Volume 545 Number 7654

Editorials

News

News Features

News & Views

Tumours build their niche p.292

It emerges that tumour cells can give rise to non-dividing cells that form part of the supporting microenvironment known as the niche. These niche cells secrete proteins that drive tumour growth and progression. See Letters p.355 & p.360

doi: 10.1038/nature22494

Quantum theory verified by experiment p.293

Systems of quantum objects can be characterized by the correlations between the objects. A technique that precisely measures even the most delicate of these correlations allows models of quantum systems to be tested. See Letter p.323

doi: 10.1038/545293a

Tools to eliminate senescent cells p.294

Ageing and many diseases are partly driven by the accumulation of damaged cells that no longer divide. It emerges that these senescent cells can be eradicated in mice using a drug that interferes with the activity of the protein FOXO4.

doi: 10.1038/nature22493

Half a century of robust climate models p.296

A classic paper in 1967 reported key advances in climate modelling that enabled a convincing quantification of the global-warming effects of carbon dioxide — laying foundations for the models that underpin climate research today.

doi: 10.1038/545296a

Occasional errors can benefit coordination p.297

The chances of solving a problem that involves coordination between people are increased by introducing robotic players that sometimes make mistakes. This finding has implications for real-world coordination problems. See Letter p.370

doi: 10.1038/545297a

Articles

Letters

Topological defects control collective dynamics in neural progenitor cell cultures p.327

Cultured stem cells have become a standard platform not only for regenerative medicine and developmental biology but also for biophysical studies. Yet, the characterization of cultured stem cells at the level of morphology and of the macroscopic patterns resulting from cell-to-cell interactions remains largely qualitative. Here we report on the collective dynamics of cultured murine neural progenitor cells (NPCs), which are multipotent stem cells that give rise to cells in the central nervous system. At low densities, NPCs moved randomly in an amoeba-like fashion. However, NPCs at high density elongated and aligned their shapes with one another, gliding at relatively high velocities. Although the direction of motion of individual cells reversed stochastically along the axes of alignment, the cells were capable of forming an aligned pattern up to length scales similar to that of the migratory stream observed in the adult brain. The two-dimensional order of alignment within the culture showed a liquid-crystalline pattern containing interspersed topological defects with winding numbers of +1/2 and −1/2 (half-integer due to the nematic feature that arises from the head–tail symmetry of cell-to-cell interaction). We identified rapid cell accumulation at +1/2 defects and the formation of three-dimensional mounds. Imaging at the single-cell level around the defects allowed us to quantify the velocity field and the evolving cell density; cells not only concentrate at +1/2 defects, but also escape from −1/2 defects. We propose a generic mechanism for the instability in cell density around the defects that arises from the interplay between the anisotropic friction and the active force field.

doi: 10.1038/nature22321

A Wnt-producing niche drives proliferative potential and progression in lung adenocarcinoma p.355

The heterogeneity of cellular states in cancer has been linked to drug resistance, cancer progression and the presence of cancer cells with properties of normal tissue stem cells. Secreted Wnt signals maintain stem cells in various epithelial tissues, including in lung development and regeneration. Here we show that mouse and human lung adenocarcinomas display hierarchical features with two distinct subpopulations, one with high Wnt signalling activity and another forming a niche that provides the Wnt ligand. The Wnt responder cells showed increased tumour propagation ability, suggesting that these cells have features of normal tissue stem cells. Genetic perturbation of Wnt production or signalling suppressed tumour progression. Small-molecule inhibitors targeting essential posttranslational modification of Wnt reduced tumour growth and markedly decreased the proliferative potential of lung cancer cells, leading to improved survival of tumour-bearing mice. These results indicate that strategies for disrupting pathways that maintain stem-like and niche cell phenotypes can translate into effective anti-cancer therapies.

doi: 10.1038/nature22334

TRAF2 and OTUD7B govern a ubiquitin-dependent switch that regulates mTORC2 signalling p.365

The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) has a key role in the integration of various physiological stimuli to regulate several cell growth and metabolic pathways. mTOR primarily functions as a catalytic subunit in two structurally related but functionally distinct multi-component kinase complexes, mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) and mTORC2 (refs 1, 2). Dysregulation of mTOR signalling is associated with a variety of human diseases, including metabolic disorders and cancer. Thus, both mTORC1 and mTORC2 kinase activity is tightly controlled in cells. mTORC1 is activated by both nutrients and growth factors, whereas mTORC2 responds primarily to extracellular cues such as growth-factor-triggered activation of PI3K signalling. Although both mTOR and GβL (also known as MLST8) assemble into mTORC1 and mTORC2 (refs 11, 12, 13, 14, 15), it remains largely unclear what drives the dynamic assembly of these two functionally distinct complexes. Here we show, in humans and mice, that the K63-linked polyubiquitination status of GβL dictates the homeostasis of mTORC2 formation and activation. Mechanistically, the TRAF2 E3 ubiquitin ligase promotes K63-linked polyubiquitination of GβL, which disrupts its interaction with the unique mTORC2 component SIN1 (refs 12, 13, 14) to favour mTORC1 formation. By contrast, the OTUD7B deubiquitinase removes polyubiquitin chains from GβL to promote GβL interaction with SIN1, facilitating mTORC2 formation in response to various growth signals. Moreover, loss of critical ubiquitination residues in GβL, by either K305R/K313R mutations or a melanoma-associated GβL(ΔW297) truncation, leads to elevated mTORC2 formation, which facilitates tumorigenesis, in part by activating AKT oncogenic signalling. In support of a physiologically pivotal role for OTUD7B in the activation of mTORC2/AKT signalling, genetic deletion of Otud7b in mice suppresses Akt activation and Kras-driven lung tumorigenesis in vivo. Collectively, our study reveals a GβL-ubiquitination-dependent switch that fine-tunes the dynamic organization and activation of the mTORC2 kinase under both physiological and pathological conditions.

doi: 10.1038/nature22344