Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Cheryl L. Walker

Committee Member

David Johnson

Committee Member

Karen Vasquez

Committee Member

Robert Bast

Committee Member

Eric Jonasch


Ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) is a critical component of the cellular response to DNA damage, where it acts as a damage sensor, and signals to a large network of proteins which execute the important tasks involved in responding to the damage, namely inducing cell cycle checkpoints, inducing DNA repair, modulating transcriptional responses, and regulating cell death pathways if the damage cannot be repaired faithfully. We have now discovered that an additional novel component of this ATM-dependent damage response involves induction of autophagy in response to oxidative stress. In contrast to DNA damage-induced ATM activation however, oxidative stress induced ATM, occurs in the cytoplasm, and does not require nuclear-to-cytoplasmic shuttling of ATM. Using several cell culture systems including MCF7 breast carcinoma cells, SKOV3 ovarian cancer cells, and various lineages of mouse embryonic fibroblasts, we showed that once activated by reactive oxygen species (ROS), ATM signals to mTORC1 to induce autophagy via the LKB1-AMPK-TSC2 pathway. Targeting dysregulation of mTORC1 in Atm-deficient mice, which succumb to lymphomagenesis within 3-4 months of age with daily administration of rapamycin, could significantly extend survival and cause regression of tumors, suggesting that pharmacologically targeting this pathway has therapeutic implications in cancer.

We also identified a second contrasting pathway for DNA damage-induced mTORC1 repression which does not require AMPK activation, but does require ATM and TSC2. Several potential mechanisms including mTOR localization and p53-mediated pathways were ruled out however we identified that TSC2 may be an additional cytoplasmic direct ATM substrate that is engaged in response to DNA damage specifically.

Lastly, a study was performed to examine whether autophagy induced by ovarian cancer therapeutics (focusing on cisplatin, since paclitaxel does not induce autophagy in the SKOV3 cell line model we used) plays a role in resistance to therapy since autophagy can play both pro-survival mechanisms or be a mechanism of cell death. Using a genetic approach to knock-down Atg5 expression with shRNA in SKOV3 ovarian carcinoma cells, we compared the cytotoxicity of cisplatin in vector or Atg5 knock-down cells, and demonstrated that autophagy does not play any significant role in the response to cisplatin in this cell line.


signaling, ATM, mTOR, DNA damage, oxidative stress, autophagy, cancer, therapy, TSC2