Investigating the tumor suppressive functions of Notch signaling during skin cancer initiation and progression

Grantee: Sunny Y. Wong, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA

Grant: 2,486,354 DKK

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the world’s most common cancer and is defined by uncontrolled activation of the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway.

Although previous studies have suggested that elevated Hh may be sufficient for BCC formation, mutations in the Notch pathway are also commonly observed. Furthermore, Notch-deficient mice are susceptible to forming BCCs, and our recent studies have shown that Notch can modulate tumor-drug response.

These studies seek to understand whether Notch affects multiple aspects of BCC tumorigenesis. Using a combination of animal studies and human BCC specimens, we will investigate how Notch modulates tumor progression and stem cell origin.

We will also model in mice a recent clinical trial, where Alzheimer’s patients treated with a Notch inhibitor reported increased incidence of BCC. We hypothesize that Notch may suppress tumorigenesis at multiple levels by controlling cell differentiation, apoptosis and turnover, similar to its function in normal skin and hair follicles.

These studies will ultimately build on the novel premise that BCCs may originate from a precursor lesion. Given that Notch mutations are the most commonly observed genetic aberrations in human skin, a deeper understanding of the tumor suppressive properties of this pathway is urgently needed.