Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Molecular Biology and Genetics

First Advisor

Anthony Faber

Second Advisor

Iain Morgan

Third Advisor

Hisashi Harada

Fourth Advisor

Joyce Lloyd

Fifth Advisor

Devanand Sarkar

Sixth Advisor

Sosipatros Boikos


The EWSR1-FLI1 t(11;22)(q24;q12) translocation is the pathognomonic genomic alteration in 85% of the Ewing Family of Tumors (EWFT) a malignancy of the bone and the surrounding tissue, predominantly affecting children and adolescents. This translocation results in the formation of a chimeric oncoprotein which acts as an aberrant transcription factor that is currently not pharmaceutically druggable, driving the need for more effective targeted therapies. The EWSR1-FLI1 translocation induces a variety of changes including dysregulation of the epigenome and altered gene expression to drive tumorigenesis, and consequently contributes to the hypersensitivity of EWFT to several classes of chemotherapeutics. We sought to exploit these intrinsic sensitivities by employing a matched pair of cell lines derived from the same patient with Ewing sarcoma prior to and following chemotherapy, a panel of Ewing sarcoma cell lines, and several patient-derived xenografts (PDX) collected at the time of relapse or autopsy, which led us to the development of two novel combination targeted therapies for EWFT.

In our matched pair of EWFT cell lines, we found sensitivity to the Poly(ADP-ribose Polymerase (PARP) inhibitor olaparib was diminished following chemotherapy, despite a predicted sensitivity. In addition, we discovered increased expression of the antiapoptotic protein BCL-2 in the chemotherapy-resistant cells, conferring apoptotic resistance to olaparib. We found that EWS-FLI1 increases BCL-2 expression; however, inhibition of BCL-2 alone is insufficient to sensitize EWFT cells to olaparib, revealing a dual necessity for BCL-2 and BCL-XL (BCL2L1) in EWFT survival. These data reveal BCL-2 and BCL-XL act together to drive olaparib mediated apoptotic resistance in Ewing sarcoma and identify a novel, rational combination therapy using olaparib and the BCL-2/BCL-XL inhibitor navitoclax.

In addition, using high throughput drug screening we have identified a novel epigenetic susceptibility in EWFT to GSK-J4 (GlaxoSmithKline), an inhibitor of lysine 27 of histone 3 (H3K27) demethylases: ubiquitously transcribed tetratricopeptide repeat, X chromosome (UTX) and Jumonji D3 (JMJD3). Treatment with GSK-J4 leads to a decrease in H3K27 acetylation (H3K27ac) and ultimately, the silencing of EWS-FLI1 gene targets.

We sought to sensitize GSK-J4-mediated inhibition of EWS-FLI1 targets by blocking RNA polymerase II activity using the Cyclin Dependent Kinase 7 (CDK7) inhibitor THZ1. By targeting CDK7-mediated transcription we were able to sensitize EWFTs to H3K27 demethylase inhibition. We therefore propose co-targeting of H3K27 demethylases and CDK7 acts as a surrogate EWS-FLI1 inhibitor. Given the difficulties targeting EWS-FLI1, these strategies may present viable clinical therapies.


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