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Cancer Res. 2005 Sep 1;65(17):7751-62.

Conditional expression of the CTCF-paralogous transcriptional factor BORIS in normal cells results in demethylation and derepression of MAGE-A1 and reactivation of other cancer-testis genes.

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  • 1Laboratory of Immunopathology, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Brother of the Regulator of Imprinted Sites (BORIS) is a mammalian CTCF paralog with the same central 11Zn fingers (11ZF) that mediate specific interactions with varying approximately 50-bp target sites. Regulated in vivo occupancy of such sites may yield structurally and functionally distinct CTCF/DNA complexes involved in various aspects of gene regulation, including epigenetic control of gene imprinting and X chromosome inactivation. The latter functions are mediated by meCpG-sensitive 11ZF binding. Because CTCF is normally present in all somatic cells, whereas BORIS is active only in CTCF- and 5-methylcytosine-deficient adult male germ cells, switching DNA occupancy from CTCF to BORIS was suggested to regulate site specificity and timing of epigenetic reprogramming. In addition to 11ZF-binding paternal imprinting control regions, cancer-testis gene promoters also undergo remethylation during CTCF/BORIS switching in germ cells. Only promoters of cancer testis genes are normally silenced in all somatic cells but activated during spermatogenesis when demethylated in BORIS-positive germ cells and are found aberrantly derepressed in various tumors. We show here that BORIS is also expressed in multiple cancers and is thus itself a cancer-testis gene and that conditional expression of BORIS in normal fibroblasts activates cancer-testis genes selectively. We tested if replacement of CTCF by BORIS on regulatory DNA occurs in vivo on activation of a prototype cancer-testis gene, MAGE-A1. Transition from a hypermethylated/silenced to a hypomethylated/activated status induced in normal cells by 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-azadC) was mimicked by conditional input of BORIS and is associated with complete switching from CTCF to BORIS occupancy at a single 11ZF target. This site manifested a novel type of CTCF/BORIS 11ZF binding insensitive to CpG methylation. Whereas 5-azadC induction of BORIS takes only few hours, derepression of MAGE-A1 occurred 1 to 2 days later, suggesting that BORIS mediates cancer-testis gene activation by 5-azadC. Indeed, infection of normal fibroblasts with anti-BORIS short hairpin RNA retroviruses before treatment with 5-azadC blocked reactivation of MAGE-A1. We suggest that BORIS is likely tethering epigenetic machinery to a novel class of CTCF/BORIS 11ZF target sequences that mediate induction of cancer-testis genes.

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