GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Department of Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Dario C. Altieri, M.D.


Cell Transformation, Neoplastic, Caspase 2, Microtubule-Associated Proteins, PTEN Phosphohydrolase, Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic, Apoptosis, Suppression, Genetic


Cancer is the second leading cause of death among men and women after heart disease. Though our knowledge associated with the complexities of the cancer network has significantly improved over the past several decades, we have only recently started to get a more complete molecular understanding of the disease. To better comprehend signaling pathways that prevent disease development, we focused our efforts on investigating endogenous tumor suppression networks in controlling effectors of cancer cell survival and proliferation. Survivin is one such effector molecule that controls both cell proliferation and survival. In order to identify how this protein is overexpressed in cancer cells as opposed to normal cells, we looked at signaling molecules that negatively regulate this inhibitor of apoptosis protein. PTEN and caspase 2 are two of the identified proteins that utilize their enzymatic activity to suppress tumor growth by inhibiting downstream cell survival effectors, namely survivin. PTEN uses its phosphatase activity to suppress the PI3K/AKT pathway and maintain cellular homeostasis. In the absence of AKT activity, FOXO transcription factors are able to target downstream gene expression and regulate cell proliferation and survival. Here we have identified survivin as a novel gene target of FOXO, which binds to a specific promoter region of survivin and suppresses its transcription. Alternatively, caspase 2 uses its catalytic activity to suppress survivin gene expression by targeting the NFκB pathway. Caspase 2 acts by cleaving a novel substrate known as RIP1 that prevents NFκB from entering the nucleus, thus inhibiting target gene transcription. Interestingly, survivin is known to be a direct gene target of NFκB that controls cancer cell survival. In our investigation, we found that survivin is downregulated upon caspase 2 activation via the NFκB pathway, resulting in decreased cell cycle kinetics, increased apoptotic threshold and suppressed tumor growth in mice. These studies conclude that survivin is a common effector molecule that is regulated by tumor suppressors to maintain cellular homeostasis. However, upon deactivation of the tumor suppressor pathway, survivin is deregulated and contributes significantly to disease progression. These observations may lead to potential therapeutic implications and novel targeting strategies that will help eradicate harmful cancer cells and spare surrounding healthy cells; often the most persistent problem of most conventional chemotherapy.



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