Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Cancer Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dihua Yu, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan Kurie, M.D.

Committee Member

Pierre McCrea, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xin Lin, Ph.D.


Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a cell membrane tyrosine kinase receptor and plays a pivotal role in regulating cell growth, differentiation, cell cycle, and tumorigenesis. Deregulation of EGFR causes many diseases including cancers. Intensive investigation of EGFR alteration in human cancers has led to profound progress in developing drugs to target EGFR-mediated cancers. While exploring possible synergistic enhancement of therapeutic efficacy by combining EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) with other anti-cancer agents, we observed that suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA, a deacetylase inhibitor) enhanced TKI-induced cancer cell death, which further led us to question whether SAHA-mediated sensitization to TKI was associated with EGFR acetylation. What we know so far is that SAHA can inhibit class I and II histone deacetylases (HDACs), which could possibly preserve acetylation of underlying HDAC-targeted proteins including both histone and non-histone proteins. In addition, it has been reported that an HDAC inhibitor, TSA, enhanced EGFR phosphorylation in ovarian cancer cells. EGFR acetylation has also been reported to play a role in the regulation of EGFR endocytosis recently. These observations indicate that there might be an intrinsic correlation between acetylation and phosphorylation of EGFR. In other words, the interplay between EGFR acetylation and phosphorylation may contribute to HDAC inhibitors (HDACi)-augmented EGFR phosphorylation.

In this investigation, we showed that CBP acetyltransferase acetylated EGFR in vivo. In response to EGF stimulation, CBP rapidly translocated from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. We also demonstrated protein-protein interaction between CBP and EGFR as well as the enhancement of EGFR acetylation by CBP. Moreover, EGFR acetylation enhanced EGFR tyrosine phosphorylation and augmented its association with Src kinase. Acetylation-deficient EGFR mutant (EGFR-K3R) significantly reduced the function and activity of EGFR. Furthermore, ectopic expression of EGFR-K3R mutant abrogated its ability to respond to EGF-induced cell proliferation, DNA synthesis, and anchorage-independent growth using cell-based assays and tumor growth in nude mice. In addition, we demonstrated that EGFR expression was associated with SAHA resistance in the treatment of cancer cells that overexpress EGFR. The knockdown of EGFR in MDA-MB-468 breast cancer cells could sensitize the cells to respond to SAHA. The overexpression of EGFR in SAHA-sensitive MDA-MB-453 breast cancer cells rendered the cells resistant to SAHA. Together, these findings suggest that EGFR plays an important role in SAHA resistance in breast carcinoma cells that we tested. The combination therapy of HDACi with TKI has been proposed for treating cancers with aberrant expression of EGFR. The evidence from pre-clinical or clinical trials demonstrated significant enhancement of therapeutic efficacy by using such a combination therapy. Our in vivo study also demonstrated that the combination of SAHA and TKI for the treatment of breast cancer significantly reduced tumor burden compared with either SAHA or TKI alone. The significance of our study elucidated another possible underlying molecular mechanism by which HDACi mediated sensitization to TKI. Our results unveiled a critical role of EGFR acetylation that regulates EGFR tyrosine phosphorylation and may further provide an experiment-based rationale for combinatorial targeted therapy.


EGFR, Acetylation, Phosphorylation, HDACi, TKI, Breast cancer, SAHA, PTM, CBP