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Mol Endocrinol. 2011 Sep;25(9):1527-38. doi: 10.1210/me.2011-1037. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

Estrogen induces c-myc gene expression via an upstream enhancer activated by the estrogen receptor and the AP-1 transcription factor.

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Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


c-myc oncogene is implicated in tumorigenesis of many cancers, including breast cancer. Although c-myc is a well-known estrogen-induced gene, its promoter has no estrogen-response element, and the underlying mechanism by which estrogen induces its expression remains obscure. Recent genome-wide studies by us and others suggested that distant elements may mediate estrogen induction of gene expression. In this study, we investigated the molecular mechanism by which estrogen induces c-myc expression with a focus on these distal elements. Estrogen rapidly induced c-myc expression in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer cells. Although estrogen had little effect on c-myc proximal promoter activity, it did stimulate the activity of a luciferase reporter containing a distal 67-kb enhancer. Estrogen induction of this luciferase reporter was dependent upon both a half-estrogen response element and an activator protein 1 (AP-1) site within this enhancer, which are conserved across 11 different mammalian species. Small interfering RNA experiments and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrated the necessity of ER and AP-1 cross talk for estrogen to induce c-myc expression. TAM67, the AP-1 dominant negative, partially inhibited estrogen induction of c-myc expression and suppressed estrogen-induced cell cycle progression. Together, these results demonstrate a novel pathway of estrogen regulation of gene expression by cooperation between ER and AP-1 at the distal enhancer element and that AP-1 is involved in estrogen induction of the c-myc oncogene. These results solve the long-standing question in the field of endocrinology of how estrogen induces c-myc expression.

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