Identification of Cell Type-Specific Differences in Erythropoietin Receptor Signaling in Primary Erythroid and Lung Cancer Cells

PLoS Comput Biol. 2016 Aug 5;12(8):e1005049. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005049. eCollection 2016 Aug.


Lung cancer, with its most prevalent form non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide, and is commonly treated with chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin. Lung cancer patients frequently suffer from chemotherapy-induced anemia, which can be treated with erythropoietin (EPO). However, studies have indicated that EPO not only promotes erythropoiesis in hematopoietic cells, but may also enhance survival of NSCLC cells. Here, we verified that the NSCLC cell line H838 expresses functional erythropoietin receptors (EPOR) and that treatment with EPO reduces cisplatin-induced apoptosis. To pinpoint differences in EPO-induced survival signaling in erythroid progenitor cells (CFU-E, colony forming unit-erythroid) and H838 cells, we combined mathematical modeling with a method for feature selection, the L1 regularization. Utilizing an example model and simulated data, we demonstrated that this approach enables the accurate identification and quantification of cell type-specific parameters. We applied our strategy to quantitative time-resolved data of EPO-induced JAK/STAT signaling generated by quantitative immunoblotting, mass spectrometry and quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) in CFU-E and H838 cells as well as H838 cells overexpressing human EPOR (H838-HA-hEPOR). The established parsimonious mathematical model was able to simultaneously describe the data sets of CFU-E, H838 and H838-HA-hEPOR cells. Seven cell type-specific parameters were identified that included for example parameters for nuclear translocation of STAT5 and target gene induction. Cell type-specific differences in target gene induction were experimentally validated by qRT-PCR experiments. The systematic identification of pathway differences and sensitivities of EPOR signaling in CFU-E and H838 cells revealed potential targets for intervention to selectively inhibit EPO-induced signaling in the tumor cells but leave the responses in erythroid progenitor cells unaffected. Thus, the proposed modeling strategy can be employed as a general procedure to identify cell type-specific parameters and to recommend treatment strategies for the selective targeting of specific cell types.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Computational Biology
  • Erythroid Cells / cytology
  • Erythroid Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin* / analysis
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin* / classification
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin* / genetics
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Receptors, Erythropoietin

Grant support

German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the e:Bio collaborative research project “Systems Biology of Erythropoietin - SBEpo” (0316182B): NI, MSchi. German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the e:Bio research project “EA:sys - Evaluation and Assessment of Methods for Systems Biology” (031L0080): CK. German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the CancerSys network “LungSysII” (0316042A) RM, MEB, WDL, UK (0316042G): BS, JT. German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Virtual Liver network (0315745): MW, UK (0315766): CK, JT. German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the Liver Systems Medicine network “LiSyM” (031L0042): MW, UK (031L0048): BS, JT. German Center for Lung Research (DZL) (82DZL00404): SD, FS, MW, UK, CP. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.