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Published Work

Key publications

Clearance of senescent macrophages ameliorates tumorigenesis in KRAS-driven lung cancer

July 10, 2023

Cancer Cell

The accumulation of senescent cells in the tumor microenvironment can drive tumorigenesis in a paracrine manner through the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Using a new p16-FDR mouse line, we show that macrophages and endothelial cells are the predominant senescent cell types in murine KRAS-driven lung tumors. Through single cell transcriptomics, we identify a population of tumor-associated macrophages that express a unique array of pro-tumorigenic SASP factors and surface proteins and are also present in normal aged lungs. Genetic or senolytic ablation of senescent cells, or macrophage depletion, result in a significant decrease in tumor burden and increased survival in KRAS-driven lung cancer models. Moreover, we reveal the presence of macrophages with senescent features in human lung pre-malignant lesions, but not in adenocarcinomas. Taken together, our results have uncovered the important role of senescent macrophages in the initiation and progression of lung cancer, highlighting potential therapeutic avenues and cancer preventative strategies.

Targeting Senescence as a Therapeutic Opportunity for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

May 04, 2023

Mol.Cancer Ther.

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is associated with an elevated risk of recurrence and poor prognosis. Historically, only chemotherapy was available as systemic treatment, but immunotherapy and targeted therapies currently offer prolonged benefits. TNBC is a group of diseases with heterogeneous treatment sensitivity, and resistance is inevitable and early for a large proportion of the intrinsic subtypes. Although senescence induction by anticancer therapy offers an immediate favorable clinical outcome once the rate of tumor progression reduces, these cells are commonly dysfunctional and metabolically active, culminating in treatment-resistant repopulation associated with worse prognosis. This heterogeneous response can also occur without therapeutic pressure in response to damage or oncogenic stress, playing a relevant role in the carcinogenesis. Remarkably, there is preclinical and exploratory clinical evidence to support a relevant role of senescence in treatment resistance. Therefore, targeting senescent cells has been a scientific effort in many malignant tumors using a variety of targets and strategies, including increasing proapoptotic and decreasing antiapoptotic stimuli. Despite promising results, there are some challenges to applying this technology, including the best schedule of combination, assessment of senescence, specific vulnerabilities, and the best clinical scenarios. This review provides an overview of senescence in TNBC with a focus on future-proofing senotherapy strategies.

SARS-CoV-2-induced senescence as a potential therapeutic target

August 18, 2022

Mary Denholm, Robert C Rintoul, Daniel Muñoz-Espín.

Eur. Respir. J.

Long implicated in the pathology of ageing, cancer and many other systemic diseases, cellular senescence is emerging now as a key factor in the pathogenesis of severe COVID-19, with implications for other viral illnesses.

Activatable senoprobes and senolytics: Novel strategies to detect and target senescent cells

January 03, 2022

Samir Morsli, Gary J Doherty, Daniel Muñoz-Espín.

Mech.Ageing Dev.

Pharmacologically active compounds that manipulate cellular senescence (senotherapies) have recently shown great promise in multiple pre-clinical disease models, and some of them are now being tested in clinical trials. Despite promising proof-of-principle evidence, there are known on- and off-target toxicities associated with these compounds, and therefore more refined and novel strategies to improve their efficacy and specificity for senescent cells are being developed. Preferential release of drugs and macromolecular formulations within senescent cells has been predominantly achieved by exploiting one of the most widely used biomarkers of senescence, the increase in lysosomal senescence-associated β-galactosidase (SA-β-gal) activity, a common feature of most reported senescent cell types. Galacto-conjugation is a versatile therapeutic and detection strategy to facilitate preferential targeting of senescent cells by using a variety of existing formulations, including modular systems, nanocarriers, activatable prodrugs, probes, and small molecules. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of these specific senescence targeting tools and how the strategy of galacto-conjugation might be utilised to design more specific and sophisticated next-generation senotherapeutics, as well as theranostic agents. Finally, we discuss some innovative strategies and possible future directions for the field.

Cellular senescence in cancer: from mechanisms to detection

September 27, 2020

Hui-Ling Ou, Reuben Hoffmann, Cristina González-López, Gary J Doherty, James E Korkola, Daniel Muñoz-Espín.

Mol. Onc.

