Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dennis P. Hughes, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jonathan C. Trent, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell R. Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

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

Committee Member

Patrick Zweidler-McKay, M.D., Ph.D.


Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) are sarcomas driven by gain-of-function mutations of KIT or PDGFRA. Although, the introduction of tyrosine kinase inhibitors has dramatically changed the history of this disease, evidences emerge that inhibition of KIT or PDGFRA are not sufficient to cure patients. The developmental pathway Notch has a critical role in the cell fate, regulating cell proliferation and differentiation. Dysregulation of Notch pathway has been implicated in a wide variety of cancers functioning as a tumor promoter or a tumor suppressor in a cell context dependent manner.

Given that Notch activation deregulates the morphogenesis of mesenchymal cells in the GI track, that Notch acts as a tumor suppressor in neuroendocrine tumors, and finally that the cell of origin of GIST are the Interstitial Cell of Cajal that arise from a mesenchymal origin with some neuroendocrine features, we hypothesized that Notch pathway signaling may play a role in growth, survival and differentiation of GIST cells. To test this hypothesis, we genetically and pharmacologically manipulated the Notch pathway in human GIST cells. In this study, we demonstrated that constitutively active intracellular domain of Notch1 (ICN-1) expression potently induced growth arrest and downregulated KIT expression. We have performed a retrospective analysis of 15 primary GIST patients and found that high mRNA level of Hes1, a major target gene of Notch pathway, correlated with a significantly longer relapse-free survival.

Therefore, we have established that treatment with the FDA approved histone deacetylase inhibitor SAHA (Vorinostat) caused dose-dependent upregulation of Notch1 expression and a parallel decrease in viability in these cells. Retroviral silencing of downstream targets of Notch with dominant negative Hes-1 as well as pharmacological inhibition of Notch pathway with a γ-secretase inhibitor partially rescued GIST cells from SAHA treatment.

Taken together these results identify anti-tumor effect of Notch1 and a negative cross-talk between Notch1 and KIT pathways in GIST. Consequently, we propose that activation of this pathway with HDAC inhibitors may be a potential therapeutic strategy for GIST patients.


GIST Notch KIT Sarcomas HES