Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Arthur Mercurio


Breast cancer, cancer stem cells, glycosylation, sialic acid, CD44, hyaluronic acid


Intratumor heterogeneity poses a significant challenge for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with breast cancer because distinct sub-populations of tumor cells contribute significantly more to therapy resistance and tumor recurrence than others. Consequently, understanding the mechanisms that contribute to this heterogeneity and identifying sub-populations responsible for aggressive behavior is a significant and timely problem. Considerable evidence indicates that a subpopulation of tumor cells with stem/progenitor-like characteristics, termed cancer stem cells (CSCs), is responsible for therapy resistance and recurrence, sparking interest in characterizing novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets for this aggressive population of cells. Unfortunately, CSCs share many protein markers with normal mammary stem/progenitor populations, minimizing potential targets for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Therefore, in my thesis research, I investigated novel ways to identify CSC populations based on their glycome. I observed that breast CSCs have a unique glycosylation pattern that can be used to distinguish them from other tumor populations. Specifically, I discovered a novel α2,3 sialoglycan on Core2 O-linked glycans expressed on CSCs that can identified using the lectin SLBR-N. I found that SLBR-N can be used to distinguish CSCs from bulk tumor cells in multiple in vitro and in vivo models. I also discovered that the CSC marker, CD44s, expresses O-linked α2,3 sialoglycan and that this glycan alters CD44s function by promoting the activation of the PDGFRβ/STAT3 pathway. In contrast, the fucosyltransferase FUT3 and its glycan sialyl Lewis X (sLeX) are expressed on non-CSCs and they function to impede stemness by inhibiting CD44s-mediated PDGFRβ/STAT3 signaling. In summary, this thesis provides insights into glycan heterogeneity in breast cancer and novel ways to identify CSCs using the glycome.



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