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The Role of the Novel Lupus Antigen, Acheron, in Moderating Life and Death Decisions

Programmed cell death (PCD) is a major regulatory mechanism employed during development and homeostasis. The term PCD was coined to describe the death of the intersegmental muscles (ISMs) of moths at the end of metamorphosis. The timing of ISM death in the Tobacco Hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, is regulated by a fall in the titer of the steroid molting hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E) late on day 17of pupal-adult development. This triggers the release of the peptide hormone, Eclosion Hormone (EH), which mediates its effects via the secondary messenger cGMP. It has been previously demonstrated that ISM death requires de novo gene expression. One induced gene in the ISMs encodes the novel protein Acheron. However, Acheron’s role in PCD is unknown. Acheron is a novel member of the Lupus-Antigen family of RNA binding proteins. In humans, Acheron is expressed in many tissues including the myoepithelial cells in mammary ducts. Analysis of the mammary gland revealed that Acheron mRNA levels were elevated in some basal-like breast cancers in women. Ectopic expression of Acheron in human MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells results in dramatic elevations in proliferation, angiogenesis and metastasis. Moreover, Acheron expressing MDA-MB-231 cells in mouse xenographs resulted in tumors that were five times larger than control cell tumors. These data suggests that Acheron enhances the growth of some human breast cancers. This thesis describes two primary studies. The first tested the hypothesis that Acheron functions as a survival protein for cells in vitro. MDA-MB-231 cells engineered to express Acheron were challenged with various death-inducing treatments, which act via different signaling pathways, to determine if Acheron expression confers survival. Acheron protects cells from apoptosis induced by nutrient withdrawal, proteosome inhibition, heat stress, mitochondrial toxins, inhibiting cellular respiration, DNA damage, and oxidative stress. The second study tested the hypothesis that Acheron is phosphorylated by a cGMP-dependent kinase in the ISMs when the cells initiate death following adult eclosion. Using a non-radioactive in-vitro kinase assay I observed that Acheron is phosphorylated via a cGMP-dependent kinase, presumed via kinase binding motif predictions to be Protein Kinase G. Furthermore I show that phosphorylation is coupled to Acheron degradation.
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