Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Rina Plattner

Second Advisor

Dr. David Kaetzel


Despite 35 years of clinical trials, there has been little improvement in one-year survival rates with any chemotherapeutic regimen for the treatment of metastatic melanoma due to resistance to all known agents. Regardless of advances in detection and prevention, diagnosis of metastatic disease remains a death sentence. Resistance mechanisms, including aberrant kinase signaling and drug transport pumps, indicate a need for identification of other therapeutic targets that impinge upon multiple signaling pathways. The Abl family of non-receptor tyrosine kinases (c-Abl, Arg) has been indicted as a causative force in leukemia for more than three decades; however, their role in solid tumors has only recently been described. We first demonstrated that activated Abl family kinases promote breast cancer development and progression, and recently identified them to be novel therapeutic targets in metastatic melanoma cells by demonstrating that they promote proliferation, survival, invasion, and metastasis. We now present evidence that inhibitors of Abl family kinases abrogate resistance to a number of commonly used chemotherapeutics (i.e., 5-fluorouracil, cisplatin, paclitaxel, camptothecin) in a panel of breast cancer cells. We proceed to show that inhibitors of Abl family kinases, likewise, sensitize both breast cancer and melanoma cells to doxorubicin by blocking cell proliferation and dramatically inducing apoptosis. These findings were extended to advanced multi-drug resistant melanoma cells, in which we show for the first time that c- Abl promotes expression of the drug transporter, ABCB1, during acquired resistance, and drugs that inhibit c-Abl/Arg prevent ABCB1 expression and function. Moreover, c-Abl/Arg also promote acquired chemoresistance independent of ABCB1 by modulating multiple survival pathways. We demonstrate that c-Abl/Arg promote chemoresistance by upregulating STAT3, preventing doxorubicin-mediated conversion of NF-κB into a transcriptional repressor, activating an HSP27/p38/Akt survival pathway, and modulating ERK signaling. Therefore, c-Abl/Arg promote chemoresistance in highly resistant melanoma cells by impinging on drug transporter and cell survival pathways. Taken together, these data indicate that c-Abl/Arg inhibitors are likely to reverse acquired resistance in metastatic melanomas harboring activated c-Abl/Arg, and thus, may be effective in a combination regimen.