K/Akt growth signal leading to accumulation of c-Myc by protein stabilization. Arg-auxotrophic challenge also transcriptionally upregulates c-Myc expression, which provides a feedback mechanism to enhance Axl expression. c-Myc is a positive regulator of ASS1, but elevated ASS1 provides a feedback mechanism to suppress c-Myc and Axl. Our results revealed multiple inter-regulatory pathways in Arg-auxotrophic response, consisting of Axl, c-Myc and ASS1, which regulate Arg homeostasis and ADI-PEG20 sensitivity. These pathways provide potential targets for improving the efficacy of treating Arg-auxotrophic tumors using Arg-deprivation strategies.

Vouri M, An Q, Birt M, et al.
Small molecule inhibition of Axl receptor tyrosine kinase potently suppresses multiple malignant properties of glioma cells.
Oncotarget. 2015; 6(18):16183-97 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) often features a combination of tumour suppressor gene inactivation and multiple oncogene overactivation. The Axl receptor tyrosine kinase is found overexpressed in GBM and thought to contribute to invasiveness, chemoresistance and poor survival. Here, we have evaluated the effect of BGB324, a clinical candidate Axl-specific small molecule inhibitor, on the invasive behaviour of human GBM cells in vitro, as an indicator of its potential in GBM therapy and also to elucidate the role of Axl in GBM pathogenesis.Two cultured adult GBM cell lines, SNB-19 and UP007, were treated with Gas6 and/or BGB324, and analysed in assays for survival, 3D colony growth, motility, migration and invasion. Western blot was used to detect protein expression and signal protein phosphorylation. In both cell lines, BGB324 inhibited specifically phosphorylation of Axl as well as Akt kinase further downstream. BGB324 also inhibited survival and proliferation of both cell lines in a concentration-dependent manner, as well as completely suppressing migration and invasion. Furthermore, our results indicate co-operative activation between the Axl and Tyro3 receptors, as well as ligand-independent Axl signalling, to take place in GBM cells. In conclusion, small molecule inhibitor-led targeting of Axl may be a promising therapy for GBM progression.

Martinelli E, Martini G, Cardone C, et al.
AXL is an oncotarget in human colorectal cancer.
Oncotarget. 2015; 6(27):23281-96 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
AXL is a tyrosine kinase receptor activated by GAS6 and regulates cancer cell proliferation migration and angiogenesis. We studied AXL as new therapeutic target in colorectal cancer (CRC). Expression and activation of AXL and GAS6 were evaluated in a panel of human CRC cell lines. AXL gene silencing or pharmacologic inhibition with foretinib suppressed proliferation, migration and survival in CRC cells. In an orthotopic colon model of human HCT116 CRC cells overexpressing AXL, foretinib treatment caused significant inhibition of tumour growth and peritoneal metastatic spreading. AXL and GAS6 overexpression by immunohistochemistry (IHC) were found in 76,7% and 73.5%, respectively, of 223 human CRC specimens, correlating with less differentiated histological grading. GAS6 overexpression was associated with nodes involvement and tumour stage. AXL gene was found amplified by Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) in 8/146 cases (5,4%) of CRC samples. Taken together, AXL inhibition could represent a novel therapeutic approach in CRC.

Gioia R, Trégoat C, Dumas PY, et al.
CBL controls a tyrosine kinase network involving AXL, SYK and LYN in nilotinib-resistant chronic myeloid leukaemia.
J Pathol. 2015; 237(1):14-24 [PubMed] Related Publications
A tyrosine kinase network composed of the TAM receptor AXL and the cytoplasmic kinases LYN and SYK is involved in nilotinib-resistance of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) cells. Here, we show that the E3-ubiquitin ligase CBL down-regulation occurring during prolonged drug treatment plays a critical role in this process. Depletion of CBL in K562 cells increases AXL and LYN protein levels, promoting cell resistance to nilotinib. Conversely, forced expression of CBL in nilotinib-resistant K562 cells (K562-rn) dramatically reduces AXL and LYN expression and resensitizes K562-rn cells to nilotinib. A similar mechanism was found to operate in primary CML CD34(+) cells. Mechanistically, the E3-ligase CBL counteracts AXL/SYK signalling, promoting LYN transcription by controlling AXL protein stability. Surprisingly, the role of AXL in resistance was independent of its ligand GAS6 binding and its TK activity, in accordance with a scaffold activity for this receptor being involved in this cellular process. Collectively, our results demonstrate a pivotal role for CBL in the control of a tyrosine kinase network mediating resistance to nilotinib treatment in CML cells.

