Date of Award

Summer 6-18-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Zhi-Ren Liu


The initiation of cancer metastasis usually requires Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT), by which tumor cells lose cell-cell interactions and gain the ability of migration and invasion. Previous study demonstrated that p68 RNA helicase, a prototypical member of the DEAD-box RNA helicases, functions as a mediator to promote platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-induced EMT through facilitating nuclear translocation of β-catenin in colon cancer cells. In this context, p68 RNA helicase was found to be phosphorylated at the tyrosine 593 residue (referred as phosphor-p68) by c-Abl kinase, and this phosphorylation is required for the activation of β-catenin signaling and the consequent EMT. The phosphor-p68 RNA helicase-mediated EMT was characterized by the repression of an epithelial marker, E-cadherin, and the upregulation of a mesenchymal marker, Vimentin. E-cadherin, a major cell-cell adhesion molecule that is involved in the formation of adherens junctions, has been shown to sequester β-catenin at the cell membrane and thus inhibit its transcriptional activity. The functional loss of E-cadherin is the fundamental event of EMT. Despite the role of phosphor-p68 RNA helicase in regulating nuclear translocation of β-catenin, whether phosphor-p68 is involved in the regulation of E-cadherin remains unknown. Here, our data indicated that phosphor-p68 RNA helicase initiated EMT by transcriptional upregulation of Snail1, a master transcriptional repressor of E-cadherin. The data suggest that phosphor-p68 RNA helicase displaced HDAC1 from the chromatin remodeling MBD3:Mi-2/NuRD complex at the Snail1 promoter, thereby activating the transcription of Snail1. In the xenograft tumor model, abolishing the phosphorylation of p68 RNA helicase by the expression of Y593F mutant resulted in a significant reduction of metastatic potential in human colon cancer cells. Analyses in the colon cancer tissues also revealed that the tyrosine 593 phosphorylation level of p68 RNA helicase is substantially enhanced in the tumor tissues comparing to that in the corresponding normal counterparts, suggesting a correlation of phosphor-p68 and tumor progression. In conclusion, we showed that tyrosine phosphorylation of p68 RNA helicase positively correlated to the malignant status of colon cancer progression. The molecular basis behind this correlation could be partly through the transcriptional regulation of Snail1.