Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Sandy Westerheide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brant Burkhardt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Meera Nanjundan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ken Wright, Ph.D.


HSF1, Spheroid model, Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition


Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer, with over 200,000 women diagnosed each year and over half of those cases leading to death. These poor statistics are related to a lack of early symptoms and inadequate screening techniques. This results in the cancer going undetected until later stages when the tumor has metastasized through a process that requires the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). In lieu of traditional monolayer cell culture, EMT and cancer progression in general is best characterized through the use of 3D spheroid models. In this study, we examine gene expression changes through microarray analysis in spheroid versus monolayer ovarian cancer cells treated with TGFβ to induce EMT. Transcripts that included Coiled-Coil Domain Containing 80 (CCDC80), Solute Carrier Family 6 (Neutral Amino Acid Transporter), Member 15 (SLC6A15), Semaphorin 3E (SEMA3E) and PIF1 5'-To-3' DNA Helicase (PIF1) were downregulated more than 10-fold in the 3D cells while Inhibitor Of DNA Binding 2, HLH Protein (ID2), Regulator Of Cell Cycle (RGCC), Protease, Serine 35 (PRSS35), and Aldo-Keto Reductase Family 1, Member C1 (AKR1C1) were increased more than 50-fold.

Interestingly, stress responses and epigenetic processes were significantly affected by 3D growth. The heat shock response and the oxidative stress response were also identified as transcriptome responses that showed significant changes upon 3D growth. Subnetwork enrichment analysis revealed that DNA integrity (e.g. DNA damage, genetic instability, nucleotide excision repair, and the DNA damage checkpoint pathway) were altered in the 3D spheroid model. In addition, two epigenetic processes, DNA methylation and histone acetylation, were increased with 3D growth. These findings support the hypothesis that three dimensional ovarian cell culturing is physiologically different from its monolayer counterpart.

The proteotoxic stress-responsive transcription factor HSF1 is frequently overexpressed in a variety of cancers and is vital to cellular proliferation and invasion in some cancers. Upon analysis of various patient data sets, we find that HSF1 is frequently overexpressed in ovarian tumor samples. In order to determine the role of HSF1 in ovarian cancer, inducible HSF1 knockdown cell lines were created. Knockdown of HSF1 in SKOV3 and HEY ovarian cancer cell lines attenuates the epithelial-tomesenchymal transition (EMT) in cells treated with TGFβ, as determined by western blot and quantitative RT-PCR analysis of multiple EMT markers.

To further explore the role of HSF1 in ovarian cancer EMT, we cultured multicellular spheroids in a non-adherent environment to simulate early avascular tumors. In the spheroid model, cells more readily undergo EMT; however, EMT inhibition by HSF1 knockdown becomes more pronounced in the spheroid model. These findings suggest that HSF1 is important in the ovarian cancer TGFβ response and in EMT.