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Mol Cancer Res. 2008 Sep;6(9):1478-90. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-07-2161.

Repression of the desmocollin 2 gene expression in human colon cancer cells is relieved by the homeodomain transcription factors Cdx1 and Cdx2.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Desmosomes are intracellular junctions that provide strong cell-cell adhesion in epithelia and cardiac muscle. Their disruption causes several human diseases and contributes to the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition observed in cancer. Desmocollin 2 (DSC2) is a cadherin superfamily member and a critical component of desmosomes found in intestinal epithelium. However, the mechanism regulating DSC2 gene expression in intestinal cells is not known. Cdx1 and Cdx2 are homeodomain transcription factors that regulate intestine-specific gene expression. Cdx expression in the past has been associated with the induction of desmosomes. We now show that the DSC2 gene is a transcriptional target for Cdx1 and Cdx2. Colon cancer cell lines retaining Cdx2 expression typically express DSC2. Restoration of Cdx expression in Colo 205 cells induced DSC2 mRNA and protein and the formation of desmosomes. The 5'-flanking region of the DSC2 promoter contains two consensus Cdx-binding sites. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays show that Cdx1 and Cdx2 bind these sites in vitro, and chromatin immunoprecipitation confirmed Cdx2 binding in vivo. DSC2 promoter truncations established that these regions are Cdx responsive. The truncations also identify a region of the promoter in which potent transcriptional repressors act. This repressor activity is relieved by Cdx binding. We conclude that the homeodomain transcription factors Cdx1 and Cdx2 regulate DSC2 gene expression in intestinal epithelia by reversing the actions of a transcriptional repressor. The regulation of desmosomal junctions by Cdx contributes to normal intestinal epithelial columnar morphology and likely antagonizes the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition necessary for the metastasis of colon cancer cells in humans.

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