Interdisciplinary Graduate Program
Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology
First Thesis Advisor
Alonzo Ross, PhD
Glioblastoma, Drug Therapy, Cell Proliferation, Carmustine, Dacarbazine
My thesis research began with a project in which we were trying to determine the function of embryonic stem cell (ESC)-specific miRNAs. Using luciferase constructs containing miRNA binding sites, luciferase expression was inhibited by endogenous miRNAs in ESCs, and by exogenous miRNAs in HeLa cells. Inhibition of luciferase expression by miRNAs was inhibited in HeLa cells using 2’O-methyl-oligonucleotides. In ESCs, 2’O-methyl-oligonucleotides were only effective in partially inhibiting miR290 function. Partial inhibition of miR290 did not result in any obvious phenotypic changes in mESCs. Later studies using 2’O-methyl-oligonucleotides in ESCs were also unsuccessful. The function of ESC-specific miRNAs has since been studied by re-introducing miRNAs into Dicer -/- cells which cannot make miRNAs. These studies have shown that ESC-specific miRNAs are involved in de novo DNA methylation, self-renewal, and cell-cycle regulation.
Newly diagnosed glioblastoma (GBM) patients rarely survive more than two years even after surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy using temozolomide (TMZ) or 1,3-bis(2-chloroethy)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU). Eventual regrowth of the tumor indicates that some tumor cells are resistant to therapy. GBM neurosphere-initiating cells (NICs) are thought to be similar to tumor-initiating cells in vivo, and will form invasive tumors in mice, making neurosphere cultures a good model system for studying GBMs. To test whether GBM NICs were resistant to chemotherapy, we used a neurosphere formation assay to measure the number of proliferating NICs in the presence of TMZ or BCNU.
The concentrations of chemotherapy drugs required to inhibit neurosphere formation were much less than those required to inhibit bulk cell proliferation or to induce cell death in our neurosphere cultures. For some cultures, there was a robust recovery of neurosphere formation after chemotherapy treatment which appeared to be DNA damage independent. Some of the cultures that showed significant recovery of neurosphere formation underwent reversible cell cycle arrest, possibly reducing chemotoxicity in these cultures. Collectively, these results indicate that GBM neurosphere cultures can regrow after being treated with clinically relevant doses of chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy-treated neurosphere cultures remained viable, and formed tumors when injected into mice. Our experiments show that these in vitro assays may be useful in predicting in vivo responses to chemotherapeutic agents.
Mihaliak, AM. Clinically Relevant Doses of Chemotherapy Drugs Selectively and Reversibly Block Glioblastoma Neurosphere Proliferation in vitro: A Dissertation. (2010). University of Massachusetts Medical School. GSBS Dissertations and Theses. Paper 492. DOI: 10.13028/j41x-ab26. https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/gsbs_diss/492
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