Date of Award

Fall 12-6-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Leland Chung

Second Advisor

Dr. Zhi-Ren Liu

Third Advisor

Dr. Ritu Aneja

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Neale Weitzmann


This study focused on the role of RANKL in prostate cancer EMT progression and metastasis. Activation of RANK, a receptor activator of NF-kB, by its ligand RANKL, in a paracrine manner is responsible for osteoclast differentiation and bone remodeling. RANK activation in cancer cells, however, is thought to be promoted by both autocrine and paracrine mechanisms because RANKL has been shown to be derived from either tumor or its microenvironment, such as osteoblasts, infiltrating inflammatory cells and stromal fibroblasts. In the present study, we demonstrated that autocrine and paracrine RANKL-RANK signaling could be responsible for driving prostate cancer bone metastasis by promoting epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). We further characterized a novel converging RANKL-c-Met signaling network in which the activation of RANKL was found to promote the expression of both RANKL and c-Met in an autocrine manner in prostate cancer cells. The induced RANKL and c-Met in prostate cancer cells is biologically functional and contributes to increased osteoclastogenesis, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), cell motility, migration and invasion and conferred bone and soft tissue metastases. Remarkably, RANKL expression by 1,000 prostate cancer cells can provoke bone and soft tissue metastases of a “dormant” population of prostate cancer cells which by themselves failed to form tumors and colonize mouse skeleton, suggesting RANKL can serve as a factor in “reawakening” cancer dormancy to initiate the re-growth and metastasis of cancer cells. We also showed that RANKL-induced RANKL feed-forward autocrine regulation is mediated through cMyc transactivation, allowing the establishment of a “vicious cycle” further promoting prostate cancer growth and metastasis. The converging RANKL-c-Met signaling network is therefore a novel target that could be further manipulated for delaying the lethal progression of castration-resistant human prostate cancer bone metastasis.