Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Lan Xu, Ph.D.


Smad Proteins, Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta, Active Transport, Cell Nucleus, Karyopherins, Drosophila Proteins, Nuclear Pore Complex Proteins


Signal transduction by transforming growth factor β (TGF-β) cytokines is mediated by an evolutionarily conserved mechanism that depends on the Smad proteins to transduce an extracellular stimulus into the nucleus. In the unstimulated state, Smads spontaneously shuttle across the nuclear envelope and distribute throughout the cell. Upon TGF-β or bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) stimulation, the receptor-activated Smads are phosphorylated, assemble into complexes with Smad4, and become mostly localized in the nucleus. Such signal-induced nuclear translocation of activated Smads is essential for TGF-β–dependent gene regulation that is critical for embryonic development and homeostasis. The molecular machinery responsible for this process, especially how the activated Smads are imported as complexes, is not entirely clear. Thus, I became interested in investigating the molecular requirements for nuclear targeting of Smads upon stimulation.

Recently, whole-genome RNAi screening offers a complementary cell-based approach to functionally identify molecules that mediate nuclear accumulation of Smads in response to TGF-β. In the first part of this dissertation, I performed a genome-wide RNAi screen that uncovered the importin moleskin (Msk) required in nuclear import of Dpp-activated MAD. Both genetic and biochemical studies further confirmed this finding. I also investigated Smad interactions with the Msk mammalian orthologues, Importin7 and 8 and validated that Smads are bona fide cargos of Imp7/8.

Besides the importin Msk, the screen also uncovered a subset of nucleoporins as required factors in signal-induced nuclear accumulation of MAD. Thus in the second part of this thesis, I focused on how the NPC mediates this Msk-dependent nuclear import of activated MAD. Most of these nucleoporins, including Sec13, Nup75, Nup93 and Nup205, were thought to be structural nucleoporins without known cargo-specific functions. We, however, demonstrated that this subset of nucleoporins was specifically used in the Msk-dependent nuclear import of activated MAD but not the constitutive import of cargos containing a classic nuclear localization signal (cNLS). I also uncovered novel pathway-specific functions of Sec13 and Nup93.

Regulation of TGF-β signaling can be achieved not only by modulating Smad nuclear translocation but also by modifying Smad phosphorylation status. Previously we identified a kinase, Misshapen (Msn), that caused the linker phosphorylation of MAD, resulting in negative regulation of Dpp signaling (Drosophila BMP). In the third part of this thesis, I investigated the biological relevance of Msn kinase to Dpp signaling in Drosophila wings. Both over-expression and RNAi studies suggest that Msn is a negative regulator of the Dpp/MAD pathway in vivo.

As a whole, my findings delineated two critical requirements for MAD nuclear import: the importin Msk and a unique subset of nucleoporins. For the first time, structural Nups are implicated in the direct involvement of cargo import, providing a unique trans-NPC mechanism.



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