Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Michelle Kelliher


Drug resistance, Leukemia, Pediatric Cancer, Transcription Factors, Glucocorticoids


Resistance to glucocorticoid (GC) therapy results in poor prognosis for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patients. Utilizing a whole genome shRNA screen our lab identified several novel mechanisms of GC resistance. My thesis work established that an orphan nuclear receptor, the Estrogen Related Receptor Beta (ESRRB), is critical for induction of apoptotic genes following treatment with the GC dexamethasone. ESRRB has mostly been implicated in maintenance of pluripotency in mouse embryonic stem cells. We find that repression of ESRRB results in GC resistance in ALL and define ESRRB as a novel cooperating transcription factor in GC-induced gene expression. We also show that agonists to ESRRB synergize with dexamethasone and increase dexamethasone induced apoptosis in relapse ALL patient samples.

Interestingly, our shRNA screen identified another factor important in stem cell maintenance: SOX2. While we originally hypothesized that ESRRB and SOX2 may cooperate in ALL, RNA-sequencing studies revealed that these factors mediate GC resistance by independent mechanisms. Our data define SOX2 as a repressor of key signaling pathways in ALL. Upon SOX2 knockdown, we observe activation of pro-survival gene expression including activation of the MAPK pathway, which has previously been implicated in GC resistance. MAPK activation may be explained by an increase in EGFR expression observed in Sox2 knockdown cells and GC resistant patients, suggesting EGFR inhibitors may re-sensitize patients to GCs. Overall my thesis work identifies mechanisms of GC resistance in ALL and utilizes these findings to define novel therapeutic strategies for GC resistant ALL patients.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.