Bernard W Futscher
Assistant Research Scientist, Cancer Center Division
Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
Investigator, Center for Toxicology
Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology
Professor, Cancer Biology - GIDP
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-4646
Work Summary
Bernard Futscher's lab is studying the molecular origins of human cancer. Understanding epigenetic dysfunction in human cancer has been Dr. Futscher's primary research focus since establishing his own independent laboratory. This epigenetic research has moved into the area of noncoding RNAs and their potential role in cancer cell immortality.
Research Interest
Bernard Futscher, PhD, and his lab focus on the molecular origins of human cancer. More specifically, the lab group has 3 inter-related research objectives based on the underlying concept that developing an in-depth understanding of epigenetic mechanismsresponsible for governing cell fate will allow for the development of more effective strategies for the prevention, treatment, and cure of cancer. First, they wish to identify which epigenetic mechanisms participate in the transcriptional control of genes important to growth and differentiation. Second, they seek to determine how these epigenetic mechanisms, and therefore epigenetic homeostasis, become compromised during oncogenesis. Third, using a new and more complete understanding of epigenetic control of the genome, Dr. Futscher and his team are developing rational new therapeutic strategies that seek to repair these defects in the cancer cell and transcriptionally reprogram the malignant cancer cell to a benign state. To reach their objectives, a variety of in vitro models of cancer have been developed to address emerging hypotheses that are inferred from the literature in basic and clinical science as well as our own data. Results from these in vitro studies are then translated to the clinical situation to determine their meaning in the actual clinical face of the disease. Similarly, they attempt to take information obtained from the genome-wide assessment of clinical specimens in order to help guide our thinking and develop new hypotheses that can be tested experimentally in our in vitro models.


Jeixun, L. i., Hua, S. u., Chen, H., & Futscher, B. W. (2007). Optimal search-based gene subset selection for gene array cancer classification. IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, 11(4), 398-405.
BIO5 Collaborators
Hsinchun Chen, Bernard W Futscher

PMID: 17674622;Abstract:

High dimensionality has been a major problem for gene array-based cancer classification. It is critical to identify marker genes for cancer diagnoses. We developed a framework of gene selection methods based on previous studies. This paper focuses on optimal search-based subset selection methods because they evaluate the group performance of genes and help to pinpoint global optimal set of marker genes. Notably, this paper is the first to introduce tabu search (TS) to gene selection from high-dimensional gene array data. Our comparative study of gene selection methods demonstrated the effectiveness of optimal search-based gene subset selection to identify cancer marker genes. TS was shown to be a promising tool for gene subset selection. © 2007 IEEE.

Pieper, R. O., Patel, S., Ting, S. A., Futscher, B. W., & Costello, J. F. (1996). Methylation of CpG island transcription factor binding sites is unnecessary for aberrant silencing of the human MGMT gene. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 271(23), 13916-13924.

PMID: 8662860;Abstract:

Aberrant transcriptional inactivation of the non-X-linked human O-6- methylguanine DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) gene has been associated with loss of open chromatin structure and increases in cytosine methylation in the Sp1- binding region of the 5'-CpG island of the gene. To examine the necessity of these events for gene silencing, we have isolated and characterized a subline of human MGMT+ T98G glioma cells. The subline, T98Gs, does not express MGMT activity or MGMT mRNA, and exhibits no in vivo DNA-protein interactions at Sp1-like binding sites in the MGMT 5'-CpG island. While the MGMT CpG island is less accessible to exogenously added restriction enzymes in T98Gs nuclei than in T98G nuclei, it is similarly methylated in both T98G and T98Gs cell lines 5' and 3' to the transcription factor binding sites, and similarly unmethylated in the region encompassing the binding sites. Inappropriate transcriptional inactivation of MGMT, therefore, does not require methylation of transcription factor binding sites within the 5'-CpG island. Rather, MGMT gene silencing and transcription factor exclusion from T98Gs MGMT CpG island binding sites is most closely associated with condensed chromatin structure, which is in turn indirectly influenced by distant sites of methylation.

Novak, P., Stampfer, M. R., Munoz-Rodriguez, J. L., Garbe, J. C., Ehrich, M., Futscher, B. W., & Jensen, T. J. (2012). Cell-Type Specific DNA Methylation Patterns Define Human Breast Cellular Identity. PLoS ONE, 7(12).

