Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Sayyed Zaidi

Second Advisor

Gary Stein


Breast cancer arises from a series of acquired mutations that disrupt normal mammary epithelial homeostasis and create multi-potent cancer stem cells that can differentiate into clinically distinct breast cancer subtypes. Despite improved therapies and advances in early detection, breast cancer remains the leading diagnosed cancer in women.

A predominant mechanism initiating invasion and migration for a variety of cancers including breast, is epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT— a trans-differentiation process through which mammary epithelial cells acquire a more aggressive mesenchymal phenotype—is a regulated process during early mammary gland development and involves many transcription factors involved in cell lineage commitment, proliferation, and growth. Despite accumulating evidence for a broad understanding of EMT regulation, the mechanism(s) by which mammary epithelial cells maintain their phenotype is unknown.

Mitotic gene bookmarking, i.e., transcription factor binding to target genes during mitosis for post mitotic regulation, is a key epigenetic mechanism to convey regulatory information for cell proliferation, growth, and identity through successive cell divisions. Many phenotypic transcription factors, including the hematopoietic Runt Related Transcription Factor 1 (RUNX1/AML1), bookmark target genes during mitosis. Despite growing evidence, a role for mitotic gene bookmarking in maintaining mammary epithelial phenotype has not been investigated.

RUNX1 has been recently identified to play key roles in breast cancer development and progression. Importantly, RUNX1 stabilizes the normal breast epithelial phenotype and prevents EMT through repression of EMT-initiating pathways. Findings reported in this thesis demonstrate that RUNX1 mitotically bookmarks both RNA Pol I and II transcribed genes involved in proliferation, growth, and mammary epithelial phenotype maintenance. Inhibition of RUNX1 DNA binding by a specific small molecule inhibitor led to phenotypic changes, apoptosis, differences in global protein synthesis, and differential expression of ribosomal RNA as well as protein coding genes and long non-coding RNA genes involved in cellular phenotype. Together these findings reveal a novel epigenetic regulatory role of RUNX1 in normal-like breast epithelial cells and strongly suggest that mitotic bookmarking of target genes by RUNX1 is required to maintain breast epithelial phenotype. Disruption of RUNX1 bookmarking results in initiation of epithelial to mesenchymal transition, an essential first step in the onset of breast cancer.



Number of Pages

118 p.