Donita C. Brady, Ph.D.

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Presidential Professor of Cancer Biology
Department: Cancer Biology

Contact information
421 Curie Blvd.
Room 612 BRB II/III
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215-573-9705
Fax: 215-573-6725
Lab: 215-573-9706
B.S. (Chemistry)
Radford University, Radford, VA, 2003.
Ph.D. (Pharmacology)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008.
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Description of Research Expertise

Research Interests:
The research interests of our laboratory lie at the intersection of cancer biology, signal transduction, and metal homeostasis.

Cancer Biology, Metal Homeostasis, Signal Transduction, Kinases, Small GTPases, Pharmacologic Interventions, Genetically Engineered Mouse Models

Research Details:
Transition metals are tightly regulated metabolites that function as structural or catalytic cofactors for specific proteins critical to normal physiology and development. Copper (Cu) is an essential transition metal for a diverse array of biological processes. Aberrant Cu excretion and absorption are manifested in the extremely rare genetic diseases Menkes and Wilson, respectively. The study of these diseases helped elucidate the cellular machinery responsible for the proper acquisition, distribution, and utilization of Cu. Recently Cu has been found to modulate signaling cascades and gene expression signatures in the context of normal physiology as well as the pathophysiology of diseases such as cancer.

For example, while investigating pharmacologically accessible signaling pathways downstream of oncogenic RAS, we recently demonstrated that genetic ablation of the high affinity Cu transporter CTR1 responsible for Cu uptake resulted in decreased RAF-MEK-ERK signaling through loss of the interaction between Cu and the kinases MEK1/2. This is the first example demonstrating Cu directly regulates the activity of a mammalian kinase, and hence has opened up a new way to explore how metals interact with signaling pathways. Capitalizing on the dependence of oncogenic mutations in the RAS effector protein BRAF for MEK1/2 activity, a multifaceted approach was used to examine this new signaling mechanism in the context of BRAF mutation-positive cancer. Specifically, we reported that decreasing the levels of CTR1, or introducing mutations in MEK1 that disrupt Cu binding, decreased BRAFV600E-driven signaling and tumorigenesis. Furthermore, Cu chelators used in the treatment of Wilson disease decreased the tumor growth of cells either transformed by BRAFV600E or engineered to be resistant to BRAF inhibition. This novel signaling paradigm provides a concrete intersection between Cu availability and MAPK signaling and led to the initiation of a phase I clinical trial (NCT02068079) to combine a Cu chelator with a BRAF inhibitor for the treatment of BRAF mutation-positive melanoma.

However, the molecular mechanisms by which Cu directly cooperates with specific signaling molecules to govern diverse cellular functions remain largely undefined. As such, there is a great need for a better understanding of precisely how Cu and other metals are integrated into kinase signaling networks during normal homeostasis and cancer. Moreover, these findings highlight the prospect of manipulating Cu regulation as a novel means to target essential kinase signal transduction pathways in cancer via a novel mechanism of regulation. As such, our laboratory will pioneer this new area of research by utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, from in vivo mouse models of cancer, biochemistry, molecular biology, and pharmacologic interventions.

In this regard, we are focusing on three interconnected research areas. Specifically, i) elucidating the molecular mechanisms and cellular contexts that underlie Cu integration into the MAPK pathway, ii) systematically mapping the landscape of sensitivity and resistance to perturbations in Cu availability as a new strategy to target kinase signal transduction in cancer, and iii) applying these findings to other transition metals and signaling networks in cancer.

Lab Members:
Graduate Student:
Caroline Davis, B.S.
Julianne Davis, B.S.
Tiffany Tsang, B.A.
Postdoctoral Fellow:
Jessica Posimo, Ph.D.
Gavin Bond
Administrative Coordinator:
Deb Sneddon
Prince Addai
Farrah Alkahleel
Victoria Belka
Jessica Blanchard
Tiyanna Brown
Danielle Greenberg
Calvin Nguyen
Gabriel Rodriguez
Jaimarie Sostre Colon
Debbie Spivak
Rotation Projects:
Rotation projects are available in each area of interest in the lab. Please contact Dr. Brady for details.

