Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Genetics

First Advisor

Paul Fisher


Melanoma differentiation associated gene-7 (mda-7) was discovered in the Fisher laboratory by subtraction hybridization of temporally spaced subtracted cDNA libraries prepared from terminally differentiated human melanoma cells treated with human fibroblast interferon (IFN-β) and the protein kinase C activator mezerein (MEZ), an approach called ‘differentiation induction subtraction hybridization’ (DISH). mda-7 is located in human chromosome 1q32–33 and based on sequence homology, chromosomal localization, and its functional properties, the mda-7 gene is now classified as a member of the IL-10 family of cytokines and named IL-24. The mda-7/IL-24 cDNA encodes a protein of 206-amino acids with a predicted size of ~24-kDa, which contains an interleukin (IL)-10 signature motif at amino acids 101–121 (SDAESCYLVHTLLEFYLKTVF) shared by other members of the IL-10 family of cytokines. Sequence analysis revealed the presence of a 49-amino acid signal peptide suggesting that the molecule could be cleaved and secreted. Expression of MDA-7/IL-24 protein was detected in cells of the immune system (mainly by expression in tissues associated with the immune system, such as spleen, thymus and PBMC) and normal human melanocytes. Of interest, a progressive loss of MDA-7/IL-24 expression during melanoma progression suggests an inverse relationship between MDA-7/IL-24 expression and the evolution of melanocytes to various stages of melanoma. mda-7/IL-24 induces growth suppression in human melanoma and other cancer cells, without affecting normal cells. Subsequent studies provided consistent evidence that ectopic expression of mda-7/IL-24 employing a replication incompetent adenovirus (Ad.mda-7) resulted in apoptosis induction and cell death in a wide variety of solid tumors including melanoma, malignant glioma, carcinomas of the breast, kidney, cervix, colorectum , liver, lung, ovary and prostate sparing normal cellular counterparts, i.e., such as normal melanocytes, astrocytes, fibroblasts, and mesothelial and epithelial cells. The in vitro antitumor activity of mda-7/IL-24 readily translated into the in vivo situation in animal models containing human breast, prostate, lung and colorectal carcinomas and in malignant glioma xenografts. Moreover, the ability of mda-7/IL-24 to induce a potent “bystander cancer-specific killing effect” provides an unprecedented opportunity to use this molecule to target for destruction not only primary tumors, but also metastases. Based on its profound cancer-selective tropism, substantiated by in vivo human xenograft studies in nude mice, mda-7/IL-24 (administered as Ad.mda-7) was evaluated in a Phase I clinical trial in patients with melanomas and solid cancers. These studies document that mda-7/IL-24 is well tolerated and demonstrates evidence of significant (44%) clinical activity. This review focuses on the recent enhancements in our understanding of the mode of action of mda-7/IL-24 and its potential applications as a unique and promising effective cytokine-based gene therapy for human cancers. The first chapter explored the efficacy of a tropism-modified Ad-based cancer gene therapy approach for eradicating low CAR colorectal cancer cells. We show that in low CAR human colorectal cancer cells (RKO), a recombinant Ad.5/3 virus delivering mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.5/3-mda-7) is more efficient than Ad.5 delivering mda-7 (Ad.5-mda-7) in expressing MDA-7/IL-24 protein, inducing cancer-specific apoptosis and inhibiting in vivo tumor growth in a nude mouse xenograft model. Additionally, our in vitro and in vivo data confirms that BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) profoundly sensitizes mda-7/IL-24 mediated toxicity in colorectal cancer. Thus, Ad.5/3-mda-7, alone and/or in combination with BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax), might represent an improved and more effective therapeutic approach for colorectal and other cancers. In view of the essential roles of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins in tumorigenesis and chemoresistance, efforts are focused on developing small molecule inhibitors of Bcl-2 family proteins as potential therapeutics for cancer. Unfortunately, due to the unique structure of Mcl-1 as compared with Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL, currently employed inhibitors, such as ABT-737 or its clinical counterpart, ABT-263, display limited affinity for Mcl-1. Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) binding assays and computational docking studies, we have recently identified a series of new Apogossypol derivatives, compound 3 (BI-79D10) and compound 11 (BI-97C1), with pan-Bcl-2- inhibitory potency. BI-79D10 binds to Bcl- xL, Bcl-2, and Mcl-1 with IC50 values of 190, 360, and 520 nmol/L, respectively. BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) is an optically pure individual Apogossypol derivative that retains all the properties of BI-79D10 along with superior in vitro and in vivo efficacy. Because Mcl-1 is over-expressed in the majority of PCs, we hypothesized that suppressing Mcl-1 by treating human PC cells with BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) would sensitize them to mda-7/IL-24-mediated cytotoxicity. The second chapter study highlights the noteworthy potential of a combinatorial approach involving mda-7/IL-24, a broad-acting anticancer gene, and BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax), which targets Mcl-1, to sensitize PC to mda-7/IL-24-mediated cytotoxicity, thereby enhancing therapeutic efficacy. Our data suggests that treatment with the combination regimen of mda-7/IL-24 and BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) induces autophagy that facilitates apoptosis in association with up regulation of NOXA, accumulation of Bim, and activation of Bax and Bak. Treatment with mda-7/IL-24 and BI-97C1 (Sabutoclax) inhibited the growth of PC xenografts and suppressed PC development in an immunocompetent transgenic mouse model of PC. The third chapter study explored the efficacy of a tropism-modified CRCA cancer gene therapy approach for eradicating low CAR prostate cancer cells. We showed that in low CAR PC3 cells Ad.5/3-CTV is more efficient than Ad.5-CTV in delivering transgene (mda-7/IL-24), infecting tumor cells, expressing MDA-7/IL-24 protein, inducing cancer-specific apoptosis, inhibiting in vivo tumor growth and exerting an antitumor ‘bystander’ effect in a nude mouse human prostate cancer xenograft and suppressed PC development in an immunocompetent transgenic mouse model of PC model.


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