Home Welcome to Our Lab Dr. Wang’s lab is part of the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The laboratory is funded by the National Institutes of Health, Hyundai Hope on Wheels, Four Diamonds, and Lois High Berstler and provides an excellent training environment for students and fellows who are interested in basic and translational cancer research. About Us Our Research Research in this laboratory aims to better understand the fundamental mechanisms that control apoptosis (a cell self-killing mechanism) and autophagy (a cell self-eating process). The ultimate goal of Dr. Wang’s research is to translate basic science discoveries to the development of new approaches for the treatment and prevention of cancer. Learn More About Us Go to page Our Research Go to page Lab Members Go to page Contact Us Go to page Research Highlights An autophagy assay reveals the ESCRT-III component CHMP2A as a regulator of phagophore closure. Takahashi Y, et al. Nat Commun. 2018 Jul 20;9(1):2855. The mechanism of phagophore closure remains unclear due to technical limitations in distinguishing unclosed and closed autophagosomal membranes. Here, we report the HaloTag-LC3 autophagosome completion assay that specifically detects phagophores, nascent autophagosomes, and mature autophagic structures. Using this assay, we identify the endosomal sorting complexes required for transport (ESCRT)-III component CHMP2A as a critical regulator of phagophore closure. During autophagy, CHMP2A translocates to the phagophore and regulates the separation of the inner and outer autophagosomal membranes to form double-membrane autophagosomes. Consistently, inhibition of the AAA-ATPase VPS4 activity impairs autophagosome completion. The ESCRT-mediated membrane abscission appears to be a critical step in forming functional autolysosomes by preventing mislocalization of lysosome-associated membrane glycoprotein 1 to the inner autophagosomal membrane. Collectively, our work reveals a function for the ESCRT machinery in the final step of autophagosome formation and provides a useful tool for quantitative analysis of autophagosome biogenesis and maturation. Mechanisms and context underlying the role of autophagy in cancer metastasis. Dower CM, et al. Autophagy. 2018 Jun 4:1-19. [Epub ahead of print] Macroautophagy/autophagy is a fundamental cellular degradation mechanism that maintains cell homeostasis, regulates cell signaling, and promotes cell survival. Its role in promoting tumor cell survival in stress conditions is well characterized, and makes autophagy an attractive target for cancer therapy. Emerging research indicates that autophagy also influences cancer metastasis, which is the primary cause of cancer-associated mortality. However, data demonstrate that the regulatory role of autophagy in metastasis is multifaceted, and includes both metastasis-suppressing and -promoting functions. The metastasis-suppressing functions of autophagy, in particular, have important implications for autophagy-based treatments, as inhibition of autophagy may increase the risk of metastasis. In this review, we discuss the mechanisms and context underlying the role of autophagy in metastasis, which include autophagy-mediated regulation of focal adhesion dynamics, integrin signaling and trafficking, Rho GTPase-mediated cytoskeleton remodeling, anoikis resistance, extracellular matrix remodeling, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition signaling, and tumor-stromal cell interactions. Through this, we aim to clarify the context-dependent nature of autophagy-mediated metastasis and provide direction for further research investigating the role of autophagy in cancer metastasis. Sphingolipids as Regulators of Autophagy and Endocytic Trafficking. Young MM & Wang HG. Adv Cancer Res. 2018;140:27-60. Dysregulated autophagy is a hallmark of cancer; and thus, there is great interest in modulating autophagy for cancer therapy. Sphingolipids regulate each step of autophagosome biogenesis with roles for sphingolipid metabolites and enzymes spanning from the initial step of de novo ceramide synthesis to the sphingosine-1-phosphate lyase 1-mediated exit from the sphingolipid pathway. Notably, sphingolipid metabolism occurs at several of the organelles that contribute to autophagosome biogenesis to suggest that local changes in sphingolipids may regulate autophagy. As sphingolipid metabolism is frequently dysregulated in cancer, a molecular understanding