Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Shiaw-Yih Lin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Barton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Chengming Zhu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ju-Seog Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Randy Legerski, Ph.D.


Human cancer develops as a result of accumulation of mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Zinc finger protein 668 (ZNF668) has recently been identified and validated as one of the highly mutated genes in breast cancer, but its function is entirely unknown. Here, we report two major functions of ZNF668 in cancer development.

(1) ZNF668 functions as a tumor suppressor by regulating p53 protein stability and function. We demonstrate that ZNF668 is a nucleolar protein that physically interacts with both MDM2 and p53. By binding to MDM2, ZNF668 regulates MDM2 autoubiquitination and prevents MDM2-mediated p53 ubiquitination and degradation; ZNF668 deficiency impairs DNA damage-induced p53 stabilization. Notably, ZNF668 effectively suppresses breast cancer cell proliferation and transformation in vitro and tumorigenicity in vivo. Consistently, ZNF668 knockdown readily transforms normal mammary epithelial cells. Together, our studies identify ZNF668 as a novel breast tumor suppressor gene that acts at least in part by regulating the stability and function of p53.

(2) ZNF668 functions as a DNA repair protein by regulating histone acetylation. DNA repair proteins need to access the chromatin by chromatin modification or remodeling to use DNA template within chromatin. Dynamic posttranslational modifications of histones are critical for cells to relax chromatin in DNA repair. However, the precise underlying mechanism mediating enzymes responsible for these modifications and their recruitment to DNA lesions remains poorly understood. We observed ZNF668 depletion causes impaired chromatin relaxation as a result of impaired DNA-damage induced histone H2AX hyper-acetylation. This results in the decreased recruitment of repair proteins to DNA lesions, defective homologous recombination (HR) repair and impaired cell survival after DNA damage, albeit with the presence of a functional ATM/ATR dependent DNA-damage signaling cascade. Importantly, the impaired loading of repair proteins and the defect in DNA repair in ZNF668-deficient cells can be counteracted by chromatin relaxation, indicating that the DNA-repair defect that was observed in the absence of ZNF668 is due to impeded chromatin accessibility at sites of DNA breaks. Our findings therefore identify ZNF668 as a key molecule that links chromatin relaxation with response to DNA damage in the control of DNA repair.


ZNF668, nucleolus, MDM2, p53, tumor suppression, DNA repair, histone acetylation



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