Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Honami Naora, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary E. Gallick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Janet E. Price, D.Phil.

Committee Member

Michelle C. Barton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peng Huang, MD. Ph.D.


Transforming growth factor-b (TGF-b) is a cytokine that plays essential roles in regulating embryonic development and tissue homeostasis. In normal cells, TGF-b exerts an anti-proliferative effect. TGF-b inhibits cell growth by controlling a cytostatic program that includes activation of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors p15Ink4B and p21WAF1/Cip1 and repression of c-myc. In contrast to normal cells, many tumors are resistant to the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-b. In several types of tumors, particularly those of gastrointestinal origin, resistance to the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-b has been attributed to TGF-b receptor or Smad mutations. However, these mutations are absent from many other types of tumors that are resistant to TGF-b-mediated growth inhibition. The transcription factor encoded by the homeobox patterning gene DLX4 is overexpressed in a wide range of malignancies. In this study, I demonstrated that DLX4 blocks the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-b by disabling key transcriptional control mechanisms of the TGF-b cytostatic program. Specifically, DLX4 blocked the ability of TGF-b to induce expression of p15Ink4B and p21WAF1/Cip1 by directly binding to Smad4 and to Sp1. Binding of DLX4 to Smad4 prevented Smad4 from forming transcriptional complexes with Smad2 and Smad3, whereas binding of DLX4 to Sp1 inhibited DNA-binding activity of Sp1. In addition, DLX4 induced expression of c-myc, a repressor of p15Ink4B and p21WAF1/Cip1 transcription, independently of TGF-b signaling. The ability of DLX4 to counteract key transcriptional control mechanisms of the TGF-b cytostatic program could explain in part the resistance of tumors to the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-b. This study provides a molecular explanation as to why tumors are resistant to the anti-proliferative effect of TGF-b in the absence of mutations in the TGF-b signaling pathway. Furthermore, this study also provides insights into how aberrant activation of a developmental patterning gene promotes tumor pathogenesis.


cell growth; homeobox genes; Smad; Sp1; TGF-b



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