Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Sandy D. Westerheide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brant R. Burkhardt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Younghoon Kee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Meera Nanjundan, Ph.D.


Heat Shock Factor 1, Ovarian Cancer, Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition, Transforming Growth Factor β, HSP90 Inhibitors, Spheroid Culture, intrinsic disorder


The heat shock response (HSR) is a robust cellular reaction to mitigate protein damage from heat and other challenges to the proteome. This protective molecular program in humans is controlled by heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1). Activation of HSF1 leads to the induction of an array of cytoprotective genes, many of which code for chaperones. These chaperones, known as heat shock proteins (HSPs), are responsible for maintaining the functional integrity of the proteome. HSPs achieve this by promoting proper folding and assembly of nascent proteins, refolding denatured proteins, and processing for degradation proteins and aggregates which cannot be returned to a functional conformation. The powerful ability of the heat shock response to promote cell survival makes its master regulator, HSF1, an important point of research. To garner a better understanding of HSF1, we reviewed the role of the highly dynamic HSF1 protein structure and investigated how HSF1 affects cancer cell behavior and drug response.

Cancers can be characterized in part by abhorrent replication, self-sufficient growth signaling, invasion, and evasion of apoptosis. HSF1 has been found to promote proliferation, invasion, and drug resistance in several types of cancer; including lung and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer has elevated levels of HSF1, but the role of HSF1 in ovarian cancer behavior had not been previously examined. Researching the role of HSF1 in ovarian cancer is merited, because treatment outcomes are poor due to the high frequency of late stage detection and drug resistance. We hypothesized that HSF1 is important in the malignant growth and drug resistance of ovarian cancer.

We have created ovarian cancer cell lines with inducible knockdown of HSF1 to investigate how HSF1 contributes to the behavior of ovarian cancer. This allowed us to examine the behavior of cells in the absence HSF1. Both 2D and 3D spheroid tissue culture models were used to study how HSF1 contributes to the growth and invasion of ovarian cancer cells after treatment with the transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) cytokine. Additionally, we studied how HSF1 reduction modulates the response to multiple therapeutic drugs. Our research shows that HSF1 induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in a 3D growth model. Our work also demonstrates that reduction of HSF1 sensitizes ovarian cancer cells to multiple drugs.