Reikvam H, Hauge M, Brenner AK, et al.
Emerging therapeutic targets for the treatment of human acute myeloid leukemia (part 1) - gene transcription, cell cycle regulation, metabolism and intercellular communication.
Expert Rev Hematol. 2015; 8(3):299-313 [PubMed] Related Publications
Human acute myeloid leukemia is a heterogeneous disease and the effect of therapeutic targeting of specific molecular mechanisms will probably vary between patient subsets. Cell cycle regulators are among the emerging targets (e.g., aurora and polo-like kinases, cyclin-dependent kinases). Inhibition of communication between acute myeloid leukemia and stromal cells is also considered; among the most promising of these strategies are inhibition of hedgehog-initiated, CXCR4-CXCL12 and Axl-Gas6 signaling. Finally, targeting of energy and protein metabolism is considered, the most promising strategy being inhibition of isocitrate dehydrogenase in patients with IDH mutations. Thus, several strategies are now considered, and a major common challenge for all of them is to clarify how they should be combined with each other or with conventional chemotherapy, and whether their use should be limited to certain subsets of patients.

Martinho O, Zucca LE, Reis RM
AXL as a modulator of sunitinib response in glioblastoma cell lines.
Exp Cell Res. 2015; 332(1):1-10 [PubMed] Related Publications
Receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) targeted therapy has been explored for glioblastoma treatment. However, it is unclear which RTK inhibitors are the most effective and there are no predictive biomarkers available. We recently identified the RTK AXL as a putative target for the pan-RTK inhibitors cediranib and sunitinib, which are under clinical trials for glioblastoma patients. Here, we provide evidence that AXL activity can modulate sunitinib response in glioblastoma cell lines. We found that AXL knockdown conferred lower sensitivity to sunitinib by rescuing migratory defects and inhibiting apoptosis in cells expressing high AXL basal levels. Accordingly, overactivation of AXL by its ligand GAS6 rendered AXL positive glioblastoma cells more sensitive to sunitinib. AXL knockdown induced a cellular rewiring of several growth signaling pathways through activation of RTKs, such as EGFR, as well as intracellular pathways such as MAPK and AKT. The combination of sunitinib with a specific AKT inhibitor reverted the resistance of AXL-silenced cells to sunitinib. Together, our results suggest that sunitinib inhibits AXL and AXL activation status modulates therapy response of glioblastoma cells to sunitinib. Moreover, it indicates that combining sunitinib therapy with AKT pathway inhibitors could overcome sunitinib resistance.

Janning M, Ben-Batalla I, Loges S
Axl inhibition: a potential road to a novel acute myeloid leukemia therapy?
Expert Rev Hematol. 2015; 8(2):135-8 [PubMed] Related Publications
Novel treatment options in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are urgently needed; treatment has not changed significantly over the past decades and survival is still dismal, especially in elderly patients. Axl, a member of the Tyro3, Axl, Mer (TAM) receptor family, mediates proliferation and survival of AML cells and is upregulated upon cytostatic treatment. In addition, AML cells induce expression of the Axl ligand growth arrest-specific gene 6 (Gas6) in bone marrow stroma cells, which further amplifies their growth and therapy resistance. Interruption of Axl signaling by pharmacological approaches, including the small molecule Axl inhibitor BGB324, decreased disease burden and prolonged survival of AML mice. The Gas6-Axl pathway has translational relevance because Axl is expressed by approximately 50% of AML patients and Axl-targeting approaches can block growth of primary human AML cells. Thus, Axl represents a potential novel target in AML and BGB324 is now in clinical development.

