Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell, and Cancer Biology Department

First Thesis Advisor

Michael R. Green, MD, PhD


Carcinogenesis, RNA Interference, Tumor Suppressor Genes, Cell Aging, Transcription Factors


Dissertations, UMMS; Carcinogenesis; RNA Interference; Genes, Tumor Suppressor; Cell Aging; Transcription Factors


The development of RNAi based technologies has given researchers the tools to interrogate processes as diverse as cancer biology, metabolism and organ development. Here I employ genome-wide shRNA screens to discover the genes involved in two different processes in carcinogenesis, oncogene-induced senescence [OIS] and epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressor genes [TSGs].

OIS is a poorly studied yet significant tumor suppressing mechanism in normal cells where they enter cell cycle arrest [senescence] or programmed cell death [apoptosis] in the presence of an activated oncogene. Here I employ a genomewide shRNA screen and identify a secreted protein, IGFBP7, that induces senescence and apoptosis in melanocytes upon introduction of the oncogene BRAFV600E. Expression of BRAFV600E in primary cells leads to synthesis and secretion of IGFBP7, which acts through autocrine/paracrine pathways to inhibit BRAF-MEK-ERK signaling and induce senescence and apoptosis. Apoptosis results from IGFBP7-mediated upregulation of BNIP3L, a proapoptotic BCL2 family protein. Recombinant IGFBP7 has potent pro-apoptotic and anti-tumor activity in mouse xenograft models using BRAFV600E-postive melanoma cell lines. Finally, IGFBP7 is epigenetically silenced in human melanoma samples suggesting IGFBP7 expression is a key barrier to melanoma formation.

Next I investigated the factors involved in epigenetic silencing in cancer. The TSG p14ARFis inactivated in a wide range of cancers by promoter hypermethylation through unknown mechanisms. To discover p14ARF epigenetic silencing factors, I performed a genome-wide shRNA screen and identified ZNF304, a zinc finger transcription factor that contains a Krüppel-associated box [KRAB] repressor domain. I show that ZNF304 binds to the p14ARF promoter and recruits a KRAB co-repressor complex containing KAP1, SETDB1 and DNMT1 for silencing. We find oncogenic RAS signaling to promote the silencing of p14ARF by USP28-mediated stabilization of ZNF304. In addition I find ZNF304 to be overexpressed in human colorectal cancers and responsible for hypermethylation of over 50 TSGs known as Group 2 CIMP marker genes. My findings establish ZNF304 as a novel oncogene that directs epigenetic silencing and facilitates tumorigenicity in colorectal cancer.



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