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.

Miranti, C. K. (2002). Application of cell adhesion to study signaling networks. Methods in cell biology, 69, 359-83.
Frank, S. B., & Miranti, C. K. (2013). Disruption of prostate epithelial differentiation pathways and prostate cancer development. Frontiers in oncology, 3, 273.

One of the foremost problems in the prostate cancer (PCa) field is the inability to distinguish aggressive from indolent disease, which leads to difficult prognoses and thousands of unnecessary surgeries. This limitation stems from the fact that the mechanisms of tumorigenesis in the prostate are poorly understood. Some genetic alterations are commonly reported in prostate tumors, including upregulation of Myc, fusion of Ets genes to androgen-regulated promoters, and loss of Pten. However, the specific roles of these aberrations in tumor initiation and progression are poorly understood. Likewise, the cell of origin for PCa remains controversial and may be linked to the aggressive potential of the tumor. One important clue is that prostate tumors co-express basal and luminal protein markers that are restricted to their distinct cell types in normal tissue. Prostate epithelium contains layer-specific stem cells as well as rare bipotent cells, which can differentiate into basal or luminal cells. We hypothesize that the primary oncogenic cell of origin is a transient-differentiating bipotent cell. Such a cell must maintain tight temporal and spatial control of differentiation pathways, thus increasing its susceptibility for oncogenic disruption. In support of this hypothesis, many of the pathways known to be involved in prostate differentiation can be linked to genes commonly altered in PCa. In this article, we review what is known about important differentiation pathways (Myc, p38MAPK, Notch, PI3K/Pten) in the prostate and how their misregulation could lead to oncogenesis. Better understanding of normal differentiation will offer new insights into tumor initiation and may help explain the functional significance of common genetic alterations seen in PCa. Additionally, this understanding could lead to new methods for classifying prostate tumors based on their differentiation status and may aid in identifying more aggressive tumors.

Miranti, C. K., Leng, L., Maschberger, P., Brugge, J. S., & Shattil, S. J. (1998). Identification of a novel integrin signaling pathway involving the kinase Syk and the guanine nucleotide exchange factor Vav1. Current biology : CB, 8(24), 1289-99.

. Integrins induce the formation of large complexes of cytoskeletal and signaling proteins, which regulate many intracellular processes. The activation and assembly of signaling complexes involving focal adhesion kinase (FAK) occurs late in integrin signaling, downstream from actin polymerization. Our previous studies indicated that integrin-mediated activation of the non-receptor tyrosine kinase Syk in hematopoietic cells is independent of FAK and actin polymerization, and suggested the existence of a distinct signaling pathway regulated by Syk.

Frank, S. B., Berger, P. L., Ljungman, M., & Miranti, C. K. (2017). Human prostate luminal cell differentiation requires NOTCH3 induction by p38-MAPK and MYC. Journal of cell science, 130(11), 1952-1964.

Many pathways dysregulated in prostate cancer are also involved in epithelial differentiation. To better understand prostate tumor initiation, we sought to investigate specific genes and mechanisms required for normal basal to luminal cell differentiation. Utilizing human prostate basal epithelial cells and an in vitro differentiation model, we tested the hypothesis that regulation of NOTCH3 by the p38 MAPK family (hereafter p38-MAPK), via MYC, is required for luminal differentiation. Inhibition (SB202190 and BIRB796) or knockdown of p38α (also known as MAPK14) and/or p38δ (also known as MAPK13) prevented proper differentiation. Additionally, treatment with a γ-secretase inhibitor (RO4929097) or knockdown of NOTCH1 and/or NOTCH3 greatly impaired differentiation and caused luminal cell death. Constitutive p38-MAPK activation through MKK6(CA) increased NOTCH3 (but not NOTCH1) mRNA and protein levels, which was diminished upon MYC inhibition (10058-F4 and JQ1) or knockdown. Furthermore, we validated two NOTCH3 enhancer elements through a combination of enhancer (e)RNA detection (BruUV-seq) and luciferase reporter assays. Finally, we found that the NOTCH3 mRNA half-life increased during differentiation or upon acute p38-MAPK activation. These results reveal a new connection between p38-MAPK, MYC and NOTCH signaling, demonstrate two mechanisms of NOTCH3 regulation and provide evidence for NOTCH3 involvement in prostate luminal cell differentiation.