Pénzes K, Baumann C, Szabadkai I, et al.
Combined inhibition of AXL, Lyn and p130Cas kinases block migration of triple negative breast cancer cells.
Cancer Biol Ther. 2014; 15(11):1571-82 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Blocking the migration of metastatic cancer cells is a major goal in the therapy of cancer. The receptor tyrosine kinase AXL is one of the main triggers for cancer cell migration in neoplasia of breast, colon, skin, thyroid and prostate. In our study we analyzed the effect of AXL inhibition on cell motility and viability in triple negative breast cancer cell lines overexpressing AXL. Thereby we reveal that the compound BMS777607, exhibiting the lowest IC50 values for inhibition of AXL kinase activity in the studied cell lines, attenuates cell motility to a lower extent than the kinase inhibitors MPCD84111 and SKI606. By analyzing the target kinases of MPCD84111 and SKI606 with kinase profiling assays we identified Lyn, a Src family kinase, as a target of both compounds. Knockdown of Lyn and the migration-related CRK-associated substrate (p130Cas), had a significant inhibitory effect on cell migration. Taken together, our findings highlight the importance of combinatorial or multikinase inhibition of non-receptor tyrosine kinases and AXL receptor tyrosine kinase in the therapy of triple negative breast cancer.

Axelrod H, Pienta KJ
Axl as a mediator of cellular growth and survival.
Oncotarget. 2014; 5(19):8818-52 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
The control of cellular growth and proliferation is key to the maintenance of homeostasis. Survival, proliferation, and arrest are regulated, in part, by Growth Arrest Specific 6 (Gas6) through binding to members of the TAM receptor tyrosine kinase family. Activation of the TAM receptors leads to downstream signaling through common kinases, but the exact mechanism within each cellular context varies and remains to be completely elucidated. Deregulation of the TAM family, due to its central role in mediating cellular proliferation, has been implicated in multiple diseases. Axl was cloned as the first TAM receptor in a search for genes involved in the progression of chronic to acute-phase leukemia, and has since been established as playing a critical role in the progression of cancer. The oncogenic nature of Axl is demonstrated through its activation of signaling pathways involved in proliferation, migration, inhibition of apoptosis, and therapeutic resistance. Despite its recent discovery, significant progress has been made in the development of effective clinical therapeutics targeting Axl. In order to accurately define the role of Axl in normal and diseased processes, it must be analyzed in a cell type-specific context.

Waizenegger JS, Ben-Batalla I, Weinhold N, et al.
Role of Growth arrest-specific gene 6-Mer axis in multiple myeloma.
Leukemia. 2015; 29(3):696-704 [PubMed] Related Publications
Multiple myeloma is a mostly incurable malignancy characterized by the expansion of a malignant plasma cell (PC) clone in the human bone marrow (BM). Myeloma cells closely interact with the BM stroma, which secretes soluble factors that foster myeloma progression and therapy resistance. Growth arrest-specific gene 6 (Gas6) is produced by BM-derived stroma cells and can promote malignancy. However, the role of Gas6 and its receptors Axl, Tyro3 and Mer (TAM receptors) in myeloma is unknown. We therefore investigated their expression in myeloma cell lines and in the BM of myeloma patients and healthy donors. Gas6 showed increased expression in sorted BMPCs of myeloma patients compared with healthy controls. The fraction of Mer(+) BMPCs was increased in myeloma patients in comparison with healthy controls whereas Axl and Tyro3 were not expressed by BMPCs in the majority of patients. Downregulation of Gas6 and Mer inhibited the proliferation of different myeloma cell lines, whereas knocking down Axl or Tyro3 had no effect. Inhibition of the Gas6 receptor Mer or therapeutic targeting of Gas6 by warfarin reduced myeloma burden and improved survival in a systemic model of myeloma. Thus, the Gas6-Mer axis represents a novel candidate for therapeutic intervention in this incurable malignancy.