PMID: 23284978;PMCID: PMC3527522;Abstract:

DNA methylation plays a role in a variety of biological processes including embryonic development, imprinting, X-chromosome inactivation, and stem cell differentiation. Tissue specific differential methylation has also been well characterized. We sought to extend these studies to create a map of differential DNA methylation between different cell types derived from a single tissue. Using three pairs of isogenic human mammary epithelial and fibroblast cells, promoter region DNA methylation was characterized using MeDIP coupled to microarray analysis. Comparison of DNA methylation between these cell types revealed nearly three thousand cell-type specific differentially methylated regions (ctDMRs). MassARRAY was performed upon 87 ctDMRs to confirm and quantify differential DNA methylation. Each of the examined regions exhibited statistically significant differences ranging from 10-70%. Gene ontology analysis revealed the overrepresentation of many transcription factors involved in developmental processes. Additionally, we have shown that ctDMRs are associated with histone related epigenetic marks and are often aberrantly methylated in breast cancer. Overall, our data suggest that there are thousands of ctDMRs which consistently exhibit differential DNA methylation and may underlie cell type specificity in human breast tissue. In addition, we describe the pathways affected by these differences and provide insight into the molecular mechanisms and physiological overlap between normal cellular differentiation and breast carcinogenesis. © 2012 Novak et al.

Wnek, S. M., Jensen, T. J., Severson, P. L., Futscher, B. W., & Gandolfi, A. J. (2010). Monomethylarsonous acid produces irreversible events resulting in malignant transformation of a human bladder cell line following 12 weeks of low-level exposure. Toxicological Sciences, 116(1), 44-57.

PMID: 20375083;PMCID: PMC2886861;Abstract:

Arsenic is a known human bladder carcinogen; however, the mechanisms underlying arsenical-induced bladder carcinogenesis are not understood. Previous research has demonstrated that exposure of a nontumorigenic human urothelial cell line, UROtsa, to 50nM monomethylarsonous acid (MMAIII) for 52 weeks resulted in malignant transformation. To focus research on the early mechanistic events leading to MMAIII-induced malignancy, the goal of this research was to resolve the critical period in which continuous MMAIII exposure (50nM) induces the irreversible malignant transformation of UROtsa cells. An increased growth rate of UROtsa cells results after 12 weeks of MMAIII exposure. Anchorage-independent growth occurred after 12 weeks with a continued increase in colony formation when 12-week exposed cells were cultured for an additional 12 or 24 weeks without MMAIII exposure. UROtsa cells as early as 12 weeks MMAIII exposure were tumorigenic in severe combined immunodeficiency mice with tumorigenicity increasing when 12-week exposed cells were cultured for an additional 12 or 24 weeks in the absence of MMAIII exposure. To assess potential underlying mechanisms associated with the early changes that occur during MMAIII-induced malignancy, DNA methylation was assessed in known target gene promoter regions. Although DNA methylation remains relatively unchanged after 12 weeks of exposure, aberrant DNA methylation begins to emerge after an additional 12 weeks in culture and continues to increase through 24 weeks in culture without MMAIII exposure, coincident with the progression of a tumorigenic phenotype. Overall, these data demonstrate that 50nM MMAIII is capable of causing irreversible malignant transformation in UROtsa cells after 12 weeks of exposure. Having resolved an earlier timeline in which MMAIII-induced malignant transformation occurs in UROtsa cells will allow for mechanistic studies focused on the critical biological changes taking place within these cells prior to 12 weeks of exposure, providing further evidence about potential mechanisms of MMAIII-induced carcinogenesis. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:

Watts, G. S., Oshiro, M. M., Junk, D. J., Wozniak, R. J., Watterson, S. J., Domann, F. E., & Futscher, B. W. (2004). The acetyltransferase p300/CBP-associated factor is a p53 target gene in breast tumor cells. Neoplasia, 6(3), 187-194.

PMID: 15153330;PMCID: PMC1502105;Abstract:

p300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF) is a coactivator of the tumor suppressor, p53. PCAF participates in p53's transactivation of target genes through acetylation of both bound p53 and histones within p53 target promoters. Using microarrays, we discovered that PCAF itself is induced by p53 in a panel of breast tumor cell lines. Two p53 mutant breast tumor cell lines, BT-549 and UACC-1179, were chosen for further study of PCAF induction by wild-type p53. PCAF induction following adenoviral transduction of p53 expression was confirmed with real-time polymerase chain reaction in a time course experiment. Chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments then showed that PCAF induction was associated with increased p53 binding to the PCAF promoter, which contains p53 consensus-binding sites. PCAF induction by p53 activity was further demonstrated in wild-type p53 MCF10A cells when PCAF expression was induced following activation of endogenous wild-type p53 with doxorubicin in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Furthermore, the doxorubicin-induced increase in PCAF expression was blocked by pretreatment of the MCF10A cells with siRNA (small interfering RNA) targeted against p53 mRNA. Taken together, the results show that PCAF expression can be induced by wild-type p53.