Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Rina Plattner


Cancer patient mortality is caused by the ability of tumor cells to invade the extracellular matrix and metastasize. Our lab was the first to identify the role of Abl family of non-receptor tyrosine kinases (c-Abl and Arg) in the progression of solid tumor cancers. In our previous studies, we showed that high c-Abl/Arg activity promotes proliferation, invasion, and metastasis in melanoma and breast cancer cells lines. Here, we demonstrate that our previous findings are clinically relevant by showing increased c-Abl/Arg kinase activity in primary melanoma tumor tissue in comparison to low activity as compared to benign nevi. Additionally, in breast cancer tissue, we found aggressive tumor subtypes (triple-negative and high-grade breast cancer) had increased c-Abl/Arg activity as compared to less aggressive subtypes. To define the mechanism by which c-Abl and Arg promote melanoma and breast cancer metastasis, we searched for novel pathways by which c-Abl and Arg promote invasion, a key step in metastasis. Significantly, we found that c-Abl and Arg decrease the expression of non-metastatic protein, NM23-H1, a metastasis suppressor that is lost during metastatic progression. We demonstrate that NM23-H1 is localized and degraded within the lysosome via proteases, cathepsins L and B. Moreover, we show that c-Abl and Arg upregulate cathepsin mRNA levels and activate the cathepsins, which in-turn degrade NM23-H1. We demonstrate that this pathway is functionally significant as c-Abl and Arg require the downregulation of NM23-H1 to promote invasion in melanoma and breast cancer cell lines. We show that the pathway is clinically significant as c-Abl/Arg activity is inversely correlated with NM23-H1 expression in mouse lung metastases, as well as in human primary melanoma and primary breast cancer tissue. In summary, we are the first to demonstrate novel crosstalk between oncogenic and metastasis suppressor signaling pathways, and provide evidence that pharmacological inhibition of Abl family kinases in melanoma and breast cancer patients may prevent metastatic progression by stabilizing a metastasis suppressor.