Malignant cells are continuously exposed to extrinsic (hypoxia, limited access to nutrients, immune surveillance) and intrinsic (oncogenic insults) stresses that culminate in activation of the hypoxia and endoplasmic reticulum stress (ERS) response programs. Tumor cell adaptation to these challenges depends on both genetic (acquisition of new mutations) and epigenetic (modulation of gene expression) mechanisms that underlie tumor survival, metastasis, and resistance to therapy; also known as plasticity. Over the past two decades, my lab has focused on understanding the cellular stress response, particularly the contribution of kinases and ubiquitin ligases. Our studies established a number of paradigms in stress adaptation, with demonstrated significance for the development, progression, and drug resistance of both melanoma and prostate cancer. We defined how subcellular localization dictates the oncogenic or tumor suppressor activity of ATF2, and showed that this is regulated by the AGC kinase PKC?. Based on this discovery we performed a screen for inhibitors of this transcription factor-ostensibly undruggable targets- based on altered subcellular localization. Our other recent discovery of a spliced form of ATF2 that exhibits a gain-of-function phenotype will enable us to further redefine the function of ATF2 in melanoma. Further, we identified a mechanism of rewired signaling in which ERK impacts JNK with concomitant effects on PDK1, the master regulator of AGC kinases. This led us to demonstrate the key role played by PDK1 in melanoma. Our future studies will continue to investigate how PDK1 and its downstream targets contribute to melanoma metastasis and drug resistance. Our discovery that the ubiquitin ligases Siah1/2 control the hypoxia response revealed their roles in melanoma and the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Siah1/2 also control stress response signaling, establishing a mechanism for commitment to cell death under ischemic conditions. This established the basis upon which we will develop and evaluate first-in-class Siah inhibitors for prostate cancer and melanoma metastasis and resistance. We also recently determined that the RNF5 ubiquitin ligase regulates both autophagy and glutamine metabolism and established a new method to stratify breast cancer patients to select therapies. Lastly, the discovery that RNF125 ubiquitin ligase is a key regulator of melanoma resistance to BRAF inhibitors will drive an investigation in pancreatic cancer, a fraction of which carry mutated RNF125. Collectively, our discoveries reveal that the tumor cell response to stress, which underlies their plasticity, involves the cooperation between rewired signaling and genetic lesions. Our proposed studies will establish novel mechanisms underlying tumor plasticity, enabling the development of novel agents for predicting, monitoring, and preventing tumor metastasis and resistance.

Public Health Relevance

Our focus on rewired signaling enabled us to establish new paradigms along the cellular response to the microenvironment, including endoplasmic reticulum stress and hypoxia pathways. This epigenetic focus complements the genetic landscape and allows us to discover fundamental mechanisms underlying tumor cell plasticity; those that underlie metastatic and resistant phenotypes and will culminate in novel therapeutic modalities.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Unknown (R35)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZCA1)
Program Officer
Sathyamoorthy, Neeraja
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute
La Jolla
United States
Zip Code
Senft, Daniela; Qi, Jianfei; Ronai, Ze'ev A (2018) Ubiquitin ligases in oncogenic transformation and cancer therapy. Nat Rev Cancer 18:69-88
Tamiya, Hironari; Kim, Hyungsoo; Klymenko, Oleksiy et al. (2018) SHARPIN-mediated regulation of protein arginine methyltransferase 5 controls melanoma growth. J Clin Invest 128:517-530
Chiu, Honyin; Jackson, Leandra V; Oh, Kwon Ik et al. (2018) The mTORC1/4E-BP/eIF4E Axis Promotes Antibody Class Switching in B Lymphocytes. J Immunol :
Fujita, Yu; Khateb, Ali; Li, Yan et al. (2018) Regulation of S100A8 Stability by RNF5 in Intestinal Epithelial Cells Determines Intestinal Inflammation and Severity of Colitis. Cell Rep 24:3296-3311.e6
Kim, Hyungsoo; Ronai, Ze'ev A (2018) Rewired Notch/p53 by Numb'ing Mdm2. J Cell Biol 217:445-446
Pathria, Gaurav; Ronai, Ze'ev A (2018) BRN 2 Invade. Cancer Cell 34:1-3
Pathria, Gaurav; Scott, David A; Feng, Yongmei et al. (2018) Targeting the Warburg effect via LDHA inhibition engages ATF4 signaling for cancer cell survival. EMBO J 37:
Lazar, Ikrame; Ronai, Ze'ev A (2018) CALPA-IN NF1. Oncotarget 9:33051
Senft, Daniela; Leiserson, Mark D M; Ruppin, Eytan et al. (2017) Precision Oncology: The Road Ahead. Trends Mol Med 23:874-898
Watson, Gregory; Ronai, Ze'ev A; Lau, Eric (2017) ATF2, a paradigm of the multifaceted regulation of transcription factors in biology and disease. Pharmacol Res 119:347-357

Showing the most recent 10 out of 17 publications