Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Craig Ceol


BRAF, BRAFV600E, Tetraploidy, Whole-Genome Doubling, Cytokinesis, Centriole amplification, RhoA, Rac1


Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, arises from altered cells in the melanocyte lineage, but the mechanisms by which these cells progress to melanoma are unknown. To understand the early cellular events that contribute to melanoma formation, we examined melanocytes in melanoma-prone zebrafish strains expressing BRAFV600E, the most common oncogenic form of the BRAF kinase that is mutated in nearly 50% of human melanomas. We found that, unlike wild-type melanocytes, melanocytes in transgenic BRAFV600Eanimals were binucleate and tetraploid. Furthermore, melanocytes in p53-deficient transgenic BRAFV600Eanimals exhibited 8N and greater DNA content, suggesting bypass of a p53-dependent arrest that stops cell cycle progression of tetraploid melanocytes. These data implicate tetraploids generated by increased BRAF pathway activity as contributors to melanoma initiation. Previous studies have used artificial means of generating tetraploids, raising the question of how these cells arise during actual tumor development. To gain insight into the mechanism by which BRAFV600E generates binucleate, tetraploid cells, we established an in vitro model by which such cells are generated following BRAFV600E expression. We demonstrate thatBRAFV600E-generated tetraploids arise via cytokinesis failure during mitosis due to reduced activity of the small GTPase RhoA. We also establish that oncogene-induced centrosome amplification in the G1/S phase of the cell cycle and subsequent increase in the activity of the small GTPase Rac1, partially contribute to this phenotype. These data are of significance as recent studies have shown that aneuploid progeny of tetraploid cells can be intermediates in tumor development, and deep sequencing data suggest that at least one third of melanomas and other solid tumors have undergone a whole genome doubling event during their progression. Taken together, our melanoma-prone zebrafish model and in vitro data suggest a role for BRAFV600E-inducedtetraploidy in the genesis of melanomas. To our knowledge, this is the first in vivo model showing spontaneous rise of tetraploid cells that can give rise to tumors. This novel role of the BRAF oncogene may contribute to tumorigenesis in a broader context.



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Movie II.3G.avi (179 kB)
Normal mitosis (Control)

Movie II.3H.avi (441 kB)
Mitosis with cytokinesis failure (+BRAFV600E)