Studies of PDGF receptor signaling in vitro and in vivo

  • Date:
  • Location: B42, Biomedical Center, Husargatan 3, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Tsioumpekou, Maria
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Institutionen för medicinsk biokemi och mikrobiologi
  • Contact person: Tsioumpekou, Maria
  • Disputation

Platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR) signaling is essential for proliferation, migration and survival of cells of mesenchymal origin; however, its deregulation has been associated with various diseases, including cancer. The aim of this thesis was to clarify the molecular mechanisms of PDGFR signaling regulation.

We have studied PDGFR downregulation, identified the E3 ligases and deubiquitinases (DUBs) acting on the receptor, characterized the role of the downstream effector Erk5, as well as elucidated the role of PDGFRβ isoform in tumor growth and angiogenesis.

As Erk5 activation has been associated with tumorigenesis, it is important to delineate the pathway from activated PDGFR to Erk5. Here, we demonstrate not only a complex mechanism for PDGF-induced Erk5 activation that involves Mek5, Mekk2, Mek1/2, PI3K and classical PKCs, but also a novel function for Erk5 by showing that PDGF-BB affects BMP-Smad signaling in an Erk5 pathway-dependent manner, indicating a crosstalk between tyrosine kinase receptor and serine/threonine receptor signaling.

By investigating PDGFRβ downregulation, we demonstrated that ubiquitination of PDGFRβ, mediated by Cbl-b and c-Cbl, is essential for the receptor internalization, signaling, as well as downstream biological responses. Additionally, as ubiquitination is a reversible post-translational modification, we identified USP4 as one of the DUBs acting on PDGFRβ and discovered that USP4 interacts with PDGFRβ, removing both K48- and K63-linked polyubiquitin chains, and increases its stability, in both normal and cancer cells.

Although several studies have highlighted the therapeutic benefit of PDGFR inhibition in cancer treatment, all available PDGFR kinase inhibitors have secondary targets; consequently, the details underlying the importance of PDGFR in tumorigenesis remain unknown. By targeting specifically PDGFRβ in the stroma of various tumor models, we showed that specific inhibition of PDGFRβ signaling suppresses growth of tumors with high levels of PDGF-BB, whereas the multi-target kinase inhibitor imatinib has less effect, indicating the significance of selective targeting of PDGFRβ.

Our data provide new insights into the molecular events underlying PDGFRβ signaling and downregulation, highlight its importance as cancer therapeutic target and lead the way for further discoveries.