Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

John DiGiovanni

Committee Member

Ellen Richie

Committee Member

Gary Johanning

Committee Member

Karen Vasquez

Committee Member

Rick Wood


The prevalence of obesity has continued to rise over the last several decades in the United States lending to overall increases in risk for chronic diseases including many types of cancer. In contrast, reduction in energy consumption via calorie restriction (CR) has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of carcinogenesis across a broad range of species and tumor types. Previous data has demonstrated differential signaling through Akt and mTOR via the IGF-1R and other growth factor receptors across the diet-induced obesity (DIO)/CR spectrum. Furthermore, mTORC1 is known to be regulated directly via nutrient availability, supporting its role in the link between epithelial carcinogenesis and diet-induced obesity. In an effort to better understand the importance of mTORC1 in the context of both positive and negative energy balance during epithelial carcinogenesis, we have employed the use of specific pharmacological inhibitors, rapamycin (mTORC1 inhibitor) and metformin (AMPK activator) to target mTORC1 or various components of this pathway during skin tumor promotion. Two-stage skin carcinogenesis studies demonstrated that mTORC1 inhibition via rapamycin, metformin or combination treatments greatly inhibited skin tumor development in normal, overweight and obese mice. Furthermore, mechanisms by which these chemopreventive agents may be exerting their anti-tumor effects were explored. In addition, the effect of these compounds on the epidermal proliferative response was analyzed and drastic decreases in epidermal hyperproliferation and hyperplasia were found. Rapamycin also inhibited dermal inflammatory cell infiltration in a dose-dependent manner. Both compounds also blocked or attenuated TPA-induced signaling through epidermal mTORC1 as well as several downstream targets. In addition, inhibition of this pathway by metformin appeared to be, at least in part, dependent on AMPK activation in the skin.

Overall, the data indicate that pharmacological strategies targeting this pathway offset the tumor-enhancing effects of DIO and may serve as possible CR mimetics. They suggest that mTORC1 contributes significantly to the process of skin tumor promotion, specifically during dietary energy balance effects. Exploiting the mechanistic information underlying dietary energy balance responsive pathways will help translate decades of research into effective strategies for prevention of epithelial carcinogenesis.


tumor promotion, rapamycin, metformin, mTORC1



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