Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Russell R. Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael R. Blackburn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rodney E. Kellems, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David S. Loose, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rosemarie E. Schmandt, Ph.D.


The molecular mechanisms that mediate endometrial cancer invasion and metastasis remain poorly understood. This is a significant clinical problem, as there is no definitive cure for metastatic disease. The purinergic pathway’s generation of adenosine and its activation of the adenosine receptor A2B (A2BR) induces cell-cell adhesion to promote barrier function. This barrier function is known to be important in maintaining homeostasis during hypoxia, trauma, and sepsis. Loss of this epithelial barrier function provides a considerable advantage for carcinoma progression, as loss of cell-cell adhesions supports proliferation, aberrant signaling, epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, invasion, and metastasis. The present work provides strong evidence that CD73-generated adenosine actively promotes cell-cell adhesion in carcinoma cells by filopodia-induced zippering. Adenosine-generating ecto-enzyme, CD73, was down-regulated in moderately- and poorly-differentiated, invasive, and metastatic endometrial carcinomas. CD73 expression and enzyme activity in normal endometrium and endometrial carcinomas was significantly correlated to the epithelial phenotype. Barrier function in normal epithelial cells of the endometrium was dependent on stress-induced generation of adenosine by CD73 and adenosine’s activation of A2BR. This same mechanism inhibited endometrial carcinoma cell migration and invasion. Finally, adenosine’s activation of A2BR induced the formation of filopodia that promoted the re-forming of cell-cell adhesions in carcinoma cells. Overall, these studies identified purinergic pathway-induced filopodia to be a novel mechanism of adenosine’s barrier function and a mechanism that has to be avoided/down-regulated by endometrial carcinoma cells attempting to lose attachment with their neighboring cells. These results provide insight into the molecular mechanisms of endometrial cancer invasion. In addition, because loss of cell-cell adhesions has been closely linked to therapy resistance in cancer, these results provide a rational clinical strategy for the re-establishment of cell-cell adhesions to potentially increase therapeutic sensitivity. In contrast to other molecular mechanisms regulating cell-cell adhesions, the purinergic pathway is clinically druggable, with agonists and antagonists currently being tested in clinical trials of various diseases.


Adenosine, CD73, Endometrial Cancer, Barrier Function, Filopodia, Cell-Cell Adhesions



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