Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type





Medical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Andrew J. Pierce


The gene that produces the precursor RNA transcript to the three largest ribosomal RNA molecules (rDNA) is present in multiple copies and organized into gene clusters. They represent 0.5% of the diploid human genome but are critical for cellular viability. The individual genes possess very high levels of sequence identity and are present in high local concentration, making them ideal substrates for genomic rearrangement driven by dysregulated homologous recombination. Our laboratory has developed a sensitive physical assay capable of detecting recombination-mediated genomic restructuring in the rDNA by monitoring changes in lengths of the individual clusters. In order to determine whether dysregulated recombination is a potential driving force of genomic instability in human cancer, adult patients with either lung or colorectal cancer, and pediatric patients with leukemia were prospectively recruited and assayed. Over half of the adult solid tumors show detectable rDNA rearrangements relative to either surrounding non-tumor tissue or normal peripheral blood. In contrast, there is a greatly reduced frequency of alteration in pediatric leukemia. This finding makes rDNA restructuring one of the most common chromosomal alterations in adult solid tumors, illustrates the dynamic plasticity of the human genome, and may have prognostic or predictive value in disease progression.