Nguyen KQ, Tsou WI, Calarese DA, et al.
Overexpression of MERTK receptor tyrosine kinase in epithelial cancer cells drives efferocytosis in a gain-of-function capacity.
J Biol Chem. 2014; 289(37):25737-49 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
MERTK, a member of the TAM (TYRO3, AXL, and MERTK) receptor tyrosine kinases, has complex and diverse roles in cell biology. On the one hand, knock-out of MERTK results in age-dependent autoimmunity characterized by failure of apoptotic cell clearance, while on the other, MERTK overexpression in cancer drives classical oncogene pathways leading to cell transformation. To better understand the interplay between cell transformation and efferocytosis, we stably expressed MERTK in human MCF10A cells, a non-tumorigenic breast epithelial cell line devoid of endogenous MERTK. While stable expression of MERTK in MCF10A resulted in enhanced motility and AKT-mediated chemoprotection, MERTK-10A cells did not form stable colonies in soft agar, or enhance proliferation compared with parental MCF10A cells. Concomitant to chemoresistance, MERTK also stimulated efferocytosis in a gain-of-function capacity. However, unlike AXL, MERTK activation was highly dependent on apoptotic cells, suggesting MERTK may preferentially interface with phosphatidylserine. Consistent with this idea, knockdown of MERTK in breast cancer cells MDA-MB 231 reduced efferocytosis, while transient or stable expression of MERTK stimulated apoptotic cell clearance in all cell lines tested. Moreover, human breast cancer cells with higher endogenous MERTK showed higher levels of efferocytosis that could be blocked by soluble TAM receptors. Finally, through MERTK, apoptotic cells induced PD-L1 expression, an immune checkpoint blockade, suggesting that cancer cells may adopt MERTK-driven efferocytosis as an immune suppression mechanism for their advantage. These data collectively identify MERTK as a significant link between cancer progression and efferocytosis, and a potentially unrealized tumor-promoting event when MERTK is overexpressed in epithelial cells.

Fedorenko IV, Fang B, Koomen JM, et al.
Amuvatinib has cytotoxic effects against NRAS-mutant melanoma but not BRAF-mutant melanoma.
Melanoma Res. 2014; 24(5):448-53 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Effective targeted therapy strategies are still lacking for the 15-20% of melanoma patients whose melanomas are driven by oncogenic NRAS. Here, we report on the NRAS-specific behavior of amuvatinib, a kinase inhibitor with activity against c-KIT, Axl, PDGFRα, and Rad51. An analysis of BRAF-mutant and NRAS-mutant melanoma cell lines showed the NRAS-mutant cohort to be enriched for targets of amuvatinib, including Axl, c-KIT, and the Axl ligand Gas6. Increasing concentrations of amuvatinib selectively inhibited the growth of NRAS-mutant, but not BRAF-mutant melanoma cell lines, an effect associated with induction of S-phase and G2/M-phase cell cycle arrest and induction of apoptosis. Mechanistically, amuvatinib was noted to either inhibit Axl, AKT, and MAPK signaling or Axl and AKT signaling and to induce a DNA damage response. In three-dimensional cell culture experiments, amuvatinib was cytotoxic against NRAS-mutant melanoma cell lines. Thus, we show for the first time that amuvatinib has proapoptotic activity against melanoma cell lines, with selectivity observed for those harboring oncogenic NRAS.

Rothlin CV, Leighton JA, Ghosh S
Tyro3, Axl, and Mertk receptor signaling in inflammatory bowel disease and colitis-associated cancer.
Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2014; 20(8):1472-80 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Three receptor tyrosine kinases, Tyro3, Axl, and Mertk (TAM) and their ligands Gas6 and Protein S, have emerged as potent negative regulators of innate immune responses. A number of studies using genetic ablation of TAM loci in mice have elucidated the mechanism of TAM engagement and function during the immune response and removal of apoptotic cells. Following phagocytosis of apoptotic cells or the induction of T-cell dependent adaptive immune responses, ligand-induced TAM signaling dampens proinflammatory cytokine production and thus prevents exaggerated or prolonged inflammation. It is believed that the TAM pathway may play an important role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease. Suppression of inflammation and removal of apoptotic cells followed by tissue repair are essential processes for disease remission and the successful management of inflammatory bowel disease. In light of the key role of TAMs in controlling inflammatory responses, here, we review the recent advances on TAM research vis-à-vis the resolution of intestinal inflammation. Targeted activation of TAM receptor tyrosine kinases may represent a potent therapeutic opportunity in inflammatory bowel disease.

