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Characterization of Oncogenic Transcription Factor-Associated Proteins in SCC

Matthew Robert Ramsey

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National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Alterations in transcription factor signaling either through loss of function of tumor suppressors, such as p53, orby inappropriate activation of oncogenes, such as myc, is a common theme across all cancer types. Despite avast amount of research, the underlying mechanisms by which many transcription factors contribute to tumorprogression and maintenance remain unclear. The goal of this project is to identify novel transcription factor-associated proteins that regulate essential functions in cancer cells and have the potential to be targetedtherapeutically. This proposal describes a multi-faceted approach to understanding the interplay betweentranscription factors and their associated proteins in the pathogenesis of Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC).SCC is associated with high morbidity and mortality, and is a particularly good model system for the study oftranscription factor biology in cancer. SCC can present in many different epithelial tissues, but a commonmolecular feature is over-expression or genomic amplification of the p63 transcription factor, suggesting animportant role in this tumor type. Importantly, normal epithelial cells have a different physiological andmolecular response to p63 loss than SCC cells, due to the high expression of the pro-apoptotic protein p73. InSCC cells, p63 suppresses p73 activity through direct binding, and thus is essential for maintaining cellsurvival. In addition, p63 has been shown to regulate a variety of other essential pathways in normal epithelialcells, but the in vivo significance of each of these pathways in SCC is unclear.In order to address this issue, a mouse model of SCC has been generated in which p63 can be geneticallyinactivated specifically in tumor cells of established, invasive SCC. This murine model is particularly relevantto human cancer, as patients normally present clinically with detectable tumors, which requires treatment toslow tumor progression. Analysis of the physiological and molecular changes that accompany p63 loss inmurine tumors has provided insight into the key role of p63 in the maintenance of SCC. Experimentscontained in this proposal will address the mechanisms of p63-mediated survival that are amenable totherapeutic intervention. Importantly, this same model system can also be used to examine the role of otherproteins thought to be important in the maintenance of SCC in future studies. While it is important tounderstand the key pathways controlled by p63 in vivo, development of effective therapies requires knowledgeof how p63 regulates key target genes. This question will be investigated by biochemical identification ofproteins that are directly associated with p63 using tandem affinity purification (TAP), which has already beensuccessfully performed. Novel proteins will be evaluated for their ability to promote survival of SCC cellsthrough the regulation of p63 transcriptional target genes. In particular, I will expand my current knowledgebase through the use of whole-genome technologies to identify the common and unique p63-target genesregulated by different p63-interacting proteins. In addition, these systems can all be easily adapted to examineother transcription factors that contribute to the pathogenesis of SCC. These studies will contribute to theunderstanding of the key functions of over-expressed transcription factors in SCC, and validate their potentialfor therapeutic targeting by examining their role in a relevant in vivo model system.The mentored phase of this research project will be performed in the lab of Leif Ellisen at the MassachusettsGeneral Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center. In the Ellisen laboratory, Dr. Ramsey has developed many newmethodologies and model systems that can easily be adapted for use in an independent laboratory. Theseinclude the modification of TAP for use in SCC cell lines to identify novel transcription co-factors, anddevelopment of murine cancer models suitable for examining transcription factor biology in vivo. New trainingin bioinformatics and whole-genome analysis of transcription will complement these skills, and provide a solidfoundation of technical skills required to work with the vast new in silico data being produced. These modelsystems provide a strong foundation to build towards the long-term goal of developing a research program thatcombines biochemical characterization of transcription complexes with in vivo validation of these complexes inrelevant murine cancer models. The mentored phase of this award will allow Dr. Ramsey to continue toacquire new technical skills and reagents necessary for running a successful research program, while takingadvantage of the many resources available in the Ellisen lab. These include access to technologies and corefacilities needed to complete the experiments in this proposal, close collaboration with members of the MGHCancer Center, and frequent opportunities to present data to the local and international scientific community.In addition, the MGH Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School community offer many career developmentresources specifically aimed at post-doctoral fellows to facilitate the transition to an independent investigator,such as networking and interviewing seminars. These many resources will help to ensure the successfulcompletion of the proposed experiments, and transition of Dr. Ramsey from post-doctoral fellow to independentacademic researcher.

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