Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Molecular Medicine

Major Professor

Tomar Ghansah, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Robert Deschenes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xiaohong Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Srikumar Chellapan, Ph.D.

Keywords

Apigenin, CK2, PP1, Transcription Factor, Ubiquitination

Abstract

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers with a five-year survival rate of 6%. Pancreatic cancer is resistant to conventional chemotherapy and is usually diagnosed at late stages. Current treatment options have minimal effects in extending patients' lives beyond 10 months. One significant limitation in developing treatments to combat pancreatic cancer is its immunosuppressive microenvironment. Pancreatic cancer secretes factors that activate immunosuppressive cells, such as regulatory T cells (Tregs). These Tregs suppress effector CD4+ and CD8+ T cell anti-tumor immune responses. Therefore, novel treatment options to reduce Treg-mediated immune suppression and increase the numbers and functions of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are paramount to enhance anti-tumor immunity in pancreatic cancer tumor-bearing (TB) hosts.

The alternatively spliced transcription factor Ikaros is essential for lymphocyte development and is considered a tumor suppressor in T cells. Ikaros' protein stability and function are regulated by its phosphorylation and dephosphorylation by protein kinase CK2 and phosphatase 1 (PP1), respectively. Mutations and functional inactivation of Ikaros have mainly been investigated in T cell leukemias and lymphomas. In this dissertation, we investigated the role of Ikaros in regulating T cell homeostasis in murine pancreatic cancer.

In this study, we report that Ikaros proteins are degraded by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway in response to factors produced by murine pancreatic cancer cells. Our results further suggest that an increase in CK2 activity leads to Ikaros' degradation and disrupts its localization to pericentromeric heterochromatin in our murine pancreatic TB model. This loss of Ikaros expression is accompanied by an imbalance in T cell homeostasis. More specifically, we observe a significant decrease in effector CD4+ and CD8+ T cells but an increase in Treg percentages in TB and spontaneous pancreatic cancer models. T-cell specific defects in Ikaros protein expression were also observed in TB CD3+ T cells. Apigenin, a natural plant flavonoid and CK2 inhibitor, restored expression of some Ikaros isoforms in our TB model. Apigenin also displayed immunological benefits evident by enhanced anti-tumor immunity in TB mice. These data provide mechanistic and functional evidence that pharmacological inhibition of CK2 can regulate Ikaros expression and identifies the possible involvement of Ikaros in regulating T cell immune responses in murine pancreatic cancer.

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