Whitman SP, Kohlschmidt J, Maharry K, et al.
GAS6 expression identifies high-risk adult AML patients: potential implications for therapy.
Leukemia. 2014; 28(6):1252-8 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Emerging data demonstrate important roles for the TYRO3/AXL/MERTK receptor tyrosine kinase (TAM RTK) family in diverse cancers. We investigated the prognostic relevance of GAS6 expression, encoding the common TAM RTK ligand, in 270 adults (n=71 aged<60 years; n=199 aged ⩾60 years) with de novo cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia (CN-AML). Patients expressing GAS6 (GAS6+), especially those aged ⩾60 years, more often failed to achieve a complete remission (CR). In all patients, GAS6+ patients had shorter disease-free (DFS) and overall (OS) survival than patients without GAS6 expression (GAS6-). After adjusting for other prognostic markers, GAS6+ predicted CR failure (P=0.02), shorter DFS (P=0.004) and OS (P=0.04). To gain further biological insights, we derived a GAS6-associated gene-expression signature (P<0.001) that in GAS6+ patients included overexpressed BAALC and MN1, known to confer adverse prognosis in CN-AML, and overexpressed CXCL12, encoding stromal cell-derived factor, and its receptor genes, chemokine (C-X-C motif) receptor 4 (CXCR4) and CXCR7. This study reports for the first time that GAS6 expression is an adverse prognostic marker in CN-AML. Although GAS6 decoy receptors are not yet available in the clinic for GAS6+ CN-AML therapy, potential alternative therapies targeting GAS6+-associated pathways, for example, CXCR4 antagonists, may be considered for GAS6+ patients to sensitize them to chemotherapy.

Lee CH, Liu SY, Chou KC, et al.
Tumor-associated macrophages promote oral cancer progression through activation of the Axl signaling pathway.
Ann Surg Oncol. 2014; 21(3):1031-7 [PubMed] Related Publications
BACKGROUND: Recent studies suggest that tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) promote tumor growth and metastasis. Our previous report demonstrated that Axl signaling promotes carcinogenesis and progression of oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). This study aims to test the potential involvement of growth arrest-specific gene 6 (Gas6)/Axl signaling in the protumoral effect of TAMs.
METHODS: Co-culture experiments by incubation of OSCC cells (YD38 and OE) and macrophages (THP-1) were performed. The expression of Gas6/Axl and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) genes were examined in YD38 and OE cells. The effect of Gas6/Axl signaling on co-cultured cancer cells was further investigated by knocking down Axl expression and neutralizing Gas6. Axl and TAM distribution were analyzed by immunohistochemistry in OSCC tissues.
RESULTS: Activation of Axl signaling and increased expression of mesenchymal markers, along with increased invasion/migration ability of OSCC cells, was noted upon co-culture with THP-1. Neutralization of Gas6 in the co-culture system or knockdown of Axl in YD38 caused the co-culture effects to be diminished. Co-culture with THP-1 increased nuclear factor (NF)-κB nuclear translocation and transcription activity in YD38 cells. A significant association between the TAM count and expression of phosphorylated Axl (P = 0.004) was found in vivo cancer tissues.
CONCLUSIONS: TAMs play a protumor role in OSCC and likely promote tumor progression through activation of the Gas6/Axl-NF-κB signaling pathway. Therefore, Gas6/Axl and NF-κB signaling in OSCC cells may be a putative target for therapeutic intervention.

Lee HJ, Jeng YM, Chen YL, et al.
Gas6/Axl pathway promotes tumor invasion through the transcriptional activation of Slug in hepatocellular carcinoma.
Carcinogenesis. 2014; 35(4):769-75 [PubMed] Related Publications
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common fatal cancers worldwide. Other than the sorafenib treatment, no effective systemic therapy has been available thus far. Most targets in molecularly targeted therapy for cancer are receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). Therefore, identifying activated RTKs in HCC is critical for developing new molecularly targeted therapies. Using a phospho-RTK array, we found that Axl is one of the most frequently activated RTKs in liver cancer cell lines. The knockdown of Axl by RNA interference significantly reduced cell migration and invasion in the HCC cell lines HA22T and Mahlavu. Stimulation of HCC cell lines by Axl ligand growth arrest-specific 6 (Gas6) enhanced cell migration and invasion. The Gas6/Axl pathway enhanced the expression of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition-inducing transcription factor Slug, which is essential for the invasion-promoting activity of Axl. Treating HCC cells with the Axl inhibitor bosutinib suppressed Slug expression and decreased the invasiveness of HCC cell lines. These findings indicate that Gas6/Axl regulates tumor invasion through the transcriptional activation of Slug.

