Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Degree Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, PhD

Committee Chair

Klinge, Carolyn

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Clem, Brian

Committee Member

Clem, Brian

Committee Member

Cave, Matthew

Committee Member

Samuelson, David

Committee Member

Smith, Melissa

Committee Member

Clark, Barbara

Author's Keywords

RNA modifications; breast cancer; endocrine-therapy resistance; liver disease; PCB exposure


Post-transcriptional RNA modifications including N6-methyladenosine (m6A) regulate mRNA stability, splicing, and translation. My research examined m6A in two disease models: breast cancer (BCa) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Acquired resistance to endocrine therapies (ET) develops in approximately 20% of BCa patients with estrogen receptor α positive (ER+) tumors following treatment. The mechanisms by which tumor cells evade ET are not completely understood. Using a cell line model, we investigated the role of an m6A reader protein, HNRNPA2B1 (A2B1) that is upregulated in ET-resistant ER+ BCa cells. Stable overexpression of A2B1 in ET-sensitive MCF-7 cells (MCF-7-A2B1), results in ET resistance, whereas knockdown of A2B1 in ET-resistant cells restored ET-sensitivity. microRNAs (miRNAs) downregulated by transient overexpression of A2B1 were identified to target two key enzymes (PSAT1 and PHGDH) in the serine biosynthetic pathway (SSP) which is upregulated in ET-resistant BCa cells and in tumors from patients with ET-resistant disease. Using luciferase assays, PSAT1 and PHGDH were validated as bona fide targets of miRNAs downregulated by A2B1 (miR-145-5p and miR-424-5p targeting PSAT1, miR-34b-5p and miR-876-5p targeting PHGDH). Exogenous overexpression of the validated miRNAs decreased endogenous PSAT1 and PHGDH in ET-resistant BCa cells, resulting in increased sensitivity to ET in vitro. In the second model, alterations in the m6A epitranscriptome were identified in the livers of male C57Bl/6Jmice after a single, oral exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), a class of persistent organic pollutants, in combination with 12 weeks on a high fat diet (HFD). Our results demonstrated that exposure to PCBs in combination with a HFD resulted in major changes to the mRNA and miRNA transcriptomes, and m6A epitranscriptome. Pathway analysis of the genes in which m6A peaks were altered identified pathways involved in the progression from steatosis to steatohepatitis in NAFLD. PCB exposures also resulted in changes to alternative splicing (AS) mechanisms and events, suggesting that PCB-induced m6A changes contribute to altered isoforms expression in NAFLD. Taken together, the results in this dissertation demonstrate the significant role of altered m6A in two common human diseases.