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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Walter Scott

Second Committee Member

Karoline Briegel

Third Committee Member

Louis J. Elsas

Fourth Committee Member

Kent Lai

Fifth Committee Member

Peter Buchwald


Classic Galactosemia (CG) is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by deleterious mutations of galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (E.C. (GALT) gene, which results in the inability to metabolize galactose and the accumulation of galactose-1-phosphate (gal-1-p) in patients' cells. Newborn screening has resulted in presymptomatic diagnosis and treatment. Although a galactose-restricted diet prevents the neonatal lethality of this disorder, many well-treated patients continue to develop debilitating complications such as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), dyspraxic speech, ataxia and other neurological defects. The causes of these unsatisfactory outcomes remain unclear, but accumulation of gal-1-p is regarded as the major factor responsible for these chronic complications. In previous studies we found that gal-1-p was a competitive inhibitor of the UTP dependent, glucose-1-phosphate pyrophosphorylase (EC and inositol monophosphatase (EC As a result there were deficiencies in cellular UDP-glucose and UDP-galactose as well as impaired G-protein-stimulated inositol responses of Ca++ release, respectively. In this study, we found that when we challenged GALT-deficient yeast and GALT-deficient human diploid fibroblasts with galactose, these cells exhibited environmental stress and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, which was characterized by the up-regulation of the gene encoding the master regulator of ER stress, GRP78/BiP. In separate studies using GALT-deficient diploid fibroblasts and comparative expression arrays, we found that the expression level of a tumor suppressor gene called aplysia ras homolog I (ARHI) was significantly higher in patient cells under galactose challenge. This ARHI gene was lost in rodents during evolution and GALT knockout mice did not express the human phenotype for galactosemia whereas over-expression of this gene in transgenic mice resulted in phenotypes characteristic of those seen in patients with galactosemia. We therefore propose here that ARHI could be an important target of galactose toxicity in Classic Galactosemia, and also explain the absence of patient phenotypes in GALT knock-out mice. In order to prevent accumulation of gal-1-p caused by GALT-deficiency, we experimentally screened over 300,000 chemical compounds against human galactokinase (GALK) in vitro. To date, we obtained from two high-throughput screenings (HTS), 200 GALK inhibitors with IC50s ranging from 700nM to 35μM. We subsequently established selectivity and toxicity profiles of 34 selected GALK inhibitors. Based on these results, we selected four compounds for further characterization, which included kinetic studies, site-directed mutagenesis and molecular docking experiments. From these experiments, we learned how these compounds interacted with the GALK enzyme and built detailed binding models for each of them. We demonstrated that three of the in vitro inhibitors of GALK could lower intracellular gal-1-p accumulation in GALT-deficient cells. Of considerable interest to us was that one of the compounds, cluster 25-1, not only reduced gal-1-p accumulation, but also corrected the level of GRP78/BiP back to background in the galactose-challenged GALT-deficient cells. These results were the first to demonstrate a direct link between GALT-deficiency and ER stress and provided proof of concept that we could prevent both gal-1-p accumulation and ER stress with GALK inhibitors in GALT deficient human cells. Lastly, we developed a new, virtual method of identifying novel GALK inhibitors by combining software-based, high-throughput virtual screening (HTVS) and fragment-based linkage using docking software. The initial HTVS validation experiments with compounds from the "ZINC" database identified four active GALK inhibitors with IC50s ranging from 70μM to 400μM. We then used HTVS to identify chemical fragments which bind to the active site of the human GALK enzyme. Using fragment-linking software, we identified chemical fragments which could potentially result in high-affinity inhibitors when chemically joined.


Classic Galactosemia; ER Stress; ARHI; Inhibitors; High-throughput Screenings