Professor Simon Leedham
|Research Area:||Cell and Molecular Biology|
|Keywords:||Stem cells and Morphogens|
Simon Leedham is a Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist and an Honorary Consultant Gastroenterologist
Outline of Research
Adult gastrointestinal stem cells are the targets of carcinogenic gene mutations and are believed to be the cells of origin of luminal gastrointestinal cancers. Our published work has examined the clonality and genetic mutation burden of pre-neoplastic gastrointestinal disease. Our current research focuses on the homeostatic cell-signaling pathways that control intestinal stem cells and the dysregulation of these pathways in carcinogenesis. The wnt pathway is the best characterised system and promotes the maintenance and proliferation of stem cells, however other signaling pathways such as the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) and Notch pathway cross-talk and interact with wnt signaling. Recent work from our laboratory on hereditary polyposis syndromes and genome-wide association studies in sporadic colorectal cancer patients has implicated the BMP pathway’s involvement in predisposition to colorectal cancer.
Projects in the lab
Clonality and clonal ordering.
We have developed techniques for examining the mutation burden of single intestinal crypts from archival paraffin embedded tissue. We use individual crypt mutation burden to analyse clonal evolution and construct tumor phylogeny by examining the spatial distribution of shared mutations in different phenotypic regions across single lesions; a technique that has been termed clonal ordering or genetic dependency analysis
‘Just-right’ wnt signal levels and regional intestinal tumour formation.
Mutations in the tumour suppressor gene APC result in increased canonical wnt signaling in intestinal stem cells and are found in up to 85% of colorectal tumours. The ‘just-right’ hypothesis predicts that an optimal but not excessive level of wnt signal in necessary for tumourigenesis and it is this that determines the APC mutation spectra. The optimal level of wnt signal varies throughout the intestinal tract. We are investigating the underlying basal wnt gradient in the human and mouse and have used transgenic mouse models to examine the effect of pan-intestinal wnt perturbation.
Mesenchymal control of intestinal stem cells.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that the epithelial stroma significantly influences tumour development and progression. BMP pathway constituents are mesenchymally expressed and act in a paracrine fashion upon the intestinal epithelium, antagonising wnt signaling and promoting differentiation in mature enterocytes. We are examining the epigenetic and transcriptional control of BMP pathway constituents and functionally characterizing the role of this pathway in intestinal stem cell control in vitro using colorectal cancer and myofibroblast cell lines and in vivo by developing transgenic animal models.
|Professor Ian Tomlinson||Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
The conventional model of intestinal epithelial architecture describes a unidirectional tissue organizational hierarchy with stem cells situated at the crypt base and daughter cells proliferating and terminally differentiating as they progress along the vertical (crypt-luminal) axis. In this model, the fate of a cell that has left the niche is determined and its lifespan limited. Evidence is accumulating to suggest that stem cell control and daughter cell fate determination is not solely an intrinsic, cell autonomous property but is heavily influenced by the microenvironment including paracrine, mesenchymal, and endogenous epithelial morphogen gradients. Recent research suggests that in intestinal homeostasis, stem cells transit reversibly between states of variable competence in the niche. Furthermore, selective pressures that disrupt the homeostatic balance, such as intestinal inflammation or morphogen dysregulation, can cause committed progenitor cells and even some differentiated cells to regain stem cell properties. Importantly, it has been recently shown that this disruption of cell fate determination can lead to somatic mutation and neoplastic transformation of cells situated outside the crypt base stem cell niche. This paper reviews the exciting developments in the study of stem cell dynamics in homeostasis, intestinal regeneration, and carcinogenesis, and explores the implications for human disease and cancer therapies. © 2015 Authors. The Journal of Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Hide abstract
Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS) is characterized by the development of mixed-morphology colorectal tumors and is caused by a 40-kb genetic duplication that results in aberrant epithelial expression of the gene encoding mesenchymal bone morphogenetic protein antagonist, GREM1. Here we use HMPS tissue and a mouse model of the disease to show that epithelial GREM1 disrupts homeostatic intestinal morphogen gradients, altering cell fate that is normally determined by position along the vertical epithelial axis. This promotes the persistence and/or reacquisition of stem cell properties in Lgr5-negative progenitor cells that have exited the stem cell niche. These cells form ectopic crypts, proliferate, accumulate somatic mutations and can initiate intestinal neoplasia, indicating that the crypt base stem cell is not the sole cell of origin of colorectal cancer. Furthermore, we show that epithelial expression of GREM1 also occurs in traditional serrated adenomas, sporadic premalignant lesions with a hitherto unknown pathogenesis, and these lesions can be considered the sporadic equivalents of HMPS polyps. Hide abstract
A rare germline duplication upstream of the bone morphogenetic protein antagonist GREM1 causes a Mendelian-dominant predisposition to colorectal cancer (CRC). The underlying disease mechanism is strong, ectopic GREM1 overexpression in the intestinal epithelium. Here, we confirm that a common GREM1 polymorphism, rs16969681, is also associated with CRC susceptibility, conferring ∼20% differential risk in the general population. We hypothesized the underlying cause to be moderate differences in GREM1 expression. We showed that rs16969681 lies in a region of active chromatin with allele- and tissue-specific enhancer activity. The CRC high-risk allele was associated with stronger gene expression, and higher Grem1 mRNA levels increased the intestinal tumor burden in Apc(Min) mice. The intestine-specific transcription factor CDX2 and Wnt effector TCF7L2 bound near rs16969681, with significantly higher affinity for the risk allele, and CDX2 overexpression in CDX2/GREM1-negative cells caused re-expression of GREM1. rs16969681 influences CRC risk through effects on Wnt-driven GREM1 expression in colorectal tumors. Hide abstract
There is a 10% shortfall in the number of proximal colorectal cancer cases detected by the UK Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and the actual number of UK-registered proximal colorectal cancers. Sessile serrated adenomas/polyps (SSA/P) are common premalignant lesions in the proximal colon and are notoriously difficult to spot endoscopically. Missed or dismissed SSA/Ps might contribute to this UK proximal colon cancer detection disparity. In Oxfordshire, a service evaluation audit and histological review has shown a linear increase in the detection rate of these lesions over the past 4 years. This is the result of increased endoscopist and pathologist awareness of these lesions and improved interdisciplinary communication. This is the result of increased endoscopist and pathologist awareness of these lesions, together with improved interdisciplinary communication, and we predict that this will lead to a comparable detection increase nationwide. Ongoing surveillance of an increasing number of these premalignant lesions could become a significant endoscopic resource requirement once UK guidelines on serrated lesion follow up are established. Hide abstract
Objective: Wnt signalling is critical for normal intestinal development and homeostasis. Wnt dysregulation occurs in almost all human and murine intestinal tumours and an optimal but not excessive level of Wnt activation is considered favourable for tumourigenesis. The authors assessed effects of pan-intestinal Wnt activation on tissue homeostasis, taking into account underlying physiological Wnt activity and stem-cell number in each region of the bowel. Design: The authors generated mice that expressed temporally controlled, stabilised β-catenin along the crypt-villus axis throughout the intestines. Physiological Wnt target gene activity was assessed in different regions of normal mouse and human tissue. Human intestinal tumour mutation spectra were analysed. Results: In the mouse, β-catenin stabilisation resulted in a graduated neoplastic response, ranging from dysplastic transformation of the entire epithelium in the proximal small bowel to slightly enlarged crypts of non-dysplastic morphology in the colorectum. In contrast, stem and proliferating cell numbers were increased in all intestinal regions. In the normal mouse and human intestines, stem-cell and Wnt gradients were non-identical, but higher in the small bowel than large bowel in both species. There was also variation in the expression of some Wnt modulators. Human tumour analysis confirmed that different APC mutation spectra are selected in different regions of the bowel. Conclusions: There are variable gradients in stem-cell number, physiological Wnt activity and response to pathologically increased Wnt signalling along the cryptvillus axis and throughout the length of the intestinal tract. The authors propose that this variation influences regional mutation spectra, tumour susceptibility and lesion distribution in mice and humans. Hide abstract
Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS) is characterized by apparent autosomal dominant inheritance of multiple types of colorectal polyp, with colorectal carcinoma occurring in a high proportion of affected individuals. Here, we use genetic mapping, copy-number analysis, exclusion of mutations by high-throughput sequencing, gene expression analysis and functional assays to show that HMPS is caused by a duplication spanning the 3' end of the SCG5 gene and a region upstream of the GREM1 locus. This unusual mutation is associated with increased allele-specific GREM1 expression. Whereas GREM1 is expressed in intestinal subepithelial myofibroblasts in controls, GREM1 is predominantly expressed in the epithelium of the large bowel in individuals with HMPS. The HMPS duplication contains predicted enhancer elements; some of these interact with the GREM1 promoter and can drive gene expression in vitro. Increased GREM1 expression is predicted to cause reduced bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway activity, a mechanism that also underlies tumorigenesis in juvenile polyposis of the large bowel. Hide abstract
Hereditary mixed polyposis syndrome (HMPS) is characterized by apparent autosomal dominant inheritance of multiple types of colorectal polyp, with colorectal carcinoma occurring in a high proportion of affected individuals. Here, we use genetic mapping, copy-number analysis, exclusion of mutations by high-throughput sequencing, gene expression analysis and functional assays to show that HMPS is caused by a duplication spanning the 3′ end of the SCG5 gene and a region upstream of the GREM1 locus. This unusual mutation is associated with increased allele-specific GREM1 expression. Whereas GREM1 is expressed in intestinal subepithelial myofibroblasts in controls, GREM1 is predominantly expressed in the epithelium of the large bowel in individuals with HMPS. The HMPS duplication contains predicted enhancer elements; some of these interact with the GREM1 promoter and can drive gene expression in vitro. Increased GREM1 expression is predicted to cause reduced bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway activity, a mechanism that also underlies tumorigenesis in juvenile polyposis of the large bowel. © 2012 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Tumors that develop in patients with Crohn's disease tend be multifocal, so field cancerization (the replacement of normal cells with nondysplastic but tumorigenic clones) might contribute to intestinal carcinogenesis. We investigated patterns of tumor development from pretumor intestinal cell clones. METHODS: We performed genetic analyses of multiple areas of intestine from 10 patients with Crohn's disease and intestinal neoplasia. Two patients had multifocal neoplasia; longitudinal sections were collected from 3 patients. Individual crypts were microdissected and genotyped; clonal dependency analysis was used to determine the order and timing of mutations that led to tumor development. RESULTS: The same mutations in KRAS, CDKN2A(p16), and TP53 that were observed in neoplasias were also present in nontumor, nondysplastic, and dysplastic epithelium. In 2 patients, carcinogenic mutations were detected in nontumor epithelium 4 years before tumors developed. The same mutation (TP53 p.R248W) was detected at multiple sites along the entire length of the colon from 1 patient; it was the apparent founder mutation for synchronous tumors and multiple dysplastic areas. Disruption of TP53, CDKN2A, and KRAS were all seen as possible initial events in tumorigenesis; the sequence of mutations (the tumor development pathway) differed among lesions. CONCLUSIONS: Pretumor clones can grow extensively in the intestinal epithelium of patients with Crohn's disease. Segmental resections for neoplasia in patients with Crohn's disease might therefore leave residual pretumor disease, and dysplasia might be an unreliable biomarker for cancer risk. Characterization of the behavior of pretumor clones might be used to predict the development of intestinal neoplasia. Hide abstract