of sphingolipids in stress-induced autophagy may provide insight into the mechanisms driving tumor development and progression. On the contrary, modulation of sphingolipid metabolites and/or enzymes can induce autophagy-dependent cell death for cancer therapy. This chapter will overview the major steps in mammalian autophagy, discuss the regulation of each step by sphingolipid metabolites, and describe the functions of sphingolipid-mediated autophagy in cancer. While our understanding of the signaling and biophysical properties of sphingolipids in autophagy remains in its infancy, the unique cross talk between the two pathways is an exciting area for further development, particularly in the context of cancer therapy. Atg2A/B deficiency switches cytoprotective autophagy to non-canonical caspase-8 activation and apoptosis. Tang Z, et al. Cell Death Differ. 2017 Dec;24(12):2127-2138. Autophagosomal membranes are emerging as platforms for various cell survival and death signaling networks beyond autophagy. While autophagy-dependent cell death has been reported in response to a variety of stimuli, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain far from clear. Here, we demonstrate that inhibition of autophagosome completion by Atg2A/B deletion accumulates immature autophagosomal membranes that promote non-canonical caspase-8 activation in response to nutrient starvation via an intracellular death-inducing signaling complex (iDISC). Importantly, iDISC-induced caspase-8 dimerization and activation occurs on accumulated autophagosomal membranes and requires the LC3 conjugation machinery but is independent from the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis. Moreover, we have identified NF-κB signaling and c-FLIP as negative regulators of iDISC-mediated caspase-8 activation and apoptosis. Collectively, these findings reveal autophagosomal membrane completion as a novel target to switch cytoprotective autophagy to apoptosis. Selective Reversible Inhibition of Autophagy in Hypoxic Breast Cancer Cells Promotes Pulmonary Metastasis. Dower CM, et al. Cancer Res. 2017 Feb 1;77(3):646-657. Autophagy influences how cancer cells respond to nutrient deprivation and hypoxic stress, two hallmarks of the tumor microenvironment (TME). In this study, we explored the impact of autophagy on the pathophysiology of breast cancer cells using a novel hypoxia-dependent, reversible dominant-negative strategy to regulate autophagy at the cellular level within the TME. Suppression of autophagy via hypoxia-induced expression of the kinase-dead unc-51-like autophagy-activating kinase (ULK1) mutant K46N increased lung metastases in MDA-MB-231 xenograft mouse models. Consistent with this effect, expressing a dominant-negative mutant of ULK1 or ATG4b or a ULK1-targeting shRNA facilitated cell migration in vitro Functional proteomic and transcriptome analysis revealed that loss of hypoxia-regulated autophagy promotes metastasis via induction of the fibronectin integrin signaling axis. Indeed, loss of ULK1 function increased fibronectin deposition in the hypoxic TME. Together, our results indicated that hypoxia-regulated autophagy suppresses metastasis in breast cancer by preventing tumor fibrosis. These results also suggest cautions in the development of autophagy-based strategies for cancer treatment. Sphingosine Kinase 1 Cooperates with Autophagy to Maintain Endocytic Membrane Trafficking. Young MM, et al. Cell Rep. 2016 Nov 1; 17(6):1532-45. Sphingosine kinase 1 (Sphk1) associates with early endocytic membranes during endocytosis; however, the role of sphingosine or sphingosine-1-phosphate as the critical metabolite in endocytic trafficking has not been established. Here, we demonstrate that the recruitment of Sphk1 to sphingosine-enriched endocytic vesicles and the generation of sphingosine-1-phosphate facilitate membrane trafficking along the endosomal pathway. Exogenous sphingosine and sphingosine-based Sphk1 inhibitors induce the Sphk1-dependent fusion of endosomal membranes to accumulate enlarged late endosomes and amphisomes enriched in sphingolipids. Interestingly, Sphk1 also appears to facilitate endosomal fusion independent of its catalytic activity, given that catalytically inactive Sphk1G82D is recruited to endocytic membranes by sphingosine or sphingosine-based Sphk1 inhibitor and promotes membrane fusion. Furthermore, we reveal that the clearance of enlarged endosomes is dependent on the activity of ceramide synthase, lysosomal biogenesis, and the restoration of autophagic flux. Collectively, these studies uncover intersecting roles for Sphk1, sphingosine, and autophagic machinery in endocytic membrane trafficking. Atg5-dependent autophagy contributes to the development of acute myeloid leukemia in an MLL-AF9-driven mouse model. Liu Q, et al. Cell Death Dis. 2016 Sep 8; 7(9):e2361. