Wallace L. McKeehan

Wallace L. McKeehan

Professor, Texas A&M Regents and Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Center for Translational Cancer Research
2121 W. Holcombe Blvd
Houston, TX   77030-3303

Education and Training

Dr. McKeehan has been Professor at the Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Houston Campus since 1993.  He held the J.S. Dunn Endowed Professorship 1993-2014.  He has a joint appointment in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, College of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center and the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M University.  He is an associate member of the Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition (IFN) and Interdisciplinary Faculty of Reproductive Biology (IFRB) within Texas A&M, member of the Cardiovascular Institute (CVRI), College of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center, member of the Graduate Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas-Houston, and Adjunct Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine.  He founded and served as Director of the Center for Cancer Biology and Nutrition and later the Center for Cancer and Stem Cell Biology until 2012.

McKeehan was named a Texas A&M Regents Professor in 2003, Texas A&M Distinguished Professor in 2008 and served as Associate Director of IBT 1994-2001 and 2009-2012.  Chemistry Family History | Texas Family History

Research Interests

Failure to communicate underlies cancer and other diseases. Tissues are comprised of a society of diverse cell types that similar to human societies must communicate properly to maintain normal function, peace, tranquility and good health.  The failure to communicate properly underlies most tissue dysfunctions and disease.  The laboratory studies how the chemical signals (polypeptide growth factors and cytokines) in the local tissue environment control growth and specialization of different cell types of the prostate, the liver, the vascular system and neural tissue. These signals determine the normal development and function of the tissues while aberrations result in tissue dysfunction and diseases, such as cancer, stroke, atherosclerosis, liver, and neural disease. These signaling systems which are comprised of a signal polypeptide from one cell type and a reception system on another are the basis for communication among cells in tissues, but also serve as sensors of signals like hormones and nutrients that come from outside the tissues. The cellular reception system for many signal polypeptides consists of a transmembrane protein whose external domain interacts with signal polypeptides and an intracellular domain which is a protein kinase enzyme which activates metabolic pathways that control cell growth, function, and gene expression.

The Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) signaling system is a ubiquitous regulatory system that controls cell to cell communication during embryogenesis and cellular homeostasis within adult tissues. The FGF family is unique in the way that it is intimately interwoven with the peri-cellular matrix through heparan sulfate proteoglycans which are an integral part of the signaling system. The system senses changes in the local environment and transmits them to the interior of cells for a response. The laboratory seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms of assembly of components of the FGF signaling system, its role in homeostasis of prostate, liver and the cardiovascular systems and their dysfunction that results in disease. Technologies employed in the laboratory include recombinant DNA technologies, protein chemistry, expression of recombinant proteins in bacteria, yeast, insect cells and mammalian cells, primary cell culture and tissue reconstitutions, monoclonal antibodies and hybridomas, mouse transgenics and proteomics and nanotechnology.

Mouse models of human diseases--prostate cancer, hepatoma and liver diseases.  A major effort has been in exploitation of mouse genetic technologies to build new mouse models of human prostate and liver diseases by manipulation of both signals and reception in the different cell populations that comprise different compartments in adult parenchymal organs.  Only recently has the importance of the communication among diverse cell populations in the microenvironment to health and disease in addition to the primary functional parenchymal cell. Two-way FGF signaling between the stromal and epithelial compartments as well as vascular and immune system cells maintains normal health and function of the organ. Breakdown in communication disrupts the balance and results in autonomy of epithelial cells observed in cancer. The laboratory was the first to show in the early 90's using prostate cancer as a model that FGF signaling was receptor isotype-specific depending on cell context and cell-specific co-factors.

FGF signaling in cholesterol homeostasis, metabolic syndrome and liver diseases.  In addition to the ubiquitous role of the FGF signaling family in cellular homeostasis, mouse models and human mutations have revealed unsuspected roles of FGF signaling in endocrine metabolic control.  These include cholesterol to bile acid, lipid, glucose and calcium phosphate metabolism and associated pathologies.  The family has been implicated in the starvation response, obesity, diabetes and diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.  This includes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  These activities work in partnership with co-factors called klothos in addition to heparan sulfate.  Surprisingly, in contrast to the cellular activities of FGF signaling that are involved in tumor promotion, the metabolic roles of FGF signaling are not directly mitogenic and coincident with a role in tumor suppression.  The laboratory was first to implicate FGF signaling in control of metabolic homeostasis in 2000 opening up the subfield of endocrine activities of circulating endocrine FGFs as opposed to their canonical roles in local cell to cell communication.    