Lemke G
Biology of the TAM receptors.
Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2013; 5(11):a009076 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
The TAM receptors--Tyro3, Axl, and Mer--comprise a unique family of receptor tyrosine kinases, in that as a group they play no essential role in embryonic development. Instead, they function as homeostatic regulators in adult tissues and organ systems that are subject to continuous challenge and renewal throughout life. Their regulatory roles are prominent in the mature immune, reproductive, hematopoietic, vascular, and nervous systems. The TAMs and their ligands--Gas6 and Protein S--are essential for the efficient phagocytosis of apoptotic cells and membranes in these tissues; and in the immune system, they act as pleiotropic inhibitors of the innate inflammatory response to pathogens. Deficiencies in TAM signaling are thought to contribute to chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease in humans, and aberrantly elevated TAM signaling is strongly associated with cancer progression, metastasis, and resistance to targeted therapies.

Ben-Batalla I, Schultze A, Wroblewski M, et al.
Axl, a prognostic and therapeutic target in acute myeloid leukemia mediates paracrine crosstalk of leukemia cells with bone marrow stroma.
Blood. 2013; 122(14):2443-52 [PubMed] Related Publications
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) represents a clonal disease of hematopoietic progenitors characterized by acquired heterogenous genetic changes that alter normal mechanisms of proliferation, self-renewal, and differentiation.(1) Although 40% to 45% of patients younger than 65 years of age can be cured with current therapies, only 10% of older patients reach long-term survival.(1) Because only very few novel AML drugs were approved in the past 2 decades, there is an urgent need to identify novel targets and therapeutic strategies to treat underserved AML patients. We report here that Axl, a member of the Tyro3, Axl, Mer receptor tyrosine kinase family,(2-4) represents an independent prognostic marker and therapeutic target in AML. AML cells induce expression and secretion of the Axl ligand growth arrest-specific gene 6 (Gas6) by bone marrow-derived stromal cells (BMDSCs). Gas6 in turn mediates proliferation, survival, and chemoresistance of Axl-expressing AML cells. This Gas6-Axl paracrine axis between AML cells and BMDSCs establishes a chemoprotective tumor cell niche that can be abrogated by Axl-targeting approaches. Axl inhibition is active in FLT3-mutated and FLT3 wild-type AML, improves clinically relevant end points, and its efficacy depends on presence of Gas6 and Axl. Axl inhibition alone or in combination with chemotherapy might represent a novel therapeutic avenue for AML.

Han L, Kong R, Yin DD, et al.
Low expression of long noncoding RNA GAS6-AS1 predicts a poor prognosis in patients with NSCLC.
Med Oncol. 2013; 30(4):694 [PubMed] Related Publications
Lung cancer is the most frequent cancer in China and all over the world. Recent studies have shown that long noncoding RNAs play critical roles in multiple biological processes including oncogenesis. In this study, we reported a new lncRNA GAS6-AS1 (GAS6 antisense RNA 1), whose expression was downregulated in tumor tissues in 50 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) compared with those in the adjacent normal tissues (P < 0.001). Furthermore, decreased GAS6-AS1 expression was negatively correlated with lymph node metastasis (P = 0.032) and advanced tumor node metastasis stage (P = 0.003). Univariate and multivariate analyses showed that GAS6-AS1 expression served as an independent predictor for overall survival (P = 0.036). Also, GAS6-AS1 level was inversely correlated with GAS6 (growth-arrest-specific gene6) mRNA level (Pearson's correlation -0.620). In conclusion, our study demonstrated that altered lncRNA GAS6-AS1 expression might be involved in the development and progression of NSCLC by influencing its host gene and promised to be a potential diagnostic target in patients with NSCLC.

