Unveiling the role of PAK2 in CD44 mediated inhibition of proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis in AML cells

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a heterogeneous disease characterized by the accumulation of immature nonfunctional highly proliferative hematopoietic cells in the blood, due to a blockage in myeloid differentiation at various stages. Since the success of the differentiation agent, All-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), much effort has gone into trying to find agents that are able to differentiate AML cells and specifically the leukemic stem cell (LSC). CD44 is a cell surface receptor that is over-expressed on AML cells. When bound to anti-CD44 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), this differentiation block is relieved in AML cells and their proliferation is reduced. The molecular mechanisms that AML cells undergo to achieve this reversal of their apparent phenotype is not fully understood. To this end, we designed a study using quantitative phosphoproteomics approaches aimed at identifying differences in phosphorylation found on proteins involved in signaling pathways post-treatment with CD44-mAbs. The Rho family of GTPases emerged as one of the most transformed pathways following the treatment with CD44-mAbs. The P21 activated kinase 2(PAK2), a target of the Rho family of GTPases, was found to be differentially phosphorylated in AML cells post-treatment with CD44-mAbs. This protein has been found to possess a role similar to that of a switch that determines whether the cell survives or undergoes apoptosis. Beyond confirming these results by various biochemical approaches, our study aimed to determine the effect of knock down of PAK2 on AML cell proliferation and differentiation. In addition, over-expression of PAK2 mutants using plasmid cloning was also explored to fully understand how levels of PAK2 as well as the alteration of specific phospohorylation sites could alter AML cell responses to CD44-mAbs. Results from this study will be important in determining whether PAK2 could be used as a potential therapeutic target for AML once its levels are altered.
Date of AwardApr 2018
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorJasmeen Merzaban (Supervisor)


  • Leukemia
  • AML
  • Anti-CD44
  • PAK2
  • CD44
  • HL60

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