Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology

First Advisor

Dr. Binhua Peter Zhou

Second Advisor

Dr. Rina Plattner


Epigenetic deregulation contributes significantly to the development of multiple human diseases, including cancer. While great effort has been made to elucidate the underlying mechanism, our knowledge on epigenetic regulation is still fragmentary, an important gap being how the diverse epigenetic events coordinate to control gene transcription. In the first part of our study, we demonstrated an important link between Snail-mediated transcriptional control and epigenetic regulation during cancer development. Specifically, we found that the highly conserved SNAG domain of Snail sequentially and structurally mimics the N-terminal tail of histone H3, thereby functions as a molecular “hook”, or pseudo substrate, for recruiting histone lysine specific demethylase 1 (LSD1) repressor complex to the E-cadherin promoter. Furthermore, we showed that Snail and LSD1 are both required for E-cadherin repression and EMT induction, and their expression is highly correlated with each other in multiple human tumor tissues.

Our findings have important clinical ramifications in that compounds mimicking the SNAG domain may disrupt Snail-LSD1 interaction and inhibit EMT and metastasis. In the second part of our study, we designed a batch of compounds based on the structure of the SNAG domain and are currently screening for candidates capable of competing with SNAG peptide for LSD1 binding. In addition, we applied a peptide pulldown/mass spectrometry-coupled analysis to identify SNAG-interacting proteins, among which are many chromatin enzymes and modulators. Functional characterization of these proteins will help to elucidate the Snail-mediated epigenetic regulation process.

In the third part of our study, we found that Snail interacts with poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase 1 (PARP1) through a potential pADPr-binding motif and is subject to poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation, which can stabilize the Snail-LSD1 complex for enhanced PTEN suppression under DNA damage condition. Our findings added another layer to the delicate Snail transcriptional machinery, and indicated that PARP inhibitors may be applied in combination with conventional chemotherapies to target cancers with high expression of Snail and LSD1.

In summary, we demonstrated that Snail cooperates with multiple epigenetic machineries to induce EMT as well as survival of tumor cells. Our findings contribute to a better appreciation of Snail-mediated epigenetic network as well as diversification of therapeutic strategies against cancer.