GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Michael R. Green


Chicken anemia virus, Erythroid Progenitor Cells, Receptors, Erythropoietin, Capsid Proteins, Mitosis, Tumor Suppressor Protein p53, Ubiquitin-Protein Ligase Complexes, Apoptosis, Antineoplastic Agents


Most existing chemotherapeutics lack adequate specificity for transformed cells and therefore have high rates of collateral damage to normal tissue. Moreover, such therapies often depend on p53 to induce cell death and are ineffective on the large number of human cancers that have lost p53 function. The discovery of novel p53-independent cancer therapies is therefore of significant interest. The Chicken Anemia Virus protein Apoptin selectively induces apoptosis in transformed cells in a p53-independent manner while leaving normal primary cells unaffected. This selectivity is thought to be largely due to cell type-specific localization: in primary cells Apoptin is cytoplasmic, whereas in transformed cells the protein localizes to the nucleus. The basis for this cell type-specific localization remains to be determined. In this study, Apoptin is revealed to be a nucleo-cytoplasmic shuttling protein whose localization is mediated by an N-terminal nuclear export signal (NES) and a C-terminal nuclear localization signal (NLS). Both signals are required for cell type-specific localization, as Apoptin fragments containing either the NES or NLS fail to localize differently between transformed and primary cells. Significantly, cell type-specific localization can be rescued in trans by co-expression of the two separate fragments, which are able to interact through an Apoptin multimerization domain. Interestingly, this multimerization domain overlaps with the NES suggesting that these two activities may be functionally coupled in cytoplasmic retention in primary cell types. Factors present in transformed cells induce localization of Apoptin to the nucleus where a biochemically distinct, more soluble form of the protein exists.

Using affinity-purification and mass spectroscopy it was found that, specifically in transformed cells, Apoptin is associated with APC1, a subunit of the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C). The APC/C is required to establish a mitotic cell-cycle checkpoint, and its inhibition results in G2/M arrest and apoptosis. Expression of wild type Apoptin in transformed cells inhibits APC/C function and induces G2/M arrest and apoptosis, whereas Apoptin mutants that are unable to associate with APC1 have no effect. In p53 null cells, ablation of APC1 by RNA interference induces a G2/M arrest and apoptosis analogous to that observed following Apoptin expression. Furthermore, Apoptin was found to induce the formation of PML bodies and to recruit APC/C subunits to these nuclear structures suggesting a mechanism involving sequestration and subsequent inhibition of the APC/C.

Thus, the results of this study clarify Apoptin cell type-specific localization behavior and explain the ability of Apoptin to induce apoptosis in transformed cells in the absence of p53. This study advances a newly emerging field of viral mechanisms of apoptosis involving G2/M arrest and APC/C modulation. The resultant p53-independent apoptosis suggests that the APC/C may be an attractive target for the development of anti-cancer drugs.



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