Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell, and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Michael R. Green


cancer biology, breast cancer, anoikis, histone demethylase, jmjd1a, kdm3a


Epithelial cells that lose attachment to the extracellular matrix (ECM) undergo a specialized form of apoptosis called anoikis. Anoikis has an important role in preventing oncogenesis, particularly metastasis, by eliminating cells that lack proper ECM cues. The basis of anoikis resistance remains to be determined and to date has not been linked to alterations in expression or activity of previously identified anoikis effector genes. Here, I utilized two different screening strategies to identify novel anoikis effector genes and miRNAs in order to gain a deeper understanding of anoikis and the potential mechanisms of anoikis resistance in cancer.

Using large-scale RNA interference (RNAi) screening, I found that KDM3A, a histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) mono- and di-demethylase plays a pivotal role in anoikis induction. In attached breast epithelial cells, KDM3A expression is maintained at low levels by integrin signaling. Following detachment, integrin signaling is decreased resulting in increased KDM3A expression. RNAi-mediated knockdown of KDM3A substantially reduces apoptosis following detachment and, conversely, ectopic expression of KDM3A induces cell death in attached cells. I found that KDM3A promotes anoikis through transcriptional activation of BNIP3 and BNIP3L, which encode pro-apoptotic proteins. Using mouse models of breast cancer metastasis I show that knockdown of Kdm3a enhances metastatic potential. Finally, I find defective KDM3A expression in human breast cancer cell lines and tumors. Collectively, my results reveal a novel transcriptional regulatory program that mediates anoikis.

Next, I sought to discover miRNAs involved in anoikis by investigated changes in miRNA expression during anoikis using small RNA sequencing technology. Through this approach I discovered that miR-203 is an anoikis effector miRNA that is also highly down-regulated in invasive breast cancer cells. In breast epithelial cells, miR-203 is induced upon the loss of ECM attachment and inhibition of miR-203 activity leads to a resistance to anoikis. I utilized a dual functional- and expression- based RNA sequencing approach and found that miR-203 directly targets a network of pro-survival genes to induce cell death upon detachment. Finally, I found that the loss of miR-203 in invasive breast cancer leads to the elevation of several anoikis-related pro-survival target genes to contribute to anoikis resistance. Taken together, my studies reveal novel pathways through which cell death is induced upon detachment from the ECM and provide insight into potential mechanisms of anoikis resistance in cancer.



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