Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Neuroscience (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Carlos T. Moraes

Second Committee Member

Vladen Z. Slepak

Third Committee Member

Abigail Hackam

Fourth Committee Member

John R. Bethea

Fifth Committee Member

Edward J. Harhaj

Sixth Committee Member

Terace Fletcher


The tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptor-associated factors (TRAFs) were initially discovered as proteins that inducibly interact with the intracellular region of TNF receptors (TNFRs). Because the TNFRs lack intrinsic catalytic activity, the TRAFs are hypothesized to orchestrate signaling activation downstream of the TNFR superfamily, however their mechanism of activation remains unclear (Inoue et al., 2000; Bishop, 2004). Originally, the TRAFs were compared to the signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT) protein family, due to their sequence homology, and the presence of multiple RING- and zinc-finger domains, suggesting that their function may be to regulate transcriptional activity (Rothe et al., 1994; Hu et al., 1994; Sato et al. 1995; Cheng et al., 1995). However, subsequent research focused predominantly on their cytoplasmic functions, and more recently on their function as E3 ubiquitin ligases (Pineda et al., 2007). In my research, I analyzed the subcellular localizations of the TRAFs following CD40 ligand (CD40L)-stimulation, and found that TRAF2 and 3 rapidly translocate into the nucleus of primary neurons and Neuro2a cells. Interestingly, similar analysis conducted in pre-B lymphocytes (Daudi cells) revealed a different response to CD40L-stimulation, with TRAF2 and 3 being rapidly degraded within 5-minutes of stimulation. These findings are significant because they demonstrate for the first time that the TRAFs translocate into the nucleus and suggest that they may function within the nucleus in a cell-specific manner. I next analyzed the ability of TRAF2 and 3 to bind to DNA, and found that they both bind to chromatin and the NF-kappaB consensus element in Neuro2a cells, following CD40L-stimulation. Similar analyses of the chromatin binding of TRAF2 and 3 in Daudi cells revealed that they were rapidly degraded, similar to the results from my analysis of their subcellular localization. These findings show for the first time that the TRAFs interact with DNA, and therefore support the hypothesis that the TRAFs may function within the nucleus as transcriptional regulators. Finally, I analyzed the ability of the TRAFs to regulate transcriptional activity by luciferase assay. Previous studies showed that overexpression of TRAF2 and 6 could induce NF-kappaB transcriptional activity; however researchers have not been able to determine the mechanism by which they do so. In my studies, I found that every TRAF can directly regulate transcriptional activity either as co-activators or co-repressors of transcription, in a cell- and target protein-specific manner. Additionally, I found that TRAF2 can act as a transcriptional activator, and that its ability to regulate transcription is largely dependent upon the presence of its RING-finger domain. In conclusion, these studies have revealed an entirely novel function for the TRAFs as immediate-early transcriptional regulators. Future research into the genes that are regulated by the specific TRAF complexes will further elucidate how the TRAFs regulate TNFR signaling, as well as whether dysfunctions in TRAF signaling may be associated with known disorders. If specific TRAF complexes are found to regulate specific genes, then pharmacological targeting of the individual TRAF complexes may allow for the highly specific inhibition of signaling events downstream of the TNFRs, without compromising overall receptor signaling, transcription factor pathways, or cellular systems.


TNF; CD40L; CD40; TNFalpha; NF-kappaB; NF-kB; TRAF7; TRAF6; TNFR; TNFR Superfamily; TNF Receptor-Associated Factor; TRAF; TRAF1; TRAF2; TRAF4; TRAF3; TRAF5; TNF Receptor Superfamily; TNF Receptor; CD154