Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

First Advisor

Dr. Kathleen L. O’Connor


Integrin α6β4 is upregulated in pancreatic carcinoma, where signaling promotes metastatic properties, in part by altering the transcriptome. Such alterations can be accomplished through DNA demethylation of specific promoters, as seen with the pro-metastatic gene S100A4. I found that signaling from integrin α6β4 dramatically upregulates expression of amphiregulin (AREG) and epiregulin (EREG), ligands for the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), and that these ligands promote pancreatic carcinoma invasion. To determine if AREG and EREG are regulated by DNA methylation, pancreatic cancer cells with low AREG and EREG expression were treated with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-aza-2’-deoxycytidine (5-Aza-CdR), resulting in stable overexpression of AREG and EREG, and this induction required signaling from integrin α6β4. Similarly, treatment of cells with high integrin α6β4 with the methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine inhibited gene expression of AREG and EREG. Whole genome bisulfite sequencing on pancreatic cancer cells reveled hypomethylation of the promoter regions of AREG and EREG when integrin α6β4 is high, and these regions correspond to H3K27Ac, indicative of enhancer location. Interestingly, I also observed genome-wide DNA demethylation, and a large proportion of altered CpGs correspond to potential enhancers. It is currently accepted that active DNA demethylation occurs via DNA repair. I tested this hypothesis by treating cells with Gemcitabine, which inhibits multiple components of DNA repair, including DNA demethylation mediated by GADD45A. Gemcitabine treatment resulted in marked reduction in AREG and EREG expression. To further test the involvement of GADD45A, I used RNAi-mediated knockdown or cDNA overexpression to alter GADD45A levels. In both instances, AREG and EREG expression positively correlated with GADD45A, particularly when integrin α6β4 is high, indicating that GADD45A is a rate-limiting step in AREG and EREG overexpression. Similarly, using stable shRNA, I show that Thymine DNA Glycosylase (TDG), and TET1 known modulators of DNA demethylation, are required for AREG and EREG expression in integrin α6β4 high cells, and nuclear localization of TDG is much higher in cells with high integrin α6β4. Using a specific inhibitor I found that AREG and EREG expression is dependent on Parp-1. Finally, I determined that integrin α6β4 signaling enhances cells ability to respond to and survive in the presence of DNA damage, and that active DNA repair is required for integrin α6β4 mediated DNA demethylation. Taken together, these data indicate that DNA repair is required to maintain overexpression of AREG and EREG in response to signaling from integrin α6β4 and that integrin α6β4 promotes this overexpression by enhancing DNA repair.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)