Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alan K. Howe


Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all the gynecologic cancers and is known for its clinically occult and asymptomatic dissemination. Most ovarian malignancies are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease and the high rate of morbidity is thought to be due, in part, to the highly metastatic nature of ovarian carcinomas. Cancer metastasis relies on the ability of cells to migrate away from primary tumors and invade into target tissues. Though the processes are distinct, cancer cell invasion relies on the underlying migration machinery to invade target tissues.

Cell migration requires the coordinated effort of numerous spatially-regulated signaling pathways to extend protrusions, create new adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM), translocate the cell body, and retract the cell rear. Our lab established that the cyclic-AMP dependent protein kinase (PKA) subunits and enzymatic activity are localized to the leading edge of migrating cells and are required for cell movement. Despite the importance for localized PKA activity during migration, neither its role in regulating ovarian cancer cell migration and invasion nor the mechanism regulating leading edge PKA activity have been determined. Therefore, the objective of the enclosed work is to establish the importance of PKA for ovarian cancer cell migration and invasion and elucidate the molecular mechanism governing leading edge PKA.

We demonstrate, for the first time, that PKA activity and spatial distribution through A-Kinase Anchoring Proteins (AKAPs) is required for efficient ovarian cancer cell migration and invasion. Additionally, we establish a link between leading edge PKA activity in migrating cells, ECM stiffness sensing, and the regulation of both PKA activity and ovarian cancer cell migration by the mechanical properties of the ECM. Finally, we delineate the hierarchy of cell signaling events that regulate leading edge PKA activity and, ultimately, the migration of ovarian cancer cells. Specifically, we elucidate a mechanism where leading edge protrusions elicit leading edge calcium currents through the stretch-activated calcium channel (SACC) of the transient receptor potential family melastatin 7 (TrpM7) to activate actomyosin contractility. ECM substrate stiffness is sensed by the actin cytoskeleton and actomyosin contractility, which, in turn, regulates the activity of leading edge PKA activity. These studies have provided important insights into the regulation of cell migration and have established the mechanistic details governing leading edge PKA activity during cell migration.



Number of Pages

270 p.