Date of Graduation

8-2010

Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Craig D. Logsdon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shrikanth A. Reddy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David J. McConkey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anil K. Sood, M.D.

Committee Member

Russell Broaddus, M.D./Ph.D.

Abstract

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the fourth leading cancer cause of death in the US. Gemcitabine is the first-line therapy for this disease, but unfortunately it shows only very modest benefit. The focus of the current study was to investigate the role and regulation of EphA2, a receptor tyrosine kinase expressed in PDAC, to further understand this disease and identify new therapeutic targets.

The role of EphA2 was determined in PDAC by siRNA mediated silencing. In combination with gemcitabine, silencing of EphA2 caused a dramatic increase in apoptosis even in highly resistant cells in vitro. Furthermore, EphA2 silencing was found to be useful in 2 orthotopic models in vivo: 1) shRNA-pretreated Miapaca-2 cells, and 2) in vivo delivery of siRNA to established MPanc96 tumors. Silencing of EphA2 alone reduced tumor growth in Miapaca-2 cells. In MPanc96, only the combination treatment of gemcitabine plus siEphA2 significantly reduced tumor growth, as well as the number of lung and liver metastases. Taken together, these observations support EphA2 as a target for combination therapies for PDAC.

The regulation of EphA2 was further explored with a focus on the role of Ras. K-Ras activating mutations are the most important initiating event in PDAC. We demonstrated that Ras regulates EphA2 expression through activation of MEK2 and phosphorylation of ERK. Downstream of ERK, silencing of the transcription factor AP-1 subunit c-Jun or inhibition of the ERK effector RSK caused a decrease in EphA2 expression, supporting their roles in this process. Further examination of Ras/MEK/ERK pathway modulators revealed that PEA-15, a protein that sequesters ERK to the cytoplasm, inhibited expression of EphA2. A significant inverse correlation between EphA2 and PEA-15 levels was observed in mouse models of PDAC. In cells where an EGFR inhibitor reduced phospho-Erk, expression of EphA2 was also reduced, indicating that changes in EphA2 levels may allow monitoring the effectiveness of anti-Ras/MEK/ERK therapies.

In conclusion, EphA2 levels may be a good prognostic factor for anti-EGFR/anti-Ras therapies, and EphA2 itself is a relevant target for the development of new therapies.

Keywords

pancreatic cancer, pancreas, EphA2, ephrin, liposomes, in vivo siRNA delivery, MAPK, ERK