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Cancer Res. 2012 Jun 1;72(11):2889-900. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-12-0212. Epub 2012 Apr 13.

ESE3/EHF controls epithelial cell differentiation and its loss leads to prostate tumors with mesenchymal and stem-like features.

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Institute of Oncology Research and Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland, Bellinzona, Switzerland.


Cancer stem cells (CSC) play a significant role in tumor progression, disease recurrence, and treatment failure. Here, we show that the endogenously expressed ETS transcription factor ESE3/EHF controls prostate epithelial cell differentiation and stem-like potential. We found that loss of ESE3/EHF induced epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), stem-like features, and tumor-initiating and metastatic properties in prostate epithelial cells, and reexpression of ESE3/EHF inhibited the stem-like properties and tumorigenic potential of prostate cancer cells. Mechanistically, ESE3/EHF repressed the expression of key EMT and CSC genes, including TWIST1, ZEB2, BMI1, and POU5F1. Analysis of human tissue microarrays showed that reduced ESE3/EHF expression is an early event in tumorigenesis, frequently occurring independently of other ETS gene alterations. Additional analyses linked loss of ESE3/EHF expression to a distinct group of prostate tumors with distinctive molecular and biologic characteristics, including increased expression of EMT and CSC genes. Low ESE3/EHF expression was also associated with increased biochemical recurrence of prostate cancer and reduced overall survival after prostatectomy. Collectively, our findings define a key role for ESE3/EHF in the development of a subset of prostate tumors and highlight the clinical importance of identifying molecularly defined tumor subgroups.

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