Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rand, Matthew


Delta-Notch signaling is crucial for development of nearly every tissue in metazoans. Signals received by the Notch receptor influence transcription of select target genes that ultimately restrict the developmental fate of the signal receiving cell with respect to its neighbors. The Notch pathway also functions in contexts of abnormal proliferation and differentiation, e.g. cancer and inflammation. Therefore, understanding the regulation of signaling through the Notch receptor protein at the cellular and molecular level is of great significance. In this dissertation, I investigated three ways in which Notch signaling is regulated, namely (1) proteolysis of the Delta ligand; (2) endocytosis of the Delta ligand; and (3) proteolysis of the Notch receptor.. The Delta protein has three functions. First, Delta is a ligand for Notch when bound to it from an adjacent cell. Second, Delta is an inhibitor of Notch when coexpressed with it in the same cell. Third, Delta is hypothesized to be a receptor and, upon binding to Notch, signals to nucleus. Delta undergoes proteolysis by ADAM proteases and there are two contradictory models for the role of Delta cleavage: (1) cleavage disables Delta function; and (2) cleavage activates Delta function. Overall, the results presented in this dissertation strengthen the first model and weaken the second one. Consistent with the first model, we showed that preventing Delta cleavage strengthens its ligand function. As well, when co-expressed in the same with Notch, Delta cleavage is upregulated therefore disabling Delta function as inhibitor of Notch. In contrast to the second model, we showed that Delta proteolysis does not follow a previously established pattern of cleavages typical of cell surface proteins that are activated by proteolysis. Delta also undergoes endocytosis. Two general models have emerged that are again contradictory: (1) endocytosis downregulates cell surface expression of Delta and therefore diminishes its ability to bind Notch; (2) endocytosis of Delta invokes activation of Notch signaling. Overall, our results strengthen the first model and weaken the second one. In support of the first model, we first demonstrated that Notch activation shows a linear relationship to the amount of Delta ligand present on the cell surface and that subsequent inhibition of cell surface expression of Delta leads to its loss of function. In contrast to the second model, we showed that endocytosis of Delta is not required to activate Notch. We also resolved that earlier evidence in support for this model stemmed from misinterpretations of the properties of a Delta mutant protein. Proteolysis of Notch activates the signaling cascade. Binding of Delta to Notch was previously regarded as a requisite regulatory step to invoke receptor proteolysis. We identified the ability of Kuzbanian and TACE, ADAM proteases that cleave Notch in response to Delta stimulation, to activate Notch in a ligand-independent manner. Altogether, our results demonstrate that proteolysis and endocytosis of Delta are independent mechanisms that act to downregulate Delta function and are therefore an important means of attenuating the Notch signal. Alternatively, we find a novel means of enhancing Notch signals in specific contexts, namely through ligand-independent Notch activation by the ADAMs Kuzbanian and TACE. With respect to the latter observation, Kuzbanian and TACE expression is known to be elevated in several human diseases, and thus predicts that engagement of Notch signaling is a contributing factor in these pathologies.