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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Microbiology and Immunology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Eli Gilboa

Second Committee Member

Edward W. Harhaj

Third Committee Member

Jaime R. Merchan

Fourth Committee Member

Kurt Schesser

Fifth Committee Member

Enrique A. Mesri

Sixth Committee Member

Elliott D. Kieff


Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), caused by the oncogenic Kaposi's sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), is an angiogenic tumor characterized by intense angiogenesis, inflammation and proliferation of KSHV-infected spindle cells. We describe the characterization of a mouse model of KS by transfection of a KSHV bacterial artificial chromosome (KSHVBac36) into mouse bone marrow endothelial-lineage cells which generated a cell (mECK36) that forms KS-like tumors in mice. Our results define mECK36 as a biologically sensitive animal model of KSHV-dependent KS with the following characteristics: (1) the pathological phenotype is a consequence of KSHV gene expression in normal progenitor cells subjected to in vivo growth conditions, (2) the histopathologic phenotype of the tumors resembles KS lesions, and (3) the model is suitable for analysis of vGPCR-driven tumorigenesis in the context of the whole KSHV genome. The mechanism by which vGPCR promotes tumorigenesis is not fully understood. The characterization of a Rac1 transgenic mouse model that produces KS-like lesions that highly resemble human KS has helped us to identify the potential role of Rac1, which is activated by vGPCR, in the pathogenesis of KS. The results from the RacCA transgenic mouse suggest that viral and host genes triggering Rac1 and ROS production may play an important role in KS tumorigenesis. We set out to determine how vGPCR physiologically activates Rac1 in KSHV-infected cells in the KS model mECK36. We found that KSHV oncogenesis in mECK36 is promoted by vGPCR activation of a paracrine oncogenic mechanism through PDGF-BB, which requires a Rac1- and ROS-mediated loop, leading to STAT3 transcriptional activation of c-Myc, VEGF and KSHV latent viral gene expression. We also found that the latency-associated nuclear antigen (LANA) upregulates the PDGFR in vivo, priming latently-infected cells to the PDGF signaling pathway. This oncogenic mechanism can be targeted with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and FDA-approved PDGF receptor inhibitors to control KSHV-induced tumorigenesis. Our results highlight a ROS-dependent axis whereby Rac1 activating oncogenes and inflammatory signaling drive paracrine stimulation of neoplastic growth and angiogenesis in neighboring cells, defining this axis and its components as attractive anti-tumor targets in KS pathogenesis.


NOX; NADPH Oxidase; Herpesvirus; HHV8