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a hierarchical hematopoietic malignancy originating from leukemic stem cells (LSCs). Autophagy is a lysosomal degradation pathway that is hypothesized to be important for the maintenance of AML as well as contribute to chemotherapy response. Here we employ a mouse model of AML expressing the fusion oncogene MLL-AF9 and explore the effects of Atg5 deletion, a key autophagy protein, on the malignant transformation and progression of AML. Consistent with a transient decrease in colony-forming potential in vitro, the in vivo deletion of Atg5 in MLL-AF9-transduced bone marrow cells during primary transplantation prolonged the survival of recipient mice, suggesting that autophagy has a role in MLL-AF9-driven leukemia initiation. In contrast, deletion of Atg5 in malignant AML cells during secondary transplantation did not influence the survival or chemotherapeutic response of leukemic mice. Interestingly, autophagy was found to be involved in the survival of differentiated myeloid cells originating from MLL-AF9-driven LSCs. Taken together, our data suggest that Atg5-dependent autophagy may contribute to the development but not chemotherapy sensitivity of murine AML induced by MLL-AF9. Bif-1 deficiency impairs lipid homeostasis and causes obesity accompanied by insulin resistance. Liu Y, et al. Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 9; 6:20453. Bif-1 is a membrane-curvature inducing protein that is implicated in the regulation of autophagy and tumorigenesis. Here, we report that Bif-1 plays a critical role in regulating lipid catabolism to control the size of lipid droplets and prevent the development of obesity and insulin resistance upon aging or dietary challenge. Our data show that Bif-1 deficiency promotes the expansion of adipose tissue mass without altering food intake or physical activities. While Bif-1 is dispensable for adipose tissue development, its deficiency reduces the basal rate of adipose tissue lipolysis and results in adipocyte hypertrophy upon aging. The importance of Bif-1 in lipid turnover is not limited to adipose tissue since fasting and refeeding-induced lipid droplet clearance is also attenuated by Bif-1 loss in the liver. Interestingly, obesity induced by a high fat-diet or Bif-1 deficiency downregulates the expression of proteins involved in the autophagy-lysosomal pathway, including Atg9a and Lamp1 in the adipose tissue. These findings thus identify Bif-1 as a novel regulator of lipid homeostasis to prevent the pathogenesis of obesity and its associated metabolic complications. The Bif-1-Dynamin 2 membrane fission machinery regulates Atg9-containing vesicle generation at the Rab11-positive reservoirs. Takahashi Y et al. Oncotarget. 2016 Apr 12; 7(15):20855-68. Atg9 is a multispanning transmembrane protein that is required for autophagosome formation. During autophagy, vesicles containing Atg9 are generated through an unknown mechanism and delivered to the autophagosome formation sites. We have previously reported that Atg9-containing membranes undergo continuous tubulation and fission during nutrient starvation in a manner dependent on the curvature-inducing protein Bif-1/Sh3glb1. Here, we identify Dynamin 2 (DNM2) as a Bif-1-interacting protein that mediates the fission of Atg9-containing membranes during autophagy. The interaction of Bif-1 and DNM2 is enhanced upon nutrient starvation, and Bif-1 and DNM2 cooperatively induce the generation of Atg9-containing vesicles. Inhibition of the GTPase activity of DNM2 results in the accumulation of Atg9-positive tubular structures that originate from a Rab11-positive reservoir. Although Atg9 seems to be constitutively trafficked to the reservoir regardless of Bif-1 expression, membrane tubulation from the Atg9 reservoir is dependent on Bif-1 and is strongly induced upon nutrient starvation. These findings suggest that the generation of Atg9 vesicles from a Rab11-positive reservoir is tightly controlled by the Bif-1-DNM2 membrane fission machinery in response to cellular demand for autophagy.