Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Lidia Kos

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Fernando G Noriega

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Zhao-Jun Liu

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Manuel A Barbieri

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Xiaotang Wang

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


melanoma metastasis, heterogeneity, endothelial mimicry, EndMT

Date of Defense



Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer due to its high propensity to metastasize and resistance to current therapies. We have created a spontaneous mouse model of metastatic melanoma (Dct-Grm1/K5-Edn3) where metastasis to the lungs is 80% penetrant. The primary tumors of these mice present cellular heterogeneity with cells at varying levels of differentiation. The main goal of this study was to determine the metastatic potential of the primary tumor resident Tyrosinase positive cells and evaluate the dynamic phenotypic changes as those cells move from the primary tumors to the sites of metastasis. To accomplish this aim I crossed the Dct-Grm1/K5-Edn3 mice to CreERT2/mT/mG mice to indelibly label Tyrosinase cell populations within the primary tumor with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) by topical application of 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4HT) at the tumor site. In vivo lineage tracing and characterization of GFP+ cells were performed in the metastatic lesions.

In the 4HT treated Dct-Grm1/ K5-Edn3/Tyr-CreERT2/mT/mG mice, primary tumor derived Tyrosinase positive cells or their progeny (GFP+) established successful metastases in the distant organs indicating the tumorigenic capacity of the differentiated cell populations. Numerous metastatic melanoma cells were identified in the vasculature of the metastatic organs and established close association with the vascular endothelium. The intravascular cells lost pigmentation and did not express melanocytic markers; however, they mimicked endothelial cell properties and gained the expression of CD31 (also known as platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule PECAM-1) and vascular endothelial (VE)-Cadherin. In the lung metastatic foci, GFP+ cells resumed pigmentation production and lost the expression of endothelial cell markers. Evidence from other metastatic organs in the mice further supported the phenotypic plasticity of metastatic melanoma cells.

The in vivo lineage tracing system established in the melanoma mouse model revealed tumor phenotypic plasticity and will be a powerful model to evaluate and help us understand the etiology and pathogenesis of melanoma metastasis. Further characterization of those more aggressive cells in melanoma will allow for the development of new prognostic tests and novel therapeutic strategies to eliminate metastasis.





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