GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Leslie M. Shaw, Ph.D.


Breast Neoplasms, Insulin Receptor Substrate Proteins, Cell Hypoxia, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1


Breast cancer is the most common malignancy among women in the U.S. While many successful treatments exist for primary breast cancer, very few are available for patients with metastatic disease. The purpose of this study was to understand the role of Insulin Receptor Subtrate-2 (IRS-2) in breast cancer metastasis. IRS-2 belongs to the IRS family of cytoplasmic adaptor proteins that mediate signaling from cell surface receptors, many of which have been implicated in cancer. Although the IRS proteins are highly homologous in structure and have some complementary functions, growing evidence supports that the IRS proteins have unique roles in cancer. IRS-1 has been shown to promote tumor cell proliferation, while IRS-2 has been positively associated with cancer cell invasion, glycolysis and tumor metastasis. In the current work, we identified IRS-2 as a novel hypoxia-responsive gene in breast carcinoma cells. In contrast, IRS-1 expression does not increase in response to hypoxia, supporting the notion of their non-overlapping functions. Hypoxia promotes the adaptation and resistance of cancer cells to chemo- and radiation therapy, and also promotes tumor cell survival, invasion and metastasis by selecting for aggressive tumor cells that can survive under stressful low oxygen conditions. We have shown that IRS-2 upregulation in response to hypoxia promotes Akt signaling and tumor cell viability and invasion. We identified a cell context-dependent role for Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF) in the regulation of IRS-2 expression in hypoxia, with HIF-2 playing a more dominant role than HIF-1. We also demonstrate that binding of Snail, a regulator of the EMT, to the IRS-2 promoter keeps the chromatin in an open conformation that is permissive for HIF-dependent transcription of IRS-2 in hypoxia. IRS-2 is not upregulated by hypoxia in well-differentiated epithelial-like carcinoma cells that do not express Snail, implicating IRS-2 gene expression as part of the EMT programming. In summary, we have identified an endogenous mechanism by which cancer cells can shift the balance of IRS-1 and IRS-2 to favor IRS-2 expression and function, which promotes survival, invasion, and ultimately metastasis. Understanding the mechanism of IRS-2 regulation by hypoxia may reveal new therapeutic targets for metastatic breast cancer.



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