Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Craig Logsdon

Committee Member

Dr. David McConkey

Committee Member

Dr. Russell Broaddus

Committee Member

Dr. Dennis Hughes

Committee Member

Dr. Huamin Wang


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) represents the fourth most common cause of cancer-associated death in the United States. Little progress has been made in understanding how proteotoxic stress affects rapidly proliferating pancreatic tumor cells. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress occurs when protein homeostasis in the ER lumen is perturbed. ER stress activates the unfolded protein response (UPR) to reduce the protein load in the ER. Under conditions of moderate ER stress, the UPR promotes cell cycle arrest which allows time for successful protein load reduction and enables cell survival. However, under conditions of high levels of ER stress the UPR induces cellular apoptosis. In this dissertation, I investigated the role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and its effects on the cell cycle in pancreatic cancer cells.

Activation of the unfolded protein response after ER stress induction was determined by comparing expression of key UPR mediators in non-tumorigenic pancreatic ductal cells to pancreatic cancer cells. Two arms of the UPR were assessed: eIF2α/ATF4/CHOP and IRE1α/XBP1s. Pancreatic cancer cells exhibited altered UPR activation characterized by a delay in both phosphorylation of eIF2α and induction of spliced XBP1. Further evaluation of the UPR-mediated effects on cell cycle progression revealed that pancreatic cancer cells showed a compromised ability to inhibit G1 to S phase progression after ER stress. This reduced ability to arrest proliferation was found to be due to an impaired ability to downregulate cyclin D1, a key gatekeeper of the G1/S checkpoint. Abrogation of cyclin D1 repression was mediated through a slow induction of phosphorylation of eIF2α, a critical mediator of translational attenuation in response to ER stress.

In conclusion, pancreatic cancer cells demonstrate a globally compromised ability to regulate the unfolded protein response. This deficiency results in reduced cyclin D1 repression through an eIF2α-mediated mechanism. These findings indicate that pancreatic cancer cells have increased tolerance for elevated ER stress compared to normal cells, and this tolerance results in continued tumor cell proliferation under proteotoxic conditions.


endoplasmic reticulum stress, unfolded protein response, pancreatic cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, cyclin D1, cell cycle, eIF2alpha, ATF4, CHOP, XBP1s



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