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  1. The failure of cancer treatments, including immunotherapy, continues to be a major obstacle in preventing durable remission. This failure often results from tumor evolution, both genotypic and phenotypic, away from sensitive cell states. Here, we propose a mathematical framework for studying the dynamics of adaptive immune evasion that tracks the number of tumor-associated antigens available for immune targeting. We solve for the unique optimal cancer evasion strategy using stochastic dynamic programming and demonstrate that this policy results in increased cancer evasion rates compared to a passive, fixed strategy. Our foundational model relates the likelihood and temporal dynamics of cancer evasion to features of the immune microenvironment, where tumor immunogenicity reflects a balance between cancer adaptation and host recognition. In contrast with a passive strategy, optimally adaptive evaders navigating varying selective environments result in substantially heterogeneous post-escape tumor antigenicity, giving rise to immunogenically hot and cold tumors. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 25, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024
  3. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) and its reverse mesenchymal–epithelial transition (MET) are critical during embryonic development, wound healing and cancer metastasis. While phenotypic changes during short-term EMT induction are reversible, long-term EMT induction has been often associated with irreversibility. Here, we show that phenotypic changes seen in MCF10A cells upon long-term EMT induction by TGF β need not be irreversible, but have relatively longer time scales of reversibility than those seen in short-term induction. Next, using a phenomenological mathematical model to account for the chromatin-mediated epigenetic silencing of the miR-200 family by ZEB family, we highlight how the epigenetic memory gained during long-term EMT induction can slow the recovery to the epithelial state post-TGF β withdrawal. Our results suggest that epigenetic modifiers can govern the extent and time scale of EMT reversibility and advise caution against labelling phenotypic changes seen in long-term EMT induction as ‘irreversible’. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  4. Epithelial-mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) underlies embryonic development, wound healing, and cancer metastasis and fibrosis. Cancer cells exhibiting EMP often have more aggressive behavior, characterized by drug resistance, and tumor-initiating and immuno-evasive traits. Thus, the EMP status of cancer cells can be a critical indicator of patient prognosis. Here, we compare three distinct transcriptomic-based metrics—each derived using a different gene list and algorithm—that quantify the EMP spectrum. Our results for over 80 cancer-related RNA-seq datasets reveal a high degree of concordance among these metrics in quantifying the extent of EMP. Moreover, each metric, despite being trained on cancer expression profiles, recapitulates the expected changes in EMP scores for non-cancer contexts such as lung fibrosis and cellular reprogramming into induced pluripotent stem cells. Thus, we offer a scoring platform to quantify the extent of EMP in vitro and in vivo for diverse biological applications including cancer. 
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  7. PURPOSE Lehmann et al have identified four molecular subtypes of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)—basal-like (BL) 1, BL2, mesenchymal (M), and luminal androgen receptor—and an immunomodulatory (IM) gene expression signature modifier. Our group previously showed that the response of TNBC to neoadjuvant systemic chemotherapy (NST) differs by molecular subtype, but whether NST affects the subtype was unknown. Here, we tested the hypothesis that in patients without pathologic complete response, TNBC subtypes can change after NST. Moreover, in cases with the changed subtype, we determined whether epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) had occurred. MATERIALS AND METHODS From the Pan-Pacific TNBC Consortium data set containing TNBC patient samples from four countries, we examined 64 formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded pairs of matched pre- and post-NST tumor samples. The TNBC subtype was determined using the TNBCtype-IM assay. We analyzed a partial EMT gene expression scoring metric using mRNA data. RESULTS Of the 64 matched pairs, 36 (56%) showed a change in the TNBC subtype after NST. The most frequent change was from BL1 to M subtypes (38%). No tumors changed from M to BL1. The IM signature was positive in 14 (22%) patients before NST and eight (12.5%) patients after NST. The EMT score increased after NST in 28 (78%) of the 36 patients with the changed subtype ( v 39% of the 28 patients without change; P = .002254). CONCLUSION We report, to our knowledge, for the first time that the TNBC molecular subtype and IM signature frequently change after NST. Our results also suggest that EMT is promoted by NST. Our findings may lead to innovative adjuvant therapy strategies in TNBC cases with residual tumor after NST. 
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