Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Lewis A. Chodosh


Recurrent breast cancer is typically an incurable disease and, as such, is disproportionately responsible for deaths from this disease. Recurrent breast cancers arise from the pool of disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) that survive adjuvant or neoadjuvant therapy, and patients with detectable DTCs following therapy are at substantially increased risk for recurrence. Consequently, the identification of pathways that contribute to the survival of breast cancer cells following therapy could aid in the development of more effective therapies that decrease the burden of residual disease and thereby reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. We now report that Ceramide Kinase (Cerk) is required for mammary tumor recurrence following HER2/neu pathway inhibition and is spontaneously up-regulated during tumor recurrence in multiple genetically engineered mouse models for breast cancer. We find that Cerk is rapidly up-regulated in tumor cells following HER2/neu down-regulation or treatment with adriamycin and that Cerk is required for tumor cell survival following HER2/neu down-regulation. Consistent with our observations in mouse models, analysis of gene expression profiles from over 2,200 patients revealed that elevated CERK expression is associated with an increased risk of recurrence in women with breast cancer. Additionally, although CERK expression is associated with aggressive subtypes of breast cancer, including those that are ER-negative, HER2-positive, basal-like, or high grade, its association with poor clinical outcome is independent of these clinicopathological variables. Together, our findings identify a functional role for Cerk in breast cancer recurrence and suggest the clinical utility of agents targeted against this pro-survival pathway.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."