Cynthia Miranti

Cynthia Miranti

Professor, Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Chair, Cancer Biology - GIDP
Co-Program Leader, Cancer Biology Research Program
Member of the Graduate Faculty
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Primary Department
(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.

Xia, Z., Dudek, H., Miranti, C. K., & Greenberg, M. E. (1996). Calcium influx via the NMDA receptor induces immediate early gene transcription by a MAP kinase/ERK-dependent mechanism. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 16(17), 5425-36.

The regulation of gene expression by neurotransmitters is likely to play a key role in neuroplasticity both during development and in the adult animal. Therefore, it is important to determine the mechanisms of neuronal gene regulation to understand fully the mechanisms of learning, memory, and other long-term adaptive changes in neurons. The neurotransmitter glutamate stimulates rapid and transient induction of many genes, including the c-fos proto-oncogene. The c-fos promoter contains several critical regulatory elements, including the serum response element (SRE), that mediate glutamate-induced transcription in neurons; however, the mechanism by which the SRE functions in neurons has not been defined. In this study, we sought to identify transcription factors that mediate glutamate induction of transcription through the SRE in cortical neurons and to elucidate the mechanism(s) of transcriptional activation by these factors. To facilitate this analysis, we developed an improved calcium phosphate coprecipitation procedure to transiently introduce DNA into primary neurons, both efficiently and consistently. Using this protocol, we demonstrate that the transcription factors serum response factor (SRF) and Elk-1 can mediate glutamate induction of transcription through the SRE in cortical neurons. There are at least two distinct pathways by which glutamate signals through the SRE: an SRF-dependent pathway that can operate in the absence of Elk and an Elk-dependent pathway. Activation of the Elk-dependent pathway of transcription seems to require phosphorylation of Elk-1 by extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs), providing evidence for a physiological function of ERKs in glutamate signaling in neurons. Taken together, these findings suggest that SRF, Elk, and ERKs may have important roles in neuroplasticity.

Meng, X., Vander Ark, A., Lee, P., Hostetter, G., Bhowmick, N. A., Matrisian, L. M., Williams, B. O., Miranti, C. K., & Li, X. (2016). Myeloid-specific TGF-β signaling in bone promotes basic-FGF and breast cancer bone metastasis. Oncogene, 35(18), 2370-8.

Breast cancer (BCa) bone metastases cause osteolytic bone lesions, which result from the interactions of metastatic BCa cells with osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts differentiate from myeloid lineage cells. To understand the cell-specific role of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) in the myeloid lineage, in BCa bone metastases, MDA-MB-231 BCa cells were intra-tibially or intra-cardially injected into LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2(floxE2/floxE2) knockout (LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2 KO) or Tgfbr2(floxE2/floxE2) mice. Metastatic bone lesion development was compared by analysis of both lesion number and area. We found that LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2 knockout significantly decreased MDA-MB-231 bone lesion development in both the cardiac and tibial injection models. LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2 knockout inhibited the tumor cell proliferation, angiogenesis and osteoclastogenesis of the metastatic bones. Cytokine array analysis showed that basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was downregulated in MDA-MB-231-injected tibiae from the LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2 KO group, and intravenous injection of the recombinant bFGF to LysM(Cre)/Tgfbr2 KO mice rescued the inhibited metastatic bone lesion development. The mechanism by which bFGF rescued the bone lesion development was by promotion of tumor cell proliferation through the downstream mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-cFos pathway after binding to the FGF receptor 1 (FGFR1). Consistent with animal studies, we found that in human BCa bone metastatic tissues, TGF-β type II receptor (TβRII) and p-Smad2 were expressed in osteoclasts and tumor cells, and were correlated with the expression of FGFR1. Our studies suggest that myeloid-specific TGF-β signaling-mediated bFGF in the bone promotes BCa bone metastasis.

Woodside, D. G., Obergfell, A., Leng, L., Wilsbacher, J. L., Miranti, C. K., Brugge, J. S., Shattil, S. J., & Ginsberg, M. H. (2001). Activation of Syk protein tyrosine kinase through interaction with integrin beta cytoplasmic domains. Current biology : CB, 11(22), 1799-804.

Syk protein tyrosine kinase is essential for immune system development and function [1]and for the maintenance of vascular integrity [2,3]. In leukocytes, Syk is activated by binding to diphosphorylated immune receptor tyrosine-based activation motifs (pITAMs)[1]. Syk can also be activated by integrin adhesion receptors [4,5], but the mechanism of its activation is unknown. Here we report a novel mechanism for Syk's recruitment and activation, which requires that Syk bind to the integrin beta3 cytoplasmic tail. We found that both Syk and the related kinase ZAP-70 bound the beta3 cytoplasmic tail through their tandem SH2 domains. However, unlike Syk binding to pITAMs, this interaction was independent of tyrosine phosphorylation and of the phosphotyrosine binding function of Syk's tandem SH2 domains. Deletion of the four C-terminal residues of the beta3 cytoplasmic tail [beta3(759X)] decreased Syk binding and disrupted its physical association with integrin alphaIIbbeta3. Furthermore, cells expressing alphaIIbbeta3(759X) failed to exhibit Syk activation or lamellipodia formation upon cell adhesion to the alphaIIbbeta3 ligand, fibrinogen. In contrast, FAK phosphorylation and focal adhesion formation were unimpaired by this mutation. Thus, the direct binding of Syk kinase to the integrin beta3 cytoplasmic tail is a novel and functionally significant mechanism for the regulation of this important non-receptor tyrosine kinase.

Akfirat, C., Zhang, X., Ventura, A., Berel, D., Colangelo, M. E., Miranti, C. K., Krajewska, M., Reed, J. C., Higano, C. S., True, L. D., Vessella, R. L., Morrissey, C., & Knudsen, B. S. (2013). Tumour cell survival mechanisms in lethal metastatic prostate cancer differ between bone and soft tissue metastases. The Journal of pathology, 230(3), 291-7.

The complexity of survival mechanisms in cancer cells from patients remains poorly understood. To obtain a comprehensive picture of tumour cell survival in lethal prostate cancer metastases, we examined five survival proteins that operate within three survival pathways in a cohort of 185 lethal metastatic prostate metastases obtained from 44 patients. The expression levels of BCL-2, BCL-XL, MCL-1, cytoplasmic survivin, nuclear survivin, and stathmin were measured by immunohistochemistry in a tissue microarray. Simultaneous expression of three or more proteins occurred in 81% of lethal prostate cancer metastases and BCL-2, cytoplasmic survivin and MCL-1 were co-expressed in 71% of metastatic sites. An unsupervised cluster analysis separated bone and soft tissue metastases according to patterns of survival protein expression. BCL-2, cytoplasmic survivin and MCL-1 had significantly higher expression in bone metastases (p