Selected Publications

Katona, B.W., Glynn, R.A., Paulosky, K.E., Feng, Z., Davis, C.I., Ma, J., Berry, C.T., Szigety, K.M., Matkar, S., Liu, Y., Wang, H., Wu, Y., He, X., Freedman, B.D., Brady, D.C., & Hua, X: Combined menin and EGFR inhibitors synergize to suppress colorectal cancer via EGFR-independent and calcium-mediated repression of SKP2 transcription. Cancer Res In Press 2019.

Rivera-Reyes, A., Ye S., Marino,G., Egolf, S., Ciotti G., Chor S., Liu Y., Posimo, J.M., Park, P.M., Pak, K., Sostre-Colon, J., Tameire, F., Leli, N.M., Koumenis, C., Brady, D.C., Mancuso, A., Weber, K., Gladdy, R., Qi, J., Eisinger-Mathason, T.S.K. : The YAP1-NF-kB axis promotes sarcomagenesis by inactivating circadian clock-mediated unfolded protein responses and autophagy. Cell Death Dis In Press 2018.

Sadeghi R.S., Kulej, K., Kathayat, R.S., Garcia, B.A., Dickinson, B.C., Brady, D.C.#, & Witze, E.S.# : Wnt5a Signaling Induced Phosphorylation Increases Acyl Protein Thioesterase 1 Activity and Promotes Melanoma Metastatic Behavior. Elife 2018 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

Brady, D.C.*#, Crowe, M.S.*, Greenberg, D.N., & Counter, C.M.#: Copper chelation inhibits BRAFV600E driven melanomagenesis and counters resistance to BRAFV600E and MEK1/2 inhibitors. Cancer Res 77(22): 6240-6252, Nov 2017 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

Rebecca, V.W.*, Nicastri, M.C.*, McLaughlin, N., Fennelly, C., Mcafee, Q.W., Ronghe, A., Nofal, M., Lim, C.Y., Witze, E.S., Chude, C.I., Zhang, G., Alicea, G.M., Piao, S., Murugan, S., Ojha, R., Levi, S., Wei, Z., Barber-Rotenberg, J., Murphy, M.E., Dr. Mills, G.B., Lu, Y., Rabinowitz, J.D., Marmorstein, R., Liu, Q., Liu, S., Xu, X., Herlyn, M., Zoncu, R., Brady, D.C., Speicher, D.W., Winkler, J.D.#, & Amaravadi, R.K.# : A unified approach to targeting the lysosome's degradative and growth signaling roles. Cancer Discov 7(11): 1266-1283 Nov 2017 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

Brady DC, Crowe MS, Turski ML, Hobbs GA, Yao X, Chaikuad A, Knapp S, Xiao K, Campbell SL, Thiele DJ, Counter CM: Copper is required for oncogenic BRAF signalling and tumorigenesis. Nature 509(7501): 492-496, May 2014.

Turski, M. L.*, Brady, D. C.*, Kim, H. J., Kim, B. E., Nose, Y., Counter, C. M., Winge, D. R. & Thiele, D. J. : A novel role for copper in Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling. Mol Cell Biol 32(7): 1284-1295, April 2012 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

Kashatus, D. F., Lim, K. H., Brady, D. C., Pershing, N. L., Cox, A. D. & Counter, C. M. : RALA and RALBP1 regulate mitochondrial fission at mitosis. Nat Cell Biol 13(9): 1108-1115, Sept 2011.

Zipfel, P. A., Brady, D. C., Kashatus, D. F., Ancrile, B. D., Tyler, D. S.# & Counter, C. M.# : Ral activation promotes melanomagenesis. Oncogene 29(34): 4859-4864, Aug 2010 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

Lim, K. H.*, Brady, D. C.*, Kashatus, D. F., Ancrile, B. B., Der, C. J., Cox, A. D.# & Counter, C. M.# : Aurora-A phosphorylates, activates, and relocalizes the small GTPase RalA. Mol Cell Biol 30(2): 508-523, Jan 2010 Notes: (* shared first authorship or # shared corresponding author).

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Last updated: 05/15/2019
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