Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cell Biology


Orthopedics and Physical Rehabilitation

First Thesis Advisor

Jane B. Lian, PhD

Second Thesis Advisor

Janet L. Stein, PhD


Breast Neoplasms, Breast Cancer, Nuclear Matrix, Core Binding Factor alpha Subunits, Neoplasm Proteins


Dissertations, UMMS; Breast Neoplasms; Nuclear Matrix; Core Binding Factor alpha Subunits; Neoplasm Proteins


The nuclear matrix (NM) is a fibrogranular network of ribonucleoproteins upon which transcriptional complexes and regulatory genomic sequences are organized. A hallmark of cancer is the disorganization of nuclear architecture; however, the extent to which the NM is involved in malignancy is not well studied.

The RUNX1 and RUNX2 proteins form complexes within the NM to promote hematopoiesis and osteoblastogenesis, respectively at the transcriptional level. RUNX1 and RUNX2 are both expressed in breast cancer cells (BrCCs); however, their genome-wide BrCC functions are unknown. RUNX1 and RUNX2 activate many tumor suppressor pathways in blood and bone lineages, respectively, including attenuation of protein synthesis and cell growth via suppression of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) transcription, which appears contrary to Runx-expression in highly proliferative BrCCs. To define roles for RUNX1 and RUNX2 in BrCC phenotype, we examined the involvement of RUNX1 and RUNX2 in rRNA transcription and generated a genome-wide model for RUNX1 and RUNX2-binding and transcriptional regulation. To validate gene expression patterns identified in our screen, we developed a Real-Time qPCR primer design program, which allows rapid, high-throughput design of primer pairs (FoxPrimer). In BrCCs, RUNX1 and RUNX2 regulate genes that promote invasiveness and do not affect rRNA transcription, protein synthesis, or cell growth. We have characterized in vitro functions of Runx proteins in BrCCs; however, the relationships between Runx expression and diagnostic/prognostic markers of breast cancer (BrCa) in patients are not well studied. Immunohistochemical detection of RUNX1 and RUNX2 in BrCa tissue microarrays reveals RUNX1 expression is associated with early, smaller tumors that are ER+ (estrogen receptor), HER2+, p53-, and correlated with androgen receptor (AR) expression; RUNX2 expression is associated with late-stage, larger tumors that are HER2+. These results show that the functions and expression patterns of NM-associated RUNX1 and RUNX2 are context-sensitive, which suggests potential disease-specific roles.

Two functionally disparate genomic sequence types bind to the NM: matrix associated regions (MARs) are functionally associated with transcriptional repression and scaffold associated regions (SARs) are functionally associated with actively expressed genes. It is unknown whether malignant nuclear disorganization affects the functions of MARs/SARs in BrCC. We have refined a method to isolate nuclear matrix associated DNA (NM-DNA) from a structurally preserved NM and applied this protocol to normal mammary epithelial cells and BrCCs. To define transcriptional functions for NM-DNA, we developed a computational algorithm (PeaksToGenes), which statistically tests the associations of experimentally-defined NM-DNA regions and ChIP-seq-defined positional enrichment of several histone marks with transcriptome-wide gene expression data. In normal mammary epithelial cells, NM-DNA is enriched in both MARs and SARs, and the positional enrichment patterns of MARs and SARs are strongly associated with gene expression patterns, suggesting functional roles. In contrast, the BrCCs are significantly enriched in the silencing mark H3K27me3, and the NM-DNA is enriched in MARs and depleted of SARs. The MARs/SARs in the BrCCs are only weakly associated with gene expression patterns, suggesting that loss of normal DNA-matrix associations accompanies the disease state. Our results show that structural preservation of the in situ NM allows isolation of both MARs and SARs, and further demonstrate that in a disorganized, cancerous nucleus, normal transcriptional functions of NM-DNA are disrupted.

Our studies on nuclear organization in BrCC, show that the disorganized phenotype of the cancer cell nucleus is accompanied by deregulated transcriptional functions of two constituents of the NM. These results reinforce the role of the NM as an important structure-function component of gene expression regulation.



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