Preventing cancer at its mitotic origin through mitotic cell death. Although resident FGF signaling systems in epithelial cells mediates homeostasis-promoting communication with the tissue environment, acquisition of an ectopic member of the family in epithelial cells can be a strong promoter of progression to malignancy.  However, the promotion role of FGF signaling alone is insufficient to support full malignancy.  It works in cooperation with loss of tumor suppressors that function to kill cells that acquire genetic defects that contribute to the genetic plasticity that is a common property of all cancers.

The analysis of cancer genomes is revealing what was suspected over 100 years of observation and treatment.  All cancers are different and capable of evading and surviving a wide variety of therapies.  A therapy designed for one type of cancer often does not work for another.  Diverse cancers exhibit hundreds of genomic differences that cannot be predicted from the normal genome of the patient or from the genome of a precursor to the current cancer.  The only common property of all cancers is aneuploidy, too few or too many chromosomes.  Aneuploidy happens as a consequence of survival of a random low frequency error in life's most fundamental and essential process, cell division.  Frequency can be influenced by environmental factors.  Based on the discovery in 1993 of the novel protein, LRPPRC, our research group described a novel network of dual function microtubule- and mitochondrial-associated proteins that sense an error during cell division that could cause aneuploidy.  When an aneuploid division threatens, lethal mitochondria that are normally cleared by a process known as mitophagy unite to kill the defective cells through a process called mitotic cell death even before they can complete the defective cell division and over time give rise to cancer.  Enhancement of this mechanism may be a way to prevent initiation of cancers in general at their source and eventually the most effective point of prevention and treatment of cancers in general.


Five Most Significant Publications Prior to 2014

McKeehan WL (1982) Glycolysis, glutaminolysis and cell proliferation.  Cell Biol Int Rep. 1982 Jul;6(7):635-50. PMID: 6751566

Kan, M., F. Wang, J. Xu, E. Shi, J.W. Crabb, J. Hou, and W.L. McKeehan (1993) An essential heparin-binding domain in the fibroblast growth factor receptor kinase. Science 259:1918-1921.

Yu, C., F. Wang, M. Kan, C. Jin, R.B. Jones, M. Weinstein, C. Deng, and W.L. McKeehan (2000) Elevated cholesterol metabolism and bile acid synthesis in mice lacking membrane tyrosine kinase receptor FGFR4. J. Biol. Chem. 275: 15482-15489.

Liu, L., Xie, R., Yang, C. and McKeehan, W.L. (2009) Dual function microtubule- and mitochondria-associated proteins mediate mitotic cell death. Cellular Oncol. 31:393-405.

Yang C, Wang C, Ye M, Jin C, He W, Wang F, McKeehan WL, Luo Y.  (2012) Control of lipid metabolism by adipocyte FGFR1-mediated adipohepatic communication during hepatic stress.  Nutr Metab (Lond). 9(1):94 [Epub 2012 Oct 30]

Publications 2014

Jung D, York JP, Wang L, Yang C, Zhang A, Francis HL, Webb P, McKeehan WL, Alpini G, Lesage GD, Moore DD, Xia X. (2014) FXR-induced secretion of FGF15/19 inhibits CYP27 expression in cholangiocytes through p38 kinase pathway.  Pflugers Arch. [Epub 2013 Sep 26]  PMID: 24068255

Wang F, Luo Y and McKeehan WL  (2014) The FGF Signaling Axis in Prostate Tumorigenesis  In:  E. Gelmann, C. Sawyers and F. Rauscher, eds. Molecular Oncology: Causes of Cancer and Targets for Treatment, pp190-203, Cambridge University Press (Academic Press)

Shoji K, Teishima J, Hayashi T, Ohara S, McKeehan WL, Matsubara A.  (2014) Restoration of fibroblast growth factor receptor 2IIIb enhances the chemosensitivity of human prostate cancer cells. Oncol Rep. 2014 Jul;32(1):65-70. doi: 10.3892/or.2014.3200. Epub 2014 May 20. PMID: 24839986

Fuentes-Mattei E, Velazquez-Torres G, Phan L, Zhang F, Chou P-C, Shin J-H, Choi HH, Chen J-S, Zhao R, Chen J, Gully C, Carlock C, Qi Y, Zhang Y, Wu Y, Esteva FJ, Luo Y, McKeehan WL, Ensor J, Hortobagyi GN, Pusztai L, Symmans WF, Lee M-H, Yeung S-C J.  Obesity induces transcriptomic changes enhancing cancer hallmarks of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014 Jun 23;106(7). pii: dju158. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju158. Print 2014 Jul. PMID: 24957076

Wang C, Yang C, Chang JY, You P, Li Y, Jin C, Luo Y, Li X, McKeehan WL, Wang F. (2014)  Hepatocyte FRS2a is essential for the endocrine fibroblast growth factor to limit the amplitude of bile acid production induced by prandial activity.  Curr Mol Med. 2014;14(6):703-11. PMID: 25056539