Senescence refers to a cellular state featuring a stable cell-cycle arrest triggered in response to stress. This response also involves other distinct morphological and intracellular changes including alterations in gene expression and epigenetic modifications, elevated macromolecular damage, metabolism deregulation and a complex pro-inflammatory secretory phenotype. The initial demonstration of oncogene-induced senescence in vitro established senescence as an important tumour-suppressive mechanism, in addition to apoptosis. Senescence not only halts the proliferation of premalignant cells but also facilitates the clearance of affected cells through immunosurveillance. Failure to clear senescent cells owing to deficient immunosurveillance may, however, lead to a state of chronic inflammation that nurtures a pro-tumorigenic microenvironment favouring cancer initiation, migration and metastasis. In addition, senescence is a response to post-therapy genotoxic stress. Therefore, tracking the emergence of senescent cells becomes pivotal to detect potential pro-tumorigenic events. Current protocols for the in vivo detection of senescence require the analysis of fixed or deep-frozen tissues, despite a significant clinical need for real-time bioimaging methods. Accuracy and efficiency of senescence detection are further hampered by a lack of universal and more specific senescence biomarkers. Recently, in an attempt to overcome these hurdles, an assortment of detection tools has been developed. These strategies all have significant potential for clinical utilisation and include flow cytometry combined with histo- or cytochemical approaches, nanoparticle-based targeted delivery of imaging contrast agents, OFF-ON fluorescent senoprobes, positron emission tomography senoprobes and analysis of circulating SASP factors, extracellular vesicles and cell-free nucleic acids isolated from plasma. Here, we highlight the occurrence of senescence in neoplasia and advanced tumours, assess the impact of senescence on tumorigenesis and discuss how the ongoing development of senescence detection tools might improve early detection of multiple cancers and response to therapy in the near future.

A guide to assessing cellular senescence in vitro and in vivo

September 22, 2020

Estela González-Gualda, Andrew G. Baker, Ljiljana Fruk* and Daniel Muñoz-Espín*

FEBS Journal

Cellular senescence is a physiological mechanism whereby a proliferating cell undergoes a stable cell cycle arrest upon damage or stress and elicits a secretory phenotype. This highly dynamic and regulated cellular state plays beneficial roles in physiology, such as during embryonic development and wound healing, but it can also result in antagonistic effects in age‐related pathologies, degenerative disorders, ageing and cancer. In an effort to better identify this complex state, and given that a universal marker has yet to be identified, a general set of hallmarks describing senescence has been established. However, as the senescent programme becomes more defined, further complexities, including phenotype heterogeneity, have emerged. This significantly complicates the recognition and evaluation of cellular senescence, especially within complex tissues and living organisms. To address these challenges, substantial efforts are currently being made towards the discovery of novel and more specific biomarkers, optimized combinatorial strategies and the development of emerging detection techniques. Here, we compile such advances and present a multifactorial guide to identify and assess cellular senescence in cell cultures, tissues and living organisms. The reliable assessment and identification of senescence is not only crucial for better understanding its underlying biology, but also imperative for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies aimed at targeting senescence in the clinic.

Galacto-conjugation of Navitoclax as an efficient strategy to increase senolytic specificity and reduce platelet toxicity

March 31, 2020

Estela González-Gualda, Marta Pàez-Ribes, Beatriz Lozano-Torres, David Macias, Joseph R. Wilson III, Cristina González-López, Hui-Ling Ou, Sofía Mirón-Barroso, Zhenguang Zhang, Araceli Lérida-Viso, Juan F. Blandez, Andrea Bernardos, Félix Sancenón, Miguel Rovira, Ljiljiana Fruk, Carla P. Martins, Manuel Serrano, Gary J Doherty, Ramón Martínez-Máñez* and Daniel Muñoz-Espín*

Aging Cell

Pharmacologically active compounds with preferential cytotoxic activity for senes- cent cells, known as senolytics, can ameliorate or even revert pathological manifesta- tions of senescence in numerous preclinical mouse disease models, including cancer models. However, translation of senolytic therapies to human disease is hampered by their suboptimal specificity for senescent cells and important toxicities that nar- row their therapeutic windows. We have previously shown that the high levels of senescence-associated lysosomal β-galactosidase (SA-β-gal) found within senescent cells can be exploited to specifically release tracers and cytotoxic cargoes from galac- tose-encapsulated nanoparticles within these cells. Here, we show that galacto-con- jugation of the BCL-2 family inhibitor Navitoclax results in a potent senolytic prodrug (Nav-Gal), that can be preferentially activated by SA-β-gal activity in a wide range of cell types. Nav-Gal selectively induces senescent cell apoptosis and has a higher senolytic index than Navitoclax (through reduced activation in nonsenescent cells). Nav-Gal enhances the cytotoxicity of standard senescence-inducing chemotherapy (cisplatin) in human A549 lung cancer cells. Concomitant treatment with cisplatin and Nav-Gal in vivo results in the eradication of senescent lung cancer cells and signifi- cantly reduces tumour growth. Importantly, galacto-conjugation reduces Navitoclax- induced platelet apoptosis in human and murine blood samples treated ex vivo, and thrombocytopenia at therapeutically effective concentrations in murine lung cancer models. Taken together, we provide a potentially versatile strategy for generating ef- fective senolytic prodrugs with reduced toxicities.

