Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cell Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Hong Zhang, Ph.D.


Cell Aging, Genetic Pleiotropy, Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases, Cell Transformation, Neoplastic, Tumor Suppressor Proteins


In response to telomere shortening, oxidative stress, DNA damage or aberrant activation of oncogenes, normal somatic cells exit the cell cycle and enter an irreversible growth arrest termed senescence. The limited proliferative capacity imposed by senescence on cells impedes the accumulation of mutations necessary for tumorigenesis and prevents proliferation of cells at risk of neoplastic transformation. Opposite to the tumor suppressor function, accumulation of senescent cells in adult organisms is thought to contribute to aging by depleting the renewal capacity of tissues and stem/progenitor cells, and by interfering with tissue homeostasis and functions. The Antagonistic Pleiotropy Theory of senescence proposes that senescence is beneficial early in life by acting as a tumor suppressor, but harmful late in life by contributing to aging. Recent studies have provided evidence strongly supporting the tumor suppressor function of senescence, however, direct evidence supporting the role of senescence in aging remains largely elusive.

In this thesis, I describe studies to test the Antagonistic Pleiotropy Theory of senescence in tumorigenesis and aging. The approach that I have taken is to alter the senescence response in vivo by changing the expression of a senescence regulator in mice. The consequence of altered senescence response on tumorigenesis and stem cell self-renewal was investigated. The senescence regulator I studied is Smurf2, which has been shown previously to activate senescence in culture. I hypothesized that the senescence response will be impaired by Smurf2 deficiency in vivo. Consequently, Smurf2-deficient mice will develop tumors at an increased frequency, but also gain enhanced self-renewal capacity of stem/progenitor cells with age.

I generated a Smurf2-deficient mouse model, and found that Smurf2 deficiency attenuated p16 expression and impaired the senescence response in primary cells and tissues. Smurf2-deficient mice exhibited an increased susceptibility to spontaneous tumorigenesis, indicating that Smurf2 is a tumor suppressor. At the premalignant stage of tumorigenesis, a defective senescence response was documented in the Smurf2-deficient mice, providing a mechanistic link between impaired senescence response and increased tumorigenesis. The majority of tumors developed in Smurf2-deficent mice were B-cell lymphomas with an origin in germinal centers of the spleen and a phenotype resembling human diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). I discovered that Smurf2 mediated ubiquitination of YY1, a master regulator of germinal centers. Stabilization of YY1 in the absence of Smurf2 was responsible for increased cell proliferation and drove lymphomagenesis in Smurf2-deficient mice. Consistently, a significant decrease of Smurf2 expression was observed in human primary DLBCL samples, and more importantly, a low level of Smurf2 expression in DLBCL correlated with poor survival prognosis. Moreover, I found that hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in Smurf2-deficient mice had enhanced function compared to wild-type controls. This enhanced stem cell function was associated with increased cell proliferation and decreased p16 expression, suggesting that defective senescence response in Smurf2-deficient mice leads to increased self-renewal capacity of HSCs. My study, for the first time, offers direct genetic evidence of an important tumor suppressor function for Smurf2 as well as its function in contributing to stem cell aging. Collectively, these findings provide strong evidence supporting the Antagonistic Pleiotropy Theory of senescence in tumorigenesis and aging.



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