Cynthia Miranti
Co-Program Leader, Cancer Biology Research Program
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-2269
Research Interest
Research Interests Our objective is to define how integrin interactions within the tumor microenvironment impact prostate cancer development, hormonal resistance, and metastasis. Our approach is to understand the normal biology of the prostate gland and its microenvironment, as well as the bone environment, to inform on the mechanisms by which tumor cells remodel and use that environment to develop, acquire hormonal resistance, and metastasize. Our research is focused in three primary areas: 1) developing in vitro and in vivo models that recapitulate human disease based on clinical pathology, 2) identifying signal transduction pathway components that could serve as both clinical markers and therapeutic targets, and 3) defining the genetic/epigenetic programming involved in prostate cancer development.


Klionsky, D. J., Abdalla, F. C., Abeliovich, H., Abraham, R. T., Acevedo-Arozena, A., Adeli, K., Agholme, L., Agnello, M., Agostinis, P., Aguirre-Ghiso, J. A., Ahn, H. J., Ait-Mohamed, O., Ait-Si-Ali, S., Akematsu, T., Akira, S., Al-Younes, H. M., Al-Zeer, M. A., Albert, M. L., Albin, R. L., , Alegre-Abarrategui, J., et al. (2012). Guidelines for the use and interpretation of assays for monitoring autophagy. Autophagy, 8(4), 445-544.
BIO5 Collaborators
Walter Klimecki, Cynthia Miranti

In 2008 we published the first set of guidelines for standardizing research in autophagy. Since then, research on this topic has continued to accelerate, and many new scientists have entered the field. Our knowledge base and relevant new technologies have also been expanding. Accordingly, it is important to update these guidelines for monitoring autophagy in different organisms. Various reviews have described the range of assays that have been used for this purpose. Nevertheless, there continues to be confusion regarding acceptable methods to measure autophagy, especially in multicellular eukaryotes. A key point that needs to be emphasized is that there is a difference between measurements that monitor the numbers or volume of autophagic elements (e.g., autophagosomes or autolysosomes) at any stage of the autophagic process vs. those that measure flux through the autophagy pathway (i.e., the complete process); thus, a block in macroautophagy that results in autophagosome accumulation needs to be differentiated from stimuli that result in increased autophagic activity, defined as increased autophagy induction coupled with increased delivery to, and degradation within, lysosomes (in most higher eukaryotes and some protists such as Dictyostelium) or the vacuole (in plants and fungi). In other words, it is especially important that investigators new to the field understand that the appearance of more autophagosomes does not necessarily equate with more autophagy. In fact, in many cases, autophagosomes accumulate because of a block in trafficking to lysosomes without a concomitant change in autophagosome biogenesis, whereas an increase in autolysosomes may reflect a reduction in degradative activity. Here, we present a set of guidelines for the selection and interpretation of methods for use by investigators who aim to examine macroautophagy and related processes, as well as for reviewers who need to provide realistic and reasonable critiques of papers that are focused on these processes. These guidelines are not meant to be a formulaic set of rules, because the appropriate assays depend in part on the question being asked and the system being used. In addition, we emphasize that no individual assay is guaranteed to be the most appropriate one in every situation, and we strongly recommend the use of multiple assays to monitor autophagy. In these guidelines, we consider these various methods of assessing autophagy and what information can, or cannot, be obtained from them. Finally, by discussing the merits and limits of particular autophagy assays, we hope to encourage technical innovation in the field.

Frank, S. B., Schulz, V. V., & Miranti, C. K. (2017). A streamlined method for the design and cloning of shRNAs into an optimized Dox-inducible lentiviral vector. BMC biotechnology, 17(1), 24.