Targeting senescent cells in translational medicine

November 19, 2019

Marta Pàez-Ribes, Estela González-Gualda, Gary J Doherty and Daniel Muñoz-Espín

EMBO Mol Cell

Organismal ageing is a complex process driving progressive impairment of functionality and regenerative potential of tissues. Cellular senescence is a state of stable cell cycle arrest occurring in response to damage and stress and is considered a hallmark of ageing. Senescent cells accumulate in multiple organs during ageing, contribute to tissue dysfunction and give rise to pathological manifestations. Senescence is therefore a defining feature of a variety of human age-related disorders, including cancer, and targeted elimination of these cells has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic approach to ameliorate tissue damage and promote repair and regeneration. In addition, in vivo identification of senescent cells has significant potential for early diagnosis of multiple pathologies. Here, we review existing senolytics, small molecules and drug delivery tools used in preclinical therapeutic strategies involving cellular senescence, as well as probes to trace senescent cells. We also review the clinical research landscape in senescence and discuss how identifying and targeting cellular senescence might positively affect pathological and ageing processes.

Small Extracellular Vesicles Are Key Regulators of Non-cell Autonomous Intercellular Communication in Senescence via the Interferon Protein IFITM3

June 25, 2019

Cell Reports

Senescence is a cellular phenotype present in health and disease, characterized by a stable cell-cycle arrest and an inflammatory response called senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The SASP is important in influencing the behavior of neighboring cells and altering the microenvironment; yet, this role has been mainly attributed to soluble factors. Here, we show that both the soluble factors and small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) are capable of transmitting paracrine senescence to nearby cells. Analysis of individual cells internalizing sEVs, using a Cre-reporter system, show a positive correlation between sEV uptake and senescence activation. We find an increase in the number of multivesicular bodies during senescence in vivo. sEV protein characterization by mass spectrometry (MS) followed by a functional siRNA screen identify interferon-induced transmembrane protein 3 (IFITM3) as being partially responsible for transmitting senescence to normal cells. We find that sEVs contribute to paracrine senescence.

A versatile drug delivery system targeting senescent cells

July 1, 2018

Muñoz-Espín D, Rovira M, Galiana I, Giménez C, Lozano-Torres B, Paez-Ribes M, Llanos S, Chaib S, Muñoz-Martín M, Ucero AC, Garaulet G, Mulero F, Dann SG, VanArsdale T, Shields DJ, Bernardos A, Murguía JR, Martínez-Máñez R, Serrano M.

EMBO Mol Med

Senescent cells accumulate in multiple aging‐associated diseases, and eliminating these cells has recently emerged as a promising therapeutic approach. Here, we take advantage of the high lysosomal β‐galactosidase activity of senescent cells to design a drug delivery system based on the encapsulation of drugs with galacto‐oligosaccharides. We show that gal‐encapsulated fluorophores are preferentially released within senescent cells in mice. In a model of chemotherapy‐induced senescence, gal‐encapsulated cytotoxic drugs target senescent tumor cells and improve tumor xenograft regression in combination with palbociclib. Moreover, in a model of pulmonary fibrosis in mice, gal‐encapsulated cytotoxics target senescent cells, reducing collagen deposition and restoring pulmonary function. Finally, gal‐encapsulation reduces the toxic side effects of the cytotoxic drugs. Drug delivery into senescent cells opens new diagnostic and therapeutic applications for senescence‐associated disorders.

In situ evidence of cellular senescence in Thymic Epithelial Cells (TECs) during human thymic involution

January, 2019

Barbouti A, Evangelou K, Pateras IS, Papoudou-Bai A, Patereli A, Stefanaki K, Rontogianni D, Muñoz-Espín D, Kanavaros P, Gorgoulis VG.

Mech Ageing Dev

Cellular senescence, an age-related process in response to damage and stress, also occurs during normal development and adult life. The thymus is a central lymphoepithelial organ of the immune system that exhibits age-related changes termed thymic involution. Since the mechanisms regulating thymic involution are still not well elucidated, we questioned whether cellular senescence is implicated in this process. We demonstrate, for the first time in situ, that cellular senescence occurs during human thymic involution using SenTraGor™, a novel chemical compound that is applicable in archival tissue material, providing thus further insights in thymus histophysiology.

Naked mole rats can undergo developmental, oncogene-induced and DNA damage-induced cellular senescence.

February 20, 2018

Zhao Y, Tyshkovskiy A, Muñoz-Espín D, Tian X, Serrano M, de Magalhaes JP, Nevo E, Gladyshev VN, Seluanov A, Gorbunova V.


