Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Arthur M. Mercurio


VEGF-Neuropilin, YAP/TAZ, Cancer Stem Cell, DNA Repair


The role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling in cancer is well-known in the context of angiogenesis but is also important in the functional regulation of tumor cells themselves. Notably, autocrine VEGF signaling mediated by its co-receptors called neuropilins (NRPs) appears be essential for sustaining the proliferation and survival of cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are implicated in mediating tumor growth, progression and drug resistance. Therefore, the first half of this thesis focuses on the mechanism of VEGF-NRP-mediated support of CSCs. Aberrant activity of the Hippo pathway effector YAP and TAZ are associated with breast CSCs and have been shown to confer stem cell-like properties. I found that VEGF-NRP2 signaling contributes to the activation of YAP/TAZ in various breast cancer cells, which mediates a positive feedback loop that promotes mammosphere formation. VEGF-NRP2 signaling activated the GTPase Rac1, which inhibited the Hippo kinase LATS, which enabled the activity of YAP/TAZ. In complex with the transcription factor TEAD, TAZ then bound and repressed the promoter of the gene encoding the Rac GTPase-activating protein (Rac GAP) β2-chimaerin. By activating GTP hydrolysis, Rac GAPs effectively turn off Rac signaling; hence, YAP/TAZ-mediated repression of β2-chimaerin sustained Rac1 activity in CSCs. Depletion of β2-chimaerin in non-CSCs increased Rac1 activity, YAP/TAZ activation and mammosphere formation. Analysis of breast cancer patients revealed an inverse correlation between β2-chimaerin and TAZ expression in tumors. These findings highlight an unexpected role for β2-chimaerin in a feedforward loop of YAP/TAZ activation and the acquisition of CSC properties.

Given that CSCs have been implicated in therapy resistance and are enriched in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), which exhibits VEGF-NRP2 signaling, the second half of this thesis focuses on understanding the mechanism by which VEGF-NRP2 contributes to the chemoresistance of TNBC. I discovered that VEGF-NRP2 promote homologous recombination (HR) in BRCA1 wild-type TNBC cells by contributing to the expression and function of Rad51, an essential enzyme in the HR pathway that mediates efficient DNA double strand break repair. Mechanistically, I found that VEGF-NRP2 stimulates YAP/TAZ-dependent Rad51 expression and that Rad51 is a direct YAP/TAZ-TEAD transcriptional target. I also discovered that VEGF-NRP2-YAP/TAZ signaling contributes to the resistance of TNBC cells to chemotherapy and that Rad51 rescues the defects in DNA repair upon inhibition of either VEGF-NRP2 or YAP/TAZ in response to cisplatin. These findings reveal novel roles for VEGF-NRP2 and YAP/TAZ in DNA repair and they indicate a unified mechanism involving VEGF-NRP2, YAP/TAZ and Rad51 that contributes to resistance to platinum chemotherapy.

In summary, this thesis provides novel insight into the roles of autocrine VEGF-NRP2 signaling in breast CSC function and therapy resistance and provides rationale in inhibiting NRP2 for platinum-resistant tumors that are dependent on YAP/TAZ activation.



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Movie 1.mov (5337 kB)
Movie 1. 18-hour movie of control β4 reporter comma-d1 cells in response to a scratch wound using a green differential interference contrast (DIC) background.

Movie 2.mov (3860 kB)
Movie 2. Movie 1 without a DIC background.

Movie 3.mov (5121 kB)
Movie 3. An 18-hour movie of YAP-transformed β4 reporter comma-d1 cells in response to a scratch wound using a green DIC background.

Movie 4.mov (3427 kB)
Movie 4. Movie 3 without a DIC background.

Movie 5.mov (30442 kB)
Movie 5. 72-hour movie of YAP-transformed β4 reporter comma-d1 cells in response to a scratch wound using a green DIC background.

Movie 6.mov (17631 kB)
Movie 6. Movie 5 without a DIC background.