Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Zafar Nawaz

Second Committee Member

Thomas K. Harris

Third Committee Member

Joyce Slingerland

Fourth Committee Member

Karoline Briegel

Fifth Committee Member

Xiang-Xi (Mike) Xu


Limb-Bud and Heart (LBH) is a novel key transcriptional regulator of vertebrate development. However, the molecular mechanisms upstream of LBH and its role in adult development are unknown. Here we show that in epithelial development, LBH expression is tightly controlled by Wnt signaling. LBH is transcriptionally induced by the canonical Wnt pathway, as evident by the presence of functional TCF/LEF binding sites in the LBH locus and rapid beta-catenin-dependent upregulation of endogenous LBH by Wnt3a. In contrast, LBH induction by Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is inhibited by Wnt7a, which in limb development signals through a non-canonical pathway involving Lmx1b. Furthermore, we show that Lbh is aberrantly overexpressed in mammary tumors of MMTV-Wnt1 transgenic mice and in aggressive basal-subtype human breast cancers that display Wnt/beta-catenin hyperactivation. Deregulation of LBH in human breast cancer appears to be Wnt/beta-catenin dependent as DKK1 and Wnt7a inhibit LBH expression in breast tumor cells. RNAi mediated knockdown of LBH in basal breast cancer cell lines resulted in loss of CD44high/CD24low tumor cells, luminal differentiation, reduced cell growth, reduced colony forming ability, and increased apoptosis, suggesting a novel pro-survival and stem cell maintenance function of LBH in breast cancer. Reciprocal overexpression studies in the basal breast carcinoma line BT549 resulted in increased tumorigenicity in vitro, suggesting that LBH overexpression is indeed oncogenic. Finally, we further characterized LBH protein expression patterns and post-transcriptional regulation. Collectively, this thesis demonstrates that LBH is a direct Wnt target gene in both development and basal breast cancer that promotes the undifferentiated phenotype and survival of basal breast tumor cells.


Tumor Initiating Cells; Proliferation; Phosphorylation; MicroRNA