Haldrup C, Mundbjerg K, Vestergaard EM, et al.
DNA methylation signatures for prediction of biochemical recurrence after radical prostatectomy of clinically localized prostate cancer.
J Clin Oncol. 2013; 31(26):3250-8 [PubMed] Related Publications
PURPOSE: Diagnostic and prognostic tools for prostate cancer (PC) are suboptimal, causing overtreatment of indolent PC and risk of delayed treatment of aggressive PC. Here, we identify six novel candidate DNA methylation markers for PC with promising diagnostic and prognostic potential.
METHODS: Microarray-based screening and bisulfite sequencing of 20 nonmalignant and 29 PC tissue specimens were used to identify new candidate DNA hypermethylation markers for PC. Diagnostic and prognostic potential was evaluated in 35 nonmalignant prostate tissue samples, 293 radical prostatectomy (RP) samples (cohort 1, training), and 114 malignant RP samples (cohort 2, validation) collected in Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland. Sensitivity and specificity for PC were evaluated by receiver operating characteristic analyses. Correlations between DNA methylation levels and biochemical recurrence were assessed using log-rank tests and univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses.
RESULTS: Hypermethylation of AOX1, C1orf114, GAS6, HAPLN3, KLF8, and MOB3B was highly cancer specific (area under the curve, 0.89 to 0.98). Furthermore, high C1orf114 methylation was significantly (P < .05) associated with biochemical recurrence in multivariate analysis in cohort 1 (hazard ratio [HR], 3.10; 95% CI, 1.89 to 5.09) and was successfully validated in cohort 2 (HR, 3.27; 95% CI, 1.17 to 9.12). Moreover, a significant (P < .05) three-gene prognostic methylation signature (AOX1/C1orf114/HAPLN3), classifying patients into low- and high-methylation subgroups, was trained in cohort 1 (HR, 1.91; 95% CI, 1.26 to 2.90) and validated in cohort 2 (HR, 2.33; 95% CI, 1.31 to 4.13).
CONCLUSION: We identified six novel candidate DNA methylation markers for PC. C1orf114 hypermethylation and a three-gene methylation signature were independent predictors of time to biochemical recurrence after RP in two PC patient cohorts.

Taichman RS, Patel LR, Bedenis R, et al.
GAS6 receptor status is associated with dormancy and bone metastatic tumor formation.
PLoS One. 2013; 8(4):e61873 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) are believed to lie dormant in the marrow before they can be activated to form metastases. How DTCs become dormant in the marrow and how dormant DTCs escape dormancy remains unclear. Recent work has shown that prostate cancer (PCa) cell lines express the growth-arrest specific 6 (GAS6) receptors Axl, Tyro3, and Mer, and become growth arrested in response to GAS6. We therefore hypothesized that GAS6 signaling regulates the proliferative activity of DTCs in the marrow. To explore this possibility, in vivo studies were performed where it was observed that when Tyro3 expression levels exceed Axl expression, the PCa cells exhibit rapid growth. When when Axl levels predominate, PCa cells remain largely quiescent. These findings suggest that a balance between the expression of Axl and Tyro3 is associated with a molecular switch between a dormant and a proliferative phenotype in PCa metastases.

Schlegel J, Sambade MJ, Sather S, et al.
MERTK receptor tyrosine kinase is a therapeutic target in melanoma.
J Clin Invest. 2013; 123(5):2257-67 [PubMed] Free Access to Full Article Related Publications
Metastatic melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cutaneous cancers. Although recent therapeutic advances have prolonged patient survival, the prognosis remains dismal. C-MER proto-oncogene tyrosine kinase (MERTK) is a receptor tyrosine kinase with oncogenic properties that is often overexpressed or activated in various malignancies. Using both protein immunohistochemistry and microarray analyses, we demonstrate that MERTK expression correlates with disease progression. MERTK expression was highest in metastatic melanomas, followed by primary melanomas, while the lowest expression was observed in nevi. Additionally, over half of melanoma cell lines overexpressed MERTK compared with normal human melanocytes; however, overexpression did not correlate with mutations in BRAF or RAS. Stimulation of melanoma cells with the MERTK ligand GAS6 resulted in the activation of several downstream signaling pathways including MAPK/ERK, PI3K/AKT, and JAK/STAT. MERTK inhibition via shRNA reduced MERTK-mediated downstream signaling, reduced colony formation by up to 59%, and diminished tumor volume by 60% in a human melanoma murine xenograft model. Treatment of melanoma cells with UNC1062, a novel MERTK-selective small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor, reduced activation of MERTK-mediated downstream signaling, induced apoptosis in culture, reduced colony formation in soft agar, and inhibited invasion of melanoma cells. This work establishes MERTK as a therapeutic target in melanoma and provides a rationale for the continued development of MERTK-targeted therapies.

