Oncogenicity of the developmental transcription factor Sox9

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SOX9 [sex-determining region Y (SRY)-box 9 protein], a high mobility group box transcription factor, plays critical roles during embryogenesis and its activity is required for development, differentiation, and lineage commitment in various tissues including the intestinal epithelium. Here, we present functional and clinical data of a broadly important role for SOX9 in tumorigenesis. SOX9 was overexpressed in a wide range of human cancers, where its expression correlated with malignant character and progression. Gain of SOX9 copy number is detected in some primary colorectal cancers. SOX9 exhibited several pro-oncogenic properties, including the ability to promote proliferation, inhibit senescence, and collaborate with other oncogenes in neoplastic transformation. In primary mouse embryo fibroblasts and colorectal cancer cells, SOX9 expression facilitated tumor growth and progression whereas its inactivation reduced tumorigenicity. Mechanistically, we have found that Sox9 directly binds and activates the promoter of the polycomb Bmi1, whose upregulation represses the tumor suppressor Ink4a/Arf locus. In agreement with this, human colorectal cancers showed a positive correlation between expression levels of SOX9 and BMI1 and a negative correlation between SOX9 and ARF in clinical samples. Taken together, our findings provide direct mechanistic evidence of the involvement of SOX9 in neoplastic pathobiology, particularly, in colorectal cancer.

Journal details

Journal Cancer Research
Volume 72
Issue number 5
Pages 1301-1315
Publication date