Studies employing mouse models have identified crypt base and position +4 cells as strong candidates for intestinal epithelial stem cells. Equivalent cell populations are thought to exist in the human intestine; however robust and specific protein markers are lacking. Here, we show that in the human small and large intestine, PHLDA1 is expressed in discrete crypt base and some position +4 cells. In small adenomas, PHLDA1 was expressed in a subset of undifferentiated and predominantly Ki-67-negative neoplastic cells, suggesting that a basic hierarchy of differentiation is retained in early tumorigenesis. In large adenomas, carcinomas, and metastases PHLDA1 expression became widespread, with increased expression and nuclear localization at invasive margins. siRNA-mediated suppression of PHLDA1 in colon cancer cells inhibited migration and anchorage-independent growth in vitro and tumor growth in vivo. The integrins ITGA2 and ITGA6 were downregulated in response to PHLDA1 suppression, and accordingly cell adhesion to laminin and collagen was significantly reduced. We conclude that PHLDA1 is a putative epithelial stem cell marker in the human small and large intestine and contributes to migration and proliferation in colon cancer cells. ©2011 AACR. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Studies of the clonal architecture of gastric glands with intestinal metaplasia are important in our understanding of the progression from metaplasia to dysplasia. It is not clear if dysplasias are derived from intestinal metaplasia or how dysplasias expand. We investigated whether cells within a metaplastic gland share a common origin, whether glands clonally expand by fission, and determine if such metaplastic glands are genetically related to the associated dysplasia. We also examined the clonal architecture of entire dysplastic lesions and the genetic changes associated with progression within dysplasia. METHODS: Cytochrome c oxidase-deficient (CCO⁻) metaplastic glands were identified using a dual enzyme histochemical assay. Clonality was assessed by laser capture of multiple cells throughout CCO⁻ glands and polymerase chain reaction sequencing of the entire mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome. Nuclear DNA abnormalities in individual glands were identified by laser capture microdissection polymerase chain reaction sequencing for mutation hot spots and microsatellite loss of heterozygosity analysis. RESULTS: Metaplastic glands were derived from the same clone-all lineages shared a common mtDNA mutation. Mutated glands were found in patches that had developed through gland fission. Metaplastic and dysplastic glands can be genetically related, indicating the clonal origin of dysplasia from metaplasia. Entire dysplastic fields contained a founder mutation from which multiple, distinct subclones developed. CONCLUSIONS: There is evidence for a distinct clonal evolution from metaplasia to dysplasia in the human stomach. By field cancerization, a single clone can expand to form an entire dysplastic lesion. Over time, this field appears to become genetically diverse, indicating that gastric cancer can arise from a subclone of the founder mutation. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND & AIMS: It is a challenge to determine the dynamics of stem cells within human epithelial tissues such as colonic crypts. By tracking methylation patterns of nonexpressed genes, we have been able to determine how rapidly individual stem cells became dominant within a human colonic crypt. We also analyzed methylation patterns to study clonal expansion of entire crypts via crypt fission. METHODS: Colonic mucosa was obtained from 9 patients who received surgery for colorectal cancer. The methylation patterns of Cardiac-specific homeobox, Myoblast determination protein 1, and Biglycan were examined within clonal cell populations, comprising either part of, or multiple adjacent, normal human colonic crypts. Clonality was demonstrated by following cytochrome c oxidase-deficient (CCO⁻) cells that shared an identical somatic point mutation in mitochondrial DNA. RESULTS: Methylation pattern diversity among CCO⁻ clones that occupied only part of a crypt was proportional to clone size; this allowed us to determine rates of clonal expansion. Analysis indicated a slow rate of niche succession within the crypt. The 2 arms of bifurcating crypts had distinct methylation patterns, indicating that fission can disrupt epigenetic records of crypt ancestry. Adjacent clonal CCO⁻ crypts usually had methylation patterns as dissimilar to one another as methylation patterns of 2 unrelated crypts. Mathematical models indicated that stem cell dynamics and epigenetic drift could account for observed dissimilarities in methylation patterns. CONCLUSIONS: Methylation patterns can be analyzed to determine the rates of recent clonal expansion of stem cells, but determination of clonality over many decades is restricted by epigenetic drift. We developed a technique to follow changes in intestinal stem cell dynamics in human epithelial tissues that might be used to study premalignant disease. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND & AIMS: According to the somatic mutation theory, monoclonal colorectal lesions arise from sequential mutations in the progeny of a single stem cell. However, studies in a sex chromosome mixoploid mosaic (XO/XY) patient indicated that colorectal adenomas were polyclonal. We assessed adenoma clonality on an individual crypt basis and completed a genetic dependency analysis in carcinomas-in-adenomas to assess mutation order and timing. METHODS: Polyp samples were analyzed from the XO/XY individual, patients with familial adenomatous polyposis and attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis, patients with small sporadic adenomas, and patients with sporadic carcinoma-in-adenomas. Clonality was analyzed using X/Y chromosome fluorescence in situ hybridization, analysis of 5q loss of heterozygosity in XO/XY tissue, and sequencing of adenomatous polyposis coli. Individual crypts and different phenotypic areas of carcinoma-in-adenoma lesions were analyzed for mutations in adenomatous polyposis coli, p53, and K-RAS; loss of heterozygosity at 5q, 17p, and 18q; and aneuploidy. Phylogenetic trees were constructed. RESULTS: All familial adenomatous polyposis-associated adenomas and some sporadic lesions had polyclonal genetic defects. Some independent clones appeared to be maintained in advanced adenomas. No clear obligate order of genetic events was established. Top-down growth of dysplastic tissue into neighboring crypts was a possible mechanism of clonal competition. CONCLUSIONS: Human colorectal microadenomas are polyclonal and may arise from a combination of host genetic features, mucosal exposures, and active crypt interactions. Analyses of tumor phylogenies show that most lesions undergo intermittent genetic homogenization, but heterotypic mutation patterns indicate that independent clonal evolution can occur throughout adenoma development. Based on observations of clonal ordering the requirement and timing of genetic events during neoplastic progression may be more variable than previously thought. Hide abstract
Gut, 59 (11), pp. 1452-1453. | Read more2010. Field defects in DNA repair: is loss of MGMT an initial event in colorectal carcinogenesis?
BACKGROUND & AIMS: The clonality of colitis-associated neoplasia has not been fully determined. One previous report showed polyclonal origins with subsequent monoclonal outgrowth. We aimed to assess the clonality and mutation burden of individual crypts in colitis-associated neoplasias to try to identify gatekeeping founder mutations, and explore the clonality of synchronous lesions to look for field effects. METHODS: Individual crypts (range, 8-21 crypts) were microdissected from across 17 lesions from 10 patients. Individual crypt adenomatous polyposis coli (APC), p53, K-RAS, and 17p loss of heterozygosity mutation burden was established using polymerase chain reaction and sequencing analysis. Serial sections underwent immunostaining for p53, beta-catenin, and image cytometry to detect aneuploidy. RESULTS: In most lesions an oncogenic mutation could be identified in all crypts across the lesion showing monoclonality. This founder mutation was a p53 lesion in the majority of neoplasms but 4 tumors had an initiating K-RAS mutation. Some nondysplastic crypts surrounding areas of dysplasia were found to contain clonal p53 mutations and in one case 3 clonal tumors arose from a patch of nondysplastic crypts containing a K-RAS mutation. CONCLUSIONS: This study used mutation burden analysis of individual crypts across colitis-associated neoplasms to show lesion monoclonality. This study confirmed p53 mutation as initiating mutation in the majority of lesions, but also identified K-RAS activation as an alternative gatekeeping mutation. Local and segmental field cancerization was found by showing pro-oncogenic mutations in nondysplastic crypts surrounding neoplasms, although field changes are unlikely to involve the entire colon because widely separated tumors were genetically distinct. Hide abstract
UNLABELLED: The morphological changes associated with the adenoma-carcinoma sequence are well documented in the colorectum. Small intestinal carcinogenesis is thought to progress through a similar adenoma-to-carcinoma pathway, but there is a relative dearth of studies examining the associated morphological changes. The best-known mouse model of intestinal neoplasia, the multiple intestinal neoplasia (Min) mouse, has been criticized as a genetic model of intestinal neoplasia, as the majority of its tumours occur in the small intestine. We examined pancreatico-duodenal resection specimens from seven familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) patients. Serial sections of these were stained with haematoxylin and eosin for beta-catenin and its downstream