Sebastian Carrasco Pro Successfully Defends His Thesis

Congratulations to Sebastian Carrasco Pro on the successful defense of his thesis, "Transcriptional Regulation Landscape in Health and Disease." Great job Sebastian!

To learn more about Sebastian's thesis, read his abstract below:


Transcription factors (TFs) control gene expression by binding to highly specific DNA sequences in gene regulatory regions. This TF binding is central to control myriad biological processes. Indeed, transcriptional dysregulation has been associated with many diseases such as autoimmune diseases and cancer. In this thesis, I studied the transcriptional regulation of cytokines and gene transcriptional dysregulation in cancer. Cytokines are small proteins produced by immune cells that play a key role in the development of the immune system and response to pathogens and inflammation. I mined three decades of research and developed a user-friendly database, CytReg, containing 843 human and 647 mouse interactions between TFs and cytokines. I analyzed CytReg and integrated it with phenotypic and functional datasets to provide novel insights the general principles that govern cytokine regulation. I also predicted novel cytokine promoter-TF interaction based on cytokine co-expression patterns and motif analysis, and studied the association of cytokine transcriptional dysregulation with disease. Transcriptional dysregulation can be caused by single nucleotide variants (SNVs) affecting TF binding sites (TFBS). Therefore, I created a database of altered TFBS (aTFBS-DB) by calculating the effect (gain/loss) of all possible SNVs across the human genome for 741 TFs. I showed how the probabilities to gain or disrupt TFBSs in regulatory regions differ between the major TF families, and that cis-eQTL SNVs are more likely to perturb TFBSs than common SNVs in the human population. To further study the effect of somatic SNVs in TFBS, I used the aTFBS-DB to develop TF-aware burden test (TFABT), a novel algorithm to predict cancer driver SNVs in gene promoters. I applied the TFABT to the PCAWG cohort and identified 2,555 candidate driver SNVs across 20 cancer types. Further, I characterized these cancer drivers using functional and biophysical assay data from three cancer cell lines, demonstrating that most SNVs alter transcriptional activity and differentially recruit cofactors. Taken together, these studies can be used as a blueprint to study transcriptional mechanisms in cellular processes (i.e. cytokine expression) and the effect its dysregulation in disease (i.e. cancer).

Major Professors: Juan Fuxman-Bass & Trevor Siggers 


24 Cummington Mall, Boston, MA 02215