Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Cornell, Robert A

First Committee Member

Bassuk, Alexander G

Second Committee Member

Dupuy, Adam J

Third Committee Member

Rutkowski, D Thomas

Fourth Committee Member

Tootle, Tina L


During development, neural crest (NC) cells arise from the neural plate border and are further differentiated into multiple cell types, including melanocytes. Each step of this process is controlled by a gene regulatory network (GRN), and disruption of the GRN governing melanocyte differentiation contributes to the pathogenesis of pigmentation disorders and melanoma. While many of the factors within this network have been well studied, the role of Transcription Factor Activating Enhancer-Binding Protein 2 (TFAP2) paralogs has been unclear. TFAP2A and TFAP2C are required for NC induction. Later, TFAP2A is also expressed in melanocytes, and TFAP2A mutations cause pigmentation phenotypes in humans, mice, and zebrafish. Other paralogs with high homology to TFAP2A, particularly TFAP2B in mouse and Tfap2e in zebrafish, also function redundantly with TFAP2A in the melanocyte lineage.

Here, we have used ChIP-seq and expression profiling to identify direct transcriptional targets of TFAP2A in melanocytes, which include genes involved in melanin synthesis and melanosome biology. Furthermore, we show that TFAP2A directly regulates many of the same genes as Microphthalmia-associated Transcription Factor (MITF), the “master regulator” of the melanocyte lineage. MITF activity has been described as a rheostat in melanoma, with high levels promoting differentiation and lower levels promoting invasiveness. The overlap between TFAP2A and MITF transcriptional targets in melanocytes suggests that TFAP2A may influence the MITF rheostat, driving it toward the differentiated state. To study the role of other TFAP2 paralogs in NC and melanocytes, we generated zebrafish lines that are double and triple mutant for tfap2a, tfap2c, and tfap2e and confirm genetic compensation among these paralogs. We also demonstrate that melanocyte-specific inhibition of Tfap2 activity by Kctd15 affects differentiation and that Kctd15 may participate in a negative feedback loop regulating Tfap2 expression. In support of a pro-differentiation role for TFAP2A in melanocytes, we show that overexpression of tfap2a in a zebrafish melanoma model significantly delays tumor formation. Together these results indicate that, in addition to its earlier roles in the NC, TFAP2A acts within the melanocyte GRN to directly regulate differentiation genes in parallel with MITF. This, combined with the tumor-suppressor function of TFAP2A in melanoma, implicates TFAP2A and the factors that regulate it as potential targets for melanoma therapies.


melanocyte, melanoma, MITF, TFAP2, zebrafish


xiii, 202 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 178-202).


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Copyright © 2018 Hannah Elizabeth Seberg

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