Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Dawn Quelle


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and it results from genetic alterations that promote the survival and proliferation of neoplastic cells. One of the most commonly disrupted cancer gene networks is the ARF-Mdm2-Tip60-p53 pathway. Inactivation of the ARF, Tip60 and p53 tumor suppressors and/or overexpression of the Mdm2 oncogene occurs in most, if not all, human cancers. An improved molecular understanding of that pathway, especially how it becomes activated, is expected to advance the development of innovative therapeutics aimed at restoring its function in tumors.

Our group originally discovered NIAM (Nuclear Interactor of ARF and Mdm2) as a novel binding partner of ARF that has several functional ties to Mdm2 and p53. Early studies showed that NIAM is negatively regulated by Mdm2, can collaborate with ARF to block cell proliferation, and is a new activator of p53-mediated transcription. NIAM could also act independent of those factors to suppress cell proliferation and promote chromosomal stability, and microarray studies suggested its expression is significantly reduced in many human cancers. Those findings led us to speculate that NIAM is a tumor suppressor that functions in both the ARF-Mdm2-p53 pathway as well as other undefined anti-cancer pathways. My thesis research explored two different aspects of that hypothesis: 1) how does NIAM activate p53, and 2) is NIAM a tumor suppressor? Initial work showed that NIAM could stimulate p53 independently of ARF, the major activator of p53, indicating that other factors must be required. My studies revealed that NIAM indirectly promotes p53 activation through functional interactions with two other p53 regulators, Tip60 and Mdm2. Tip60 is an acetyltransferase that activates p53 through direct association on p53 target promoters as well as acetylation of p53 at lysine 120 (K120). I found that NIAM can induce K120 acetylation of p53; however, NIAM's association with Tip60 (not the acetylation of p53) was essential for maximal p53 transcriptional activation. Mdm2, the major antagonist of p53, is an E3 ubiquitin ligase that promotes p53 ubiquitylation and degradation. I found that NIAM disrupts Mdm2-p53 complexes and blocks p53 ubiquitylation, thereby interfering with p53 inhibition by Mdm2. Thus, NIAM regulates two critical pathways that control p53 function and are altered in human cancers, implying an important role for NIAM in tumorigenesis. To test that idea directly, we generated NIAM gene-trap knockout mice (hypomorphs) that expressed greatly reduced yet detectable levels of NIAM in all tissues. Fifty percent of the NIAM knockout mice developed benign and early stage cancers, including B-cell lymphoma, whereas all age-matched control animals were tumor-free. These results showed that NIAM loss causes increased susceptibility to tumorigenesis.

In sum, my work suggests a significant role for NIAM in p53 control and tumor biology. Additional studies will be needed to determine which physiological or pathological signals normally engage NIAM to promote p53 function and suppress tumor development. It is anticipated that the NIAM knockout mice will provide an outstanding platform to interrogate NIAM's biological role in cancer, particularly in ARF-Mdm2-Tip60-p53 signaling as well as other pathways affecting genome maintenance. Ultimately, insights gained from such studies may justify novel therapies that seek to restore NIAM activity in tumors.


lymphoma, Mdm2, NIAM, p53, Tip60


xviii, 140 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 110-140).


Copyright 2015 Sara Marie Reed

Included in

Pharmacology Commons