Virology Faculty Member - James DeCaprio

James DeCaprio

Professor of Medicine

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Ave.
Mayer Bldg., Rm. 440
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617-632-3825
Fax: 617-582-8601
Lab Members: 2 postdoctoral fellows, 6 graduate students

The DeCaprio Lab focuses on the discovery of fundamental biological processes that when perturbed by polyomaviruses contribute to cancer. We study viral-host cell protein interactions combined with integrative genomics to understand the contribution of Merkel cell polyomavirus to the highly aggressive Merkel cell carcinoma skin cancer.

The role of Merkel cell polyomavirus in Merkel cell carcinoma:

Merkel cell carcinoma is a skin cancer with a high rate of mortality. Factors that increase the risk for developing MCC include excessive exposure to sunlight, advanced age and an immunocompromised state. Recognition that immunodeficiency increased the risk for developing Merkel cell carcinoma prompted a focused search for pathogens and the discovery of Merkel cell polyomavirus. In at least 80% of all Merkel cell carcinomas, the Merkel cell polyomavirus small T antigen (ST) is intact, while the large T antigen (LT) is truncated. Given our laboratory’s experience in studying polyomaviruses especially SV40, we initiated studies of Merkel cell polyomavirus LT and ST. We generated monoclonal antibodies specific for LT and ST that had improved specificity and sensitivity for immunohistochemical detection of MCPyV in MCC tumor specimens that indicated that most cases of Merkel cell carcinoma express the viral T antigens. We generated a mouse knock-in model capable of tissue specific expression of the Merkel virus T antigens and demonstrated their oncogenic potential in vivo. We continue to use advanced proteomics, genomics and bioinformatic approaches to identify the tumorigenic properties of the Merkel cell polyomavirus T antigens in patient samples, mouse models and cell lines.

The DREAM (DP, RB-related, E2F and MuvB) complex:

Our laboratory demonstrated that the Retinoblastoma-related proteins p130 and p107 provide tumor suppressor activities. To determine how p130 contributed to growth suppression, we performed a large-scale immunoprecipitation followed by mass spectrometric identification of associated proteins. We identified an 8-protein complex that we termed DREAM based on its similarity to complexes previously identified by genetic and biochemical studies in C. elegans and D. melanogaster. We determined that the mammalian DREAM complex bound specifically to the promoters of all cell cycle regulated genes and repressed their expression during cellular quiescence. We determined that the DYRK1A kinase was required for assembly of the DREAM complex during quiescence. We also found that the DREAM complex underwent a metamorphosis during cell cycle progression with the MuvB component being released from p130, E2F4 and DP1 during the G1 phase of the cell cycle and subsequently binding to B-MYB (MYBL2) and FOXM1 to specifically activate expression of several hundred genes required for progression during G2 and M phase. Our work demonstrated that the DREAM complex serves as a master coordinator of cell cycle gene expression. We continue to study the DREAM complex to understand how cell cycle dependent gene expression is controlled during the major transition phases of the cell cycle including G0, G1/S and G2/M.

Identification of human disease genes by study of Viral protein-Host cell protein interactions:

Our laboratory identified CUL7, CUL9, FBXW8, GLMN and FAM111A as specific interacting proteins with SV40 LT and generated knockout mouse models for Cul7, Fbxw8, Cul9 and Glmn genes. We demonstrated that knockout of Cul7 or Fbxw8 led to severe growth retardation that was recognized by an independent genetic study that determined that homozygous mutations in CUL7 were responsible for the human 3M short stature syndrome. We demonstrated that GLMN binds directly to RBX1 and inhibits the ubiquitin ligase activity of cullin RING ligases and revealed the molecular basis for Glomuvenous malformation, a human hereditary vascular malformation syndrome. Most recently, we identified FAM111A as an SV40 host range restriction factor. Remarkably, mutations in FAM111A have recently been described in the short stature Kenny-Caffey and osteocraniostenosis syndromes. These studies of viral-host cell protein interactions have led to the molecular characterization of genes that are mutated in a variety of human diseases and suggest that LT targets cellular and organismal growth-promoting activities. Our laboratory focuses on deciphering the molecular functions of these viral-targeted host genes. We have performed a large-scale viral interactome and transcriptome screen that has fueled several new research projects and are actively pursuing new viral protein interactions with other disease related genes in addition to FAM111A and GLMN.

Last Update: 8/24/2015


For a complete listing of publications click here.



1. Rodig SJ, Cheng J, Wardzala J, DoRosario A, Scanlon JJ, Laga AC, Martinez-Fernandez A, Barletta JA, Bellizzi AM, Sadasivam S, Holloway DT, Cooper DJ, Kupper TS, Wang LC, DeCaprio JA. Improved detection suggests all Merkel cell carcinomas contain Merkel cell polyomavirus. J Clinical Investigation (2012) 122:4645-53
2. Spurgeon ME, Cheng J, Bronson RT, Lambert PF, DeCaprio JA. Tumorigenic activity of Merkel cell polyomavirus T antigens expressed in the stratified epithelium of mice. Cancer Research. (2015) 75:1068-79
3. Rozenblatt-Rosen O, Deo RC, Padi M, Adelmant G, Calderwood MA, Rolland T, Grace M, Dricot A, Askenazi M, Tavares M, Pevzner S, Abderazzaq F, Byrdsong B, Carvunis AR, Chen AA, Cheng J, Correll M, Duarte M, Fan C, Ficarro SB, Franchi R, Garg B, Gulbahce N, Hao T, Holthaus AM, James R, Korkhin A, Litovchick L, Mar JC, R. Pak TR, Rabello S, Rubio R, Shen Y, Singh S, Spangle JM, Tasan M, Wanamaker S, Webber JT, Roecklein-Canfield J, Johannsen E, Barabási AL, Beroukhim R, Kieff E, Cusick ME, Hill DE, Münger K, Marto JA, Quackenbush J, Roth FP, DeCaprio JA, Vidal M. Interpreting cancer genomes using systematic host perturbations by tumour virus proteins. Nature. (2012) 487:491-5.
4. Litovchick L, Florens LA, Swanson SK, Washburn MP, DeCaprio JA. DYRK1A protein kinase promotes quiescence and senescence through DREAM complex assembly. Genes & Development. (2011) 25:801-13.
5. Sadasivam S., Duan S., DeCaprio JA. The MuvB complex sequentially recruits B-Myb and FoxM1 to promote mitotic gene expression. Genes & Development, (2012) 26:474-89.
6. Fine DA, Rozenblatt-Rosen O, Padi M, Khorkin A, James RL, Adelmant G, Yoon R, Guo L, Berrios C, Zhang Y, Calderwood MA, Velmurgan S, Cheng J, Marto JA, Hill DE, Cusick ME, Vidal M, Florens L, Washburn MP, Litovchick L, DeCaprio JA. Identification of FAM111A as an SV40 host range restriction factor. PLoS Pathogens. 2012;8(10):e1002949

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