target CD44, for BMPR1a, lysozyme, carbonic anhydrase II, and with MIB-1. Individual dysplastic crypts were isolated and mutations in the FAP (APC) gene compared between the top and bottom of the crypt. We found that: (a) duodenal microadenomas are extremely common in FAP patients; (b) these grow in the core of duodenal villi, forming lesions similar to those described in the Min mouse; (c) many lesions arise as monocryptal adenomas and grow by a process of crypt fission and branching; (d) migrating adenomatous cells lose their dysplastic phenotype as they migrate up the crypt villous axis; and (e) Paneth cells lose positional information. IN CONCLUSION: (a) the morphological similarity of adenomas in the Min mouse and human suggest the Min mouse is a good model of FAP; (b) duodenal adenomas in FAP originate in monocryptal adenomas and follow the 'bottom-up' rather than the 'top-down' model of morphogenesis; (c) early microadenomas show evidence of cellular differentiation; (d) defects in the positioning of Paneth cells suggests disruption of the EphB2:EphB3 receptor system. Hide abstract
One of the premises of the somatic mutation theory of carcinogenesis is that tumours are clonal lesions derived from a single mutated stem cell progenitor. This theory spawned a proliferation of clonality studies, using a variety of different molecular markers to try to determine tumour clonality in multiple organs. In order to establish true clonality, it is necessary to identify the original founding mutation that occurred at the initiation of the progenitor clone. Use of other lesions may only serve to identify sub-clones. As founding mutations have not been properly established in many organ systems, human clonality assessments carry this caveat. However it is only through clonality and mutation burden assessments that phylogenetic tress become established. Here, we review the advantages, disadvantages and use of different clonality markers. Hide abstract
OBJECTIVES: Current models of clonal expansion in human Barrett's oesophagus are based upon heterogenous, flow-purified biopsy analysis taken at multiple segment levels. Detection of identical mutation fingerprints from these biopsy samples led to the proposal that a mutated clone with a selective advantage can clonally expand to fill an entire Barrett's segment at the expense of competing clones (selective sweep to fixation model). We aimed to assess clonality at a much higher resolution by microdissecting and genetically analysing individual crypts. The histogenesis of Barrett's metaplasia and neo-squamous islands has never been demonstrated. We investigated the oesophageal gland squamous ducts as the source of both epithelial sub-types. METHODS: Individual crypts across Barrett's biopsy and oesophagectomy blocks were dissected. Determination of tumour suppressor gene loss of heterozygosity patterns, p16 and p53 point mutations were carried out on a crypt-by-crypt basis. Cases of contiguous neo-squamous islands and columnar metaplasia with oesophageal squamous ducts were identified. Tissues were isolated by laser capture microdissection and genetically analysed. RESULTS: Individual crypt dissection revealed mutation patterns that were masked in whole biopsy analysis. Dissection across oesophagectomy specimens demonstrated marked clonal heterogeneity, with multiple independent clones present. We identified a p16 point mutation arising in the squamous epithelium of the oesophageal gland duct, which was also present in a contiguous metaplastic crypt, whereas neo-squamous islands arising from squamous ducts were wild-type with respect to surrounding Barrett's dysplasia. CONCLUSIONS: By studying clonality at the crypt level we demonstrate that Barrett's heterogeneity arises from multiple independent clones, in contrast to the selective sweep to fixation model of clonal expansion previously described. We suggest that the squamous gland ducts situated throughout the oesophagus are the source of a progenitor cell that may be susceptible to gene mutation resulting in conversion to Barrett's metaplastic epithelium. Additionally, these data suggest that wild-type ducts may be the source of neo-squamous islands. Hide abstract
Microenvironmental influence on colorectal cancer development and tumour behaviour
Project proposal. Adult stem cells are present in, and form the foundation of every organ of the body. Stem cell division is critical to maintain homeostasis but is usually restricted to a stem cell niche within a tissue and occurs in a highly regulated fashion. Stringent control of stem cell division and function along with daughter cell differentiation and death (collectively known as cell-fate determination), is achieved by networks of endogenous epithelial and paracrine secreted signalling ...