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Title: The role of LKB1 (STK11) in non-small cell lung cancer
Author: Cahill, Fiona
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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LKB1 is the second most commonly altered tumour suppressor gene in lung adenocarcinoma, the most prevalent form of lung cancer. LKB1 is a "master kinase" that has been shown to phosphorylate up to 13 downstream targets. We hypothesised that LKB1 loss is associated with an increased dependency on alternative, targetable pathways. The overall aims of this project were to better understand the role of LKB1 loss in lung cancer and to identify novel approaches to selectively target LKB1 mutated cells. We generated isogenic cells with or without LKB1 and used these to study the effect of LKB1 on cell proliferation. Importantly, we used a range of models including 2D culture, 3D spheroids and, sub-cutaneous and orthotopic xenograft models. To understand the role of LKB1 loss in lung cancer, the effect of LKB1 on mRNA expression was analysed using whole genome RNA Sequencing. To identify novel approaches to selectively target LKB1 mutated cells, we used biological screening methods and also investigated the effect of several metabolic inhibitors. We found that loss of LKB1 expression had no effect on cell proliferation in 2D culture, but was associated with increased growth in 3D spheroids, sub-cutaneous and orthotopic xenografts, as well as greater metastasis in a lung orthotopic model. Gene ontology analysis of the transcriptome identified that genes associated with cAMP signalling and cytoskeletal organisation were differentially expressed between LKB1 deficient and proficient cells. We confirmed that cAMP signalling was increased in LKB1 deficient cells, though there was no difference in sensitivity between LKB1 deficient and proficient cells to cAMP signalling modulators. The bioactive small molecule screen showed that LKB1 deficient cells underwent apoptosis more slowly and therefore, were less sensitive to many compounds, compared with LKB1 proficient cells. Screening in 3D spheroids was a novel approach that we used to identify microtubule inhibitors as potentially selective compounds acting in LKB1 deficient cells. Our RNASeq data suggests that there was a metabolic shift from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis in LKB1 deficient cells, although this did not affect sensitivity to complex I inhibitors. Importantly, LKB1 deficient cells were more sensitive to glucose and glutamine deprivation which suggests that targeting these metabolic pathways may hold the greatest promise to selectively inhibit proliferation in LKB1 mutated cells.
Supervisor: Ryan, Anderson J. Sponsor: Cancer Research UK
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Non-small cell lung cancer ; STK11 ; LKB1 ; Othotopic mouse model ; RNA Sequencing ; Sub-cutaneous xenografts ; 3D spheroids ; Metabolism ; Bioactive small molecule screen