Wnt/β-catenin signaling is active in small subpopulations of Ewing sarcoma cells and these cells display a more metastatic phenotype, in part due to antagonism of EWS-FLI1-dependent transcriptional activity. Importantly, these β-catenin-activated Ewing cells also alter secretion of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. We thus hypothesized that, in addition to cell autonomous mechanisms, Wnt/β-catenin-active tumor cells might contribute to disease progression by altering the tumor microenvironment (TME). Analysis of transcriptomic data from primary patient biopsies and from β-catenin-active versus non-active tumor cells identified angiogenic switch genes as being highly and reproducibly upregulated in the context of β-catenin activation. In addition, in silico and in vitro analyses, along with chorioallantoic membrane assays, demonstrated that β-catenin-activated Ewing cells secrete factors that promote angiogenesis. In particular, activation of canonical Wnt signaling leads Ewing sarcoma cells to upregulate expression and secretion of pro-angiogenic ECM proteins, collectively termed the angiomatrix. Significantly, our data show that induction of the angiomatrix by Wnt-responsive tumor cells is indirect and is mediated by TGF-β. Mechanistically, Wnt/β-catenin signaling antagonizes EWS-FLI1-dependent repression of TGFBR2, thereby sensitizing tumor cells to TGF-β ligands. Together these findings suggest that Wnt/β-catenin active tumor cells can contribute to Ewing sarcoma progression by promoting angiogenesis in the local TME.
Allegra G. Hawkins, Elisabeth A. Pedersen, Sydney Treichel, Kelsey Temprine, Colin Sperring, Jay A. Read, Brian Magnuson, Rashmi Chugh, Elizabeth R. Lawlor