Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Experimental Therapeutics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Zhen Fan

Committee Member

Randy L. Johnson

Committee Member

Constance Albarracin

Committee Member

Suyun Huang

Committee Member

Bingliang Fang



Midan Ai, Ph.D.

Supervisory Professor: Zhen Fan, M.D.

Breast tumor kinase (Brk) is a nonreceptor protein-tyrosine kinase that is highly expressed in approximately two thirds of breast cancers but is not detectable or is expressed at very low levels in normal mammary epithelium. Brk plays important roles in promoting proliferation, survival, invasion, and metastasis of breast cancer cells, but the mechanism(s) of which remain largely unknown. Recent studies showed that Brk is frequently co-overexpressed with human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) and is physically associated with HER2 in breast cancer. The mechanism needs to be determined. In my studies, I found that high expression of HER2 is correlated with high expression of Brk in breast cancer cell lines. Silencing HER2 expression via RNA interference in HER2 over-expressed breast cancer cells resulted in Brk protein decrease and overexpression of HER2 in HER2 low-expressed breast cancer cells up-regulated Brk expression. The mechanism study indicated that overexpression of HER2 increased Brk protein stability. Brk was degraded through a Ca2+-dependent protease pathway involving calpain and HER2 stimulated Brk expression via inhibiting calpain activity. Calpastatin is a calpain endogenous inhibitor and the calpain-calpastatin system has been implicated in a number of cell physiological functions. HER2 restrained calpain activation via up-regulating calpastatin expression and HER2 downstream signaling, MAPK pathway, was involved in the regulation. Furthermore, silencing of Brk expression by RNA interference in HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cells decreased HER2-mediated cell proliferation, survival, invasion/metastasis potential and increased cell sensitivity to HER2 kinase inhibitor, lapatinib, treatment, indicating that Brk plays important roles in regulating and mediating the oncogenic functions of HER2. The Stat3 pathway played important roles in Brk mediated cell survival and invasion/metastasis in the context of HER2-overexpressing breast cancer cells. However, transgenic mice with inducible expression of constitutively active Brk (CA) in the mammary epithelium failed to develop malignant change in the mammary glands after Brk induction for 15 months which indicated that expression of Brk protein alone was not sufficiently to induce spontaneous breast tumor. Bitransgenic mice with co-expression of HER2/neu and inducible expression of Brk in the mammary epithelium developed multifocal mammary tumors, but there were no significant difference in the tumor occurring time, tumor size, tumor weight and tumor multiplicity between the mouse group with co-expression of Brk and HER2/neu and the mouse group with HER2/neu expression only.


Brk, HER2, EMT, Stat3, calpain, calpastatin, breast cancer, transgenic mouse, Tet-system



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.