Murtaza M, Dawson SJ, Tsui DW, et al.
Non-invasive analysis of acquired resistance to cancer therapy by sequencing of plasma DNA.
Nature. 2013; 497(7447):108-12 [PubMed] Related Publications
Cancers acquire resistance to systemic treatment as a result of clonal evolution and selection. Repeat biopsies to study genomic evolution as a result of therapy are difficult, invasive and may be confounded by intra-tumour heterogeneity. Recent studies have shown that genomic alterations in solid cancers can be characterized by massively parallel sequencing of circulating cell-free tumour DNA released from cancer cells into plasma, representing a non-invasive liquid biopsy. Here we report sequencing of cancer exomes in serial plasma samples to track genomic evolution of metastatic cancers in response to therapy. Six patients with advanced breast, ovarian and lung cancers were followed over 1-2 years. For each case, exome sequencing was performed on 2-5 plasma samples (19 in total) spanning multiple courses of treatment, at selected time points when the allele fraction of tumour mutations in plasma was high, allowing improved sensitivity. For two cases, synchronous biopsies were also analysed, confirming genome-wide representation of the tumour genome in plasma. Quantification of allele fractions in plasma identified increased representation of mutant alleles in association with emergence of therapy resistance. These included an activating mutation in PIK3CA (phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate 3-kinase, catalytic subunit alpha) following treatment with paclitaxel; a truncating mutation in RB1 (retinoblastoma 1) following treatment with cisplatin; a truncating mutation in MED1 (mediator complex subunit 1) following treatment with tamoxifen and trastuzumab, and following subsequent treatment with lapatinib, a splicing mutation in GAS6 (growth arrest-specific 6) in the same patient; and a resistance-conferring mutation in EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor; T790M) following treatment with gefitinib. These results establish proof of principle that exome-wide analysis of circulating tumour DNA could complement current invasive biopsy approaches to identify mutations associated with acquired drug resistance in advanced cancers. Serial analysis of cancer genomes in plasma constitutes a new paradigm for the study of clonal evolution in human cancers.

Akitake-Kawano R, Seno H, Nakatsuji M, et al.
Inhibitory role of Gas6 in intestinal tumorigenesis.
Carcinogenesis. 2013; 34(7):1567-74 [PubMed] Related Publications
Growth arrest-specific gene (Gas) 6 is a γ-carboxyglutamic acid domain-containing protein, which shares 43% amino acid identity with protein S. Gas6 has been shown to enhance cancer cell proliferation in vitro. On the other hand, recent studies have demonstrated that Gas6 inhibits toll-like receptor-mediated immune reactions. Immune reactions are known to affect intestinal tumorigenesis. In this study, we investigated how Gas6 contributes to tumorigenesis in the intestine. Administration of recombinant Gas6 weakly, but significantly, enhanced proliferation of intestinal cancer cells (SW480 and HT29), whereas it suppressed the inflammatory responses of Lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated monocytes (THP-1). Compared with Gas6(+/+) mice, Gas6(-/-) mice exhibited enhanced azoxymethane/dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced tumorigenesis and had a shorter survival. Gas6(-/-) mice also exhibited more severe DSS-induced colitis. DSS-treated Gas6(-/-) mice showed attenuated Socs1/3 messenger RNA expression and enhanced nuclear factor-kappaB activation in the colonic stroma, suggesting that the target of Gas6 is stromal cells. Bone marrow transplantation experiments indicated that both epithelial cells and bone marrow-derived cells are Gas6 sources. Furthermore, the number of intestinal tumors in Apc(Min) Gas6(-/-) mice was higher than that in Apc(Min) Gas6(+/+) mice, resulting in shorter survival. In a group of 62 patients with advanced colorectal cancer, Gas6 immunoreactivity in cancer tissues was positively correlated with prognosis. Thus, we revealed a unique in vivo inhibitory role of Gas6 during the progression of intestinal tumors associated with suppression of stromal immune reactions. These results suggest a novel therapeutic approach for colorectal cancer patients by regulation of stromal immune responses.

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