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J Biol Chem. 2002 Oct 18;277(42):39209-16. Epub 2002 Aug 2.

Snail induction of epithelial to mesenchymal transition in tumor cells is accompanied by MUC1 repression and ZEB1 expression.

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Unitat de Biologia Cellular i Molecular, Institut Municipal d'Investigació Mèdica, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, E-08003 Barcelona, Spain.


E-cadherin protein plays a key role in the establishment and maintenance of adherent junctions. Recent evidence implicates the transcription factor Snail in the blockage of E-cadherin expression in fibroblasts and some epithelial tumor cells through direct binding to three E-boxes in the E-cadherin promoter. Transfection of Snail into epithelial cells leads to a more fibroblastic phenotype. Cells expressing Snail presented a scattered flattened phenotype with low intercellular contacts. Other epithelial markers like Cytokeratin 18 or MUC1 were also repressed. The effects of Snail on MUC1 transcription were mediated by two E-boxes present in the proximal promoter. Snail also induced expression of the mesenchymal markers fibronectin and LEF1 and the transcription repressor ZEB1. ZEB1 and Snail had a similar pattern of expression in epithelial cell lines, and both were induced by overexpression of ILK1, a kinase that causes the loss of E-cadherin and the acquisition of a fibroblastic phenotype. Snail overexpression in several cell lines raised ZEB1 RNA levels and increased the activity of ZEB1 promoter. ZEB1 could also repress E-cadherin and MUC1 promoters but less strongly than Snail. However, since ZEB1 expression persisted after Snail was down-regulated, ZEB1 may regulate epithelial genes in several tumor cell lines.

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