Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dean Tang

Committee Member

Susan Fischer

Committee Member

Michael Macleod

Committee Member

Mark Bedford

Committee Member

Gary Johanning

Committee Member

Shawn Bratton


Understanding Nanog’s Role in Cancer Biology

Mark Daniel Badeaux

Supervisory Professor Dean Tang, PhD

The cancer stem cell model holds that tumor heterogeneity and population-level immortality are driven by a subset of cells within the tumor, termed cancer stem cells. Like embryonic or somatic stem cells, cancer stem cells are believed to possess self-renewal capacity and the ability to give rise to a multitude of varieties of daughter cell. Because of cancer’s implied connections to authentic stem cells, we screened a variety of prostate cancer cell lines and primary tumors in order to determine if any notable ‘stemness’ genes were expressed in malignant growths. We found a promising lead in Nanog, a central figure in maintaining embryonic stem cell pluripotency, and through a variety of experiments in which we diminished Nanog expression, found that it may play a significant role in prostate cancer development. We then created a transgenic mouse model in which we targeted Nanog expression to keratin 14-expressing in order to assess its potential contribution to tumorigenesis. We found a variety of developmental abnormalities and altered differentiation patterns in our model , but much to our chagrin we observed neither spontaneous tumor formation nor premalignant changes in these mice, but instead surprisingly found that high levels of Nanog expression inhibited tumor formation in a two-stage skin carcinogenesis model. We also noted a depletion of skin stem cell populations, which underlies the wound-healing defect our mice harbor as well. Gene expression analysis shows a reduction in c-Jun and Bmp5, two genes whose loss inhibits skin tumor development and reduces stem cell counts respectively.

As we further explored Nanog’s activity in prostate cancer, it became apparent that the protein oftentimes was not expressed. Emboldened by the competing endogenous RNA (ceRNA) hypothesis, we identified the Nanog 3’UTR as a regulator of the tumor suppressive microRNA 128a (miR-128a), which includes known oncogenes such as Bmi1 among its authentic targets. Future work will necessarily involve discerning instances in which Nanog mRNA is the biologically relevant molecule, as well as identifying additional mRNA species which may serve solely as a molecular sink for miR-128a.


Nanog, transgenic mouse, miR-128a, ceRNA, stem cells, cancer stem cells