Wan X, Corn PG, Yang J, Palanisamy N, Starbuck MW, Efstathiou E, Tapia EM, Zurita AJ, Aparicio A, Ravoori MK, Vazquez ES, Robinson DR, Wu YM, Cao X, Iyer MK, McKeehan W, Kundra V, Wang F, Troncoso P, Chinnaiyan AM, Logothetis CJ, Navone NM. Sci Transl Med. 2014 Sep 3;6(252):252ra122. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009332. PMID: 25186177

Publications 2015

Huang Y, Jin C, Hamana T, Liu J, Wang C, An L, McKeehan WL, Wang F (2015) Overexpression of FGF9 in prostate epithelial cells augments reactive stroma formation and promotes prostate cancer progression. Int. J. Biol. Sci. 2015; 11(8): 948-960. doi:10.7150/ijbs.12468.

Huang Y, Hamana T, Liu J, Wang C, An L, You P, Chang JY, Xu J, Jin C, Zhang Z, McKeehan WL, Wang F (2015) Type 2 fibroblast growth factor receptor signaling preserves stemness and prevents differentiation of prostate stem cells from the basal compartment. J Biol Chem. 2015 Jun 1. pii: jbc.M115.661066. [Epub ahead of print] PMID:    26032417

Huang Y, Hamana T, Liu J, Wang C, An L, You P, Chang JY, Xu J, McKeehan WL, Wang F (2015) Prostate sphere-forming stem cells are derived from the P63-expressing basal compartment. J Biol Chem. 2015 Jun 1. pii: jbc.M115.661033. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 26032419

Yue F, Li W, Zou J, Chen Q, Xu G, Huang H, Xu Z, Zhang S, Gallinari P, Wang F, McKeehan WL, Liu L. (2015) Blocking the association of HDAC4 with MAP1S accelerates autophagy clearance of mutant Huntingtin. Aging (Albany NY). 2015 Oct;7(10):839-53. PMID: 26540094

Publications 2016

Liu J, You P, Chen G, Fu X, Zeng X, Wang C, Huang Y, An L, Wan X, Navone N, Wu CL, McKeehan WL, Zhang Z, Zhong W, Wang F. (2016) Hyperactivated FRS2a-mediated signaling in prostate cancer cells promotes tumor angiogenesis and predicts poor clinical outcomes of the patient.  Oncogene. 2016 Apr 7;35(14):1750-9. doi: 10.1038/onc.2015.239. Epub 2015 Jun 22. PMID: 26096936

Shi M, Zhang Y, Liu L, Zhang T, Han F, Cleveland J, Wang F, McKeehan WL, Li Y, Zhang D. (2016) MAP1S Protein Regulates the Phagocytosis of Bacteria and Toll-like Receptor (TLR) Signaling. J Biol Chem. 2016 Jan 15;291(3):1243-50. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.687376. Epub 2015 Nov 12. PMID: 26565030

Li W, Zou J, Yue F, Song K, Chen Q, McKeehan WL, Wang F, Xu G, Huang H, Yi J, Liu L. (2016) Defects in MAP1S-mediated autophagy cause reduction in mouse lifespans especially when fibronectin is overexpressed. Aging Cell. 2016 Apr;15(2):370-9. doi: 10.1111/acel.12441. Epub 2016 Jan 10. PMID: 26750654

Li X, Wang C, Xiao J, McKeehan WL, Wang F. (2016) Fibroblast growth factors, old kids on the new block. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2016 May;53:155-67. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2015.12.014. Epub 2016 Jan 6. Review. PMID: 26768548    

Publications since 2016

Sato JD, Okamoto T, Barnes D, Hayashi J, Serrero G, McKeehan WL. (2017) A tribute to Dr. Gordon Hisashi Sato (December 24, 1927-March 31, 2017).  In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 2018 Mar;54(3):177-193. doi: 10.1007/s11626-018-0230-1. Epub 2018 Feb 12. Review. PMID: 29435725

Liu J, Chen G, Liu Z, Liu S, Cai Z, You P, Ke Y, Lai L, Huang Y, Gao H, Zhao L, Pelicano H, Huang P, McKeehan WL, Wu CL, Wang C, Zhong W, Wang F. (2018) Aberrant FGFR tyrosine kinase signaling enhances the Warburg effect by reprogramming LDH isoform expression and activity in prostate cancer.  Cancer Res. DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-17-3226.  Epub 2018 June 11.

For complete list of publications: Search "mckeehan w" in PubMed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed)