GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology Department

First Thesis Advisor

Brian Lewis, PhD


Pancreatic Ductal Carcinoma, Carcinogenesis, Neoplastic Cell Transformation, ras Genes, MicroRNAs, Oncogenes, Proto-Oncogene Proteins


Dissertations, UMMS; Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal; Carcinogenesis; Cell Transformation, Neoplastic; Genes, ras; MicroRNAs; Oncogenes; Proto-Oncogene Proteins


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is among the most lethal malignancies in the United States, with an average five-year survival rate of just 6.7%. One unifying aspect of PDAC is mutational activation of the KRAS oncogene, which occurs in over 90% of PDAC. Therefore, inhibiting KRAS function is likely an effective therapeutic strategy for this disease, and current research in our lab and others is focused on identifying downstream effectors of KRAS signaling that may be therapeutic targets. miRNAs are powerful regulators of gene expression that can behave as oncogenes or tumor suppressors. Dysregulation of miRNA expression is commonly observed in human tumors, including PDAC. The mir-17~92 cluster of miRNAs is an established oncogene in a variety of tumor contexts, and members of the mir-17~92 cluster are upregulated in PDAC, but their role has not been explored in vivo. This dissertation encompasses two studies exploring the role of miRNAs in pancreatic tumorigenesis. In Chapter II, I demonstrate that deletion of the mir-17~92 cluster impairs PDAC precursor lesion formation and maintenance, and correlates with reduced ERK signaling in these lesions. mir-17~92 deficient tumors and cell lines are also less invasive, which I attribute to the loss of the miR-19 family of miRNAs. In Chapter III, I find that Dicer heterozygosity inhibits PDAC metastasis, and that this phenotype is attributable to an increased sensitivity to anoikis. Ongoing experiments will determine whether shifts in particular miRNA signatures between cell lines can be attributed to this phenotype. Together these findings illustrate the importance of miRNA biogenesis, and the mir-17~92 cluster in particular, in supporting PDAC development and progression.