Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dina Lev, M.D.

Committee Member

Deepa Sampath, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eric Wagner, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kelly Hunt, M.D.

Committee Member

Alexander Lazar, M.D./Ph.D.


Uterine leiomyosarcoma (ULMS) is an aggressive malignancy characterized by marked chemoresistance, frequent relapses, and poor outcome. Despite efforts to improve survival over the past several decades, only minimal advances have been made. Hence, there is an urgent and unmet need for better understanding of the molecular deregulations that underlay ULMS and development of more effective therapeutic strategies.

This work identified several common deregulations in a large (n=208) tissue microarray of ULMS compared to GI smooth muscle, myometrium, and leiomyoma controls. Our results suggest that significant loss of smooth muscle and gynecological differentiation markers is common in ULMS, a finding that could help render improved ULMS diagnosis, especially for advanced disease. Similarly to reports in other malignancies, we found that several cancer-related proteins were differentially expressed; these could be useful together as biomarkers for ULMS.

Notably, we identified significant upregulation and overexpression of the mTOR pathway in ULMS, examined the possible contribution of tyrosine kinase receptor deregulation promoting mTOR activation, and unraveled a role for pS6RP and p4EBP1 as molecular disease prognosticators. The significance of mTOR activation in ULMS and its potential as a therapeutic target were further investigated. Rapamycin abrogated ULMS cell growth and cell cycle progression in vitro but induced only sight growth delay in vivo. Given that effective mTOR therapies likely require combination mTOR blockade with inhibition of other targets, coupled with recent observations suggesting that Aurora A kinase (Aurk A) deregulations commonly occur in ULMS, the preclinical impact of dually targeting both pathways was evaluated. Combined therapy with rapamycin (an mTORC1 inhibitor) and MLN8237 (an investigational Aurk A inhibitor) profoundly and synergistically abrogated ULMS growth in vitro. Interestingly, the superior effects were noted only when MLN8237 was pre-administered. This novel therapeutic combination and scheduling regimen resulted in marked tumor growth inhibition in vivo. Together, these data support further exploration of dual mTOR and Aurk A blockade for the treatment of human ULMS.


ULMS, rapamycin, MLN8237, synergy, uterine leiomyosarcoma, mTOR pathway