Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Molecular and Cell Biology

First Advisor

Habelhah, Hasem

First Committee Member

Bishop, Gail A.

Second Committee Member

Houtman, Jon

Third Committee Member

Colgan, John

Fourth Committee Member

Janz, Siegfried


CD40 is a TNF-Receptor (TNFR) superfamily member that functions to promote several facets of the humoral immune response--including B cell proliferation, differentiation, antibody isotype switching, and cytokine expression. TNFR superfamily members lack intrinsic kinase activity and must recruit members of the TNFR-associated factor (TRAF) family of adaptor proteins to connect the receptor to intracellular signaling pathways. CD40-mediated JNK and NF-κB activation is critical for an intact humoral immune response; however, the precise mechanisms governing the spatiotemporal activation of these pathways are not completely understood.

In this study we report that CD40 ligation results in the dual phosphorylation of TRAF2 on Ser-11 and Ser-55 to control the subcellular localization of key pathway intermediates and temporally regulate downstream JNK and IKK/NF-κB pathway activation. Notably, TBK1- mediated TRAF2 Ser-11 phosphorylation elicits the dissociation of a signaling complex, consisting of TRAF2, cIAP1/2, and IKKγ, from the CD40 receptor to potentiate a secondary phase of JNK and IKK activation. In the absence of this phosphorylation event, these proteins translocate to the insoluble lipid rafts along with the membrane-bound receptor complex, where TRAF2 undergoes Ser-55 phosphorylation-dependent self-ubiquitination and degradation necessary for cessation of JNK activation. Furthermore, TRAF2 Ser-11 phosphorylation inhibits non-canonical NF-κB activation by promoting the lipid raft localization of the CD40 receptor complex. This suggests that TRAF2 dual phosphorylation acts as a molecular switch to control canonical and non-canonical NF-κB activation. CD40 signaling is heavily implicated in a wide array of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases--including Alzheimer's, Grave's disease, and diabetes. As such, characterization of the molecular mechanisms directing CD40 signal transduction will provide a foundation for the further development of targeted immunomodulatory therapeutics.

In addition, the NF-κB transcriptional program has well-defined roles in oncogenesis and tumor progression, and many B cell lymphomas exploit the CD40L/CD40 dyad to constitutively activate the NF-κB pathway and potentiate neoplastic growth and survival. Through these analyses, we demonstrate that TRAF2 phosphorylation on Ser-11 and Ser-55 promote cell survival in response to genotoxic and oxidative stress, respectively, by regulating JNK and NF-κB pathway activation and coordinating the subcellular localization and stability of key signaling effectors. Furthermore, we show that inhibition of TRAF2 phosphorylation in B-cell lymphoma cells increases their sensitivity to standard frontline chemotherapeutics, including doxorubicin and vincristine, as well as the novel agents bortezomib and arsenic trioxide. These findings are clinically significant, as TRAF2 is found over-expressed and constitutively phosphorylated in DLBCL cell lines and patient biopsies. In addition, mice bearing tumors that harbor TRAF2 Ser-11 phospho-null mutations are more responsive to treatment with doxorubicin and have significantly prolonged survival compared to wild-type counterparts in a syngeneic model of B-cell lymphoma.

The tumor microenvironment is characterized by pro-inflammatory cytokines, hypoxia, low glucose, and free radicals, all of which are known to induce chronic cellular stress and NF-κB activation. Cancer cell adaptation to these stressors has profound consequences for malignant progression and therapeutic response. In this regard, our findings present a unique opportunity where the molecular targeting to TRAF2 phosphorylation could increase the efficacy of current therapies by suppressing basal NF-κB activation, thus synergistically sensitizing NF-κB-driven malignancies to chemotherapeutic-induced cell death.


CD40, Lymphoma, NF-kB, Phosphorylation, TRAF2


viii, 218 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 168-218).


This thesis has been optimized for improved web viewing. If you require the original version, contact the University Archives at the University of Iowa:


Copyright © 2014 Lauren Michelle Workman

Included in

Cell Biology Commons