Cellular senescence is an important anticancer mechanism that restricts proliferation of damaged or premalignant cells. Cellular senescence also plays an important role in tissue remodeling during development. However, there is a trade-off associated with cellular senescence as senescent cells contribute to aging pathologies. The naked mole rat (NMR) (Heterocephalus glaber) is the longest-lived rodent that is resistant to a variety of age-related diseases. Remarkably, NMRs do not show aging phenotypes until very late stages of their lives. Here, we tested whether NMR cells undergo cellular senescence. We report that the NMR displays developmentally programmed cellular senescence in multiple tissues, including nail bed, skin dermis, hair follicle, and nasopharyngeal cavity. NMR cells also underwent cellular senescence when transfected with oncogenic Ras. In addition, cellular senescence was detected in NMR embryonic and skin fibroblasts subjected to γ-irradiation (IR). However, NMR cells required a higher dose of IR for induction of cellular senescence, and NMR fibroblasts were resistant to IR-induced apoptosis. Gene expression analyses of senescence-related changes demonstrated that, similar to mice, NMR cells up-regulated senescence-associated secretory phenotype genes but displayed more profound down-regulation of DNA metabolism, transcription, and translation than mouse cells. We conclude that the NMR displays the same types of cellular senescence found in a short-lived rodent.

An OFF-ON Two-Photon Fluorescent Probe for Tracking Cell Senescence in Vivo

July 5, 2017

Lozano-Torres B, Galiana I, Rovira M, Garrido E, Chaib S, Bernardos A, Muñoz-Espín D, Serrano M, Martínez-Máñez R, Sancenón F

J Am Chem Soc

A naphthalimide-based two-photon probe (AHGa) for the detection of cell senescence is designed. The probe contains a naphthalimide core, an l-histidine methyl ester linker, and an acetylated galactose bonded to one of the aromatic nitrogen atoms of the l-histidine through a hydrolyzable N-glycosidic bond. Probe AHGa is transformed into AH in senescent cells resulting in an enhanced fluorescent emission intensity. In vivo detection of senescence is validated in mice bearing tumor xenografts treated with senescence-inducing chemotherapy.

Robust, universal biomarker assay to detect senescent cells in biological specimens

February 16, 2017

Evangelou K, Lougiakis N, Rizou SV, Kotsinas A, Kletsas D, Muñoz-Espín D, Kastrinakis NG, Pouli N, Marakos P, Townsend P, Serrano M, Bartek J, Gorgoulis VG.

Aging Cell

Cellular senescence contributes to organismal development, aging, and diverse pathologies, yet available assays to detect senescent cells remain unsatisfactory. Here, we designed and synthesized a lipophilic, biotin-linked Sudan Black B (SBB) analogue suitable for sensitive and specific, antibody-enhanced detection of lipofuscin-containing senescent cells in any biological material. This new hybrid histo-/immunochemical method is easy to perform, reliable, and universally applicable to assess senescence in biomedicine, from cancer research to gerontology.

Cellular senescence: from physiology to pathology

July 15, 2014

Muñoz-Espín D, Serrano M

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol

Recent discoveries are redefining our view of cellular senescence as a trigger of tissue remodelling that acts during normal embryonic development and upon tissue damage. To achieve this, senescent cells arrest their own proliferation, recruit phagocytic immune cells and promote tissue renewal. This sequence of events - senescence, followed by clearance and then regeneration - may not be efficiently completed in aged tissues or in pathological contexts, thereby resulting in the accumulation of senescent cells. Increasing evidence indicates that both pro-senescent therapies and antisenescent therapies can be beneficial. In cancer and during active tissue repair, pro-senescent therapies contribute to minimize the damage by limiting proliferation and fibrosis, respectively. Conversely, antisenescent therapies may help to eliminate accumulated senescent cells and to recover tissue function.

Programmed cell senescence during mammalian embryonic development

November 21, 2013

Muñoz-Espín D, Cañamero M, Maraver A, Gómez-López G, Contreras J, Murillo-Cuesta S, Rodríguez-Baeza A, Varela-Nieto I, Ruberte J, Collado M, Serrano M.


Cellular senescence disables proliferation in damaged cells, and it is relevant for cancer and aging. Here, we show that senescence occurs during mammalian embryonic development at multiple locations, including the mesonephros and the endolymphatic sac of the inner ear, which we have analyzed in detail. Mechanistically, senescence in both structures is strictly dependent on p21, but independent of DNA damage, p53, or other cell-cycle inhibitors, and it is regulated by the TGF-β/SMAD and PI3K/FOXO pathways. Developmentally programmed senescence is followed by macrophage infiltration, clearance of senescent cells, and tissue remodeling. Loss of senescence due to the absence of p21 is partially compensated by apoptosis but still results in detectable developmental abnormalities. Importantly, the mesonephros and endolymphatic sac of human embryos also show evidence of senescence. We conclude that the role of developmentally programmed senescence is to promote tissue remodeling and propose that this is the evolutionary origin of damage-induced senescence.

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