Due to cancer recurrence and the development of drug resistance, metastatic breast cancer is a leading cause of death in women. In the search for a new therapeutic to treat metastatic disease, we discovered CT20p, an amphipathic peptide based on the C-terminus of Bax. Due to inherent properties of its sequence and similarity to antimicrobial peptides, CT20p is a promising cytotoxic agent whose activity is distinct from the parent protein (e.g. does not cause apoptosis). CT20p is not membrane permeable but can be introduced to cells using polymeric nanoparticles, a method that promotes efficient delivery of the peptide into the intracellular environment. We demonstrated that CT20p was cytotoxic using triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) cell lines, primary breast tumor tissue, and breast tumor murine xenografts. Importantly, normal breast epithelial cells and normal primary breast cells were resistant to the lethal effects of the peptide. Examination of multiple cellular processes showed that CT20p causes cell death by promoting cytoskeletal disruption, cell detachment, and loss of substrate-mediated survival signals. In order to identify the intracellular target of CT20p, we performed pull-down experiments using a biotinylated peptide and found that CT20p binds directly to a type II chaperonin called chaperonin containing T-complex (CCT), which is essential for the folding of actin and tubulin into their native forms. The resulting effect of CT20p upon the cytoskeleton of cancer cells is disruption of vital cellular processes such as migration and adhesion. CCT gene expression and protein levels were examined across several breast cancer cell lines, and we found that susceptibility to CT20p correlated with higher CCT levels. Using human cancer tissue microarrays, we determined that CCT was present in significantly higher amounts in tumor tissues compared to normal tissues and that expression often increased with advanced cancer stage. These results indicate that CCT is a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer and suggest that the use of cancer-targeted nanoparticles loaded with CT20p is a novel and effective therapeutic strategy for cancers, such as TNBC, that recur and are refractory to current treatments.


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Graduation Date





Khaled, Annette


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences









Release Date


Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)