Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter J. Davies, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Honami Naora, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David McConkey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Huang Peng, M.D., Ph.D.


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved process that functions to maintain homeostasis and provides energy during nutrient deprivation and environmental stresses for the survival of cells by delivering cytoplasmic contents to the lysosomes for recycling and energy generation. Dysregulation of this process has been linked to human diseases including immune disorders, neurodegenerative muscular diseases and cancer.

Autophagy is a double edged sword in that it has both pro-survival and pro-death roles in cancer cells. Its cancer suppressive roles include the clearance of damaged organelles, which could otherwise lead to inflammation and therefore promote tumorigenesis. In its pro-survival role, autophagy allows cancer cells to overcome cytotoxic stresses generated the cancer environment or cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and evade cell death. A better understanding of how drugs that perturb autophagy affect cancer cell signaling is of critical importance toimprove the cancer treatment arsenal.

In order to gain insights in the relationship between autophagy and drug treatments, we conducted a high-throughput drug screen to identify autophagy modulators. Our high-throughput screen utilized image based fluorescent microscopy for single cell analysis to identify chemical perturbants of the autophagic process. Phenothiazines emerged as the largest family of drugs that alter the autophagic process by increasing LC3-II punctae levels in different cancer cell lines. In addition, we observed multiple biological effects in cancer cells treated with phenothiazines. Those antitumorigenic effects include decreased cell migration, cell viability, and ATP production along with abortive autophagy. Our studies highlight the potential role of phenothiazines as agents for combinational therapy with other chemotherapeutic agents in the treatment of different cancers.



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