Short hairpin RNA (shRNA) is an established and effective tool for stable knock down of gene expression. Lentiviral vectors can be used to deliver shRNAs, thereby providing the ability to infect most mammalian cell types with high efficiency, regardless of proliferation state. Furthermore, the use of inducible promoters to drive shRNA expression allows for more thorough investigations into the specific timing of gene function in a variety of cellular processes. Moreover, inducible knockdown allows the investigation of genes that would be lethal or otherwise poorly tolerated if constitutively knocked down. Lentiviral inducible shRNA vectors are readily available, but unfortunately the process of cloning, screening, and testing shRNAs can be time-consuming and expensive. Therefore, we sought to refine a popular vector (Tet-pLKO-Puro) and streamline the cloning process with efficient protocols so that researchers can more efficiently utilize this powerful tool. METHODS: First, we modified the Tet-pLKO-Puro vector to make it easy ("EZ") for molecular cloning (EZ-Tet-pLKO-Puro). Our primary modification was to shrink the stuffer region, which allows vector purification via polyethylene glycol precipitation thereby avoiding the need to purify DNA through agarose. In addition, we generated EZ-Tet-pLKO vectors with hygromycin or blasticidin resistance to provide greater flexibility in cell line engineering. Furthermore, we provide a detailed guide for utilizing these vectors, including shRNA design strategy and simplified screening methods.

Berger, P. L., Winn, M. E., & Miranti, C. K. (2017). Miz1, a Novel Target of ING4, Can Drive Prostate Luminal Epithelial Cell Differentiation. The Prostate, 77(1), 49-59.

How prostate epithelial cells differentiate and how dysregulation of this process contributes to prostate tumorigenesis remain unclear. We recently identified a Myc target and chromatin reader protein, ING4, as a necessary component of human prostate luminal epithelial cell differentiation, which is often lost in primary prostate tumors. Furthermore, loss of ING4 in the context of oncogenic mutations is required for prostate tumorigenesis. Identifying the gene targets of ING4 can provide insight into how its loss disrupts differentiation and leads to prostate cancer.

Sridhar, S. C., & Miranti, C. K. (2006). Tetraspanin KAI1/CD82 suppresses invasion by inhibiting integrin-dependent crosstalk with c-Met receptor and Src kinases. Oncogene, 25(16), 2367-78.

KAI1/CD82, a tetraspanin protein, was first identified as a metastasis suppressor in prostate cancer. How loss of CD82 expression promotes cancer metastasis is unknown. Restoration of CD82 expression to physiological levels in the metastatic prostate cell line PC3 inhibits integrin-mediated cell migration and invasion, but does not affect integrin expression. Integrin-dependent activation of the receptor kinase c-Met is dramatically reduced in CD82-expressing cells, as is c-Met activation by its ligand HGF/SF. CD82 expression also reduced integrin-induced activation and phosphorylation of the cytoplasmic tyrosine kinase Src, and its downstream substrates p130Cas and FAK Y861. Inhibition of c-Met expression or Src kinase function reduced matrigel invasion of PC3 cells to the same extent as CD82 expression. These data indicate that CD82 functions to suppress integrin-induced invasion by regulating signaling to c-Met and Src kinases, and suggests that CD82 loss may promote metastasis by removing a negative regulator of c-Met and Src signaling.

Edick, M. J., Tesfay, L., Lamb, L. E., Knudsen, B. S., & Miranti, C. K. (2007). Inhibition of integrin-mediated crosstalk with epidermal growth factor receptor/Erk or Src signaling pathways in autophagic prostate epithelial cells induces caspase-independent death. Molecular biology of the cell, 18(7), 2481-90.

In vivo in the prostate gland, basal epithelial cells adhere to laminin 5 (LM5) via alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta4 integrins. When placed in culture primary prostate basal epithelial cells secrete and adhere to their own LM5-rich matrix. Adhesion to LM5 is required for cell survival that is dependent on integrin-mediated, ligand-independent activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and the cytoplasmic tyrosine kinase Src, but not PI-3K. Integrin-mediated adhesion via alpha3beta1, but not alpha6beta4 integrin, supports cell survival through EGFR by signaling downstream to Erk. PC3 cells, which do not activate EGFR or Erk on LM5-rich matrices, are not dependent on this pathway for survival. PC3 cells are dependent on PI-3K for survival and undergo caspase-dependent death when PI-3K is inhibited. The death induced by inhibition of EGFR or Src in normal primary prostate cells is not mediated through or dependent on caspase activation, but depends on the induction of reactive oxygen species. In addition the presence of an autophagic pathway, maintained by adhesion to matrix through alpha3beta1 and alpha6beta4, prevents the induction of caspases when EGFR or Src is inhibited. Suppression of autophagy is sufficient to induce caspase activation and apoptosis in LM5-adherent primary prostate epithelial cells.