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BCL11A interacts with SOX2 to control the expression of epigenetic regulators in lung squamous cell carcinoma

By Kyren A. Lazarus, Fazal Hadi, Elisabetta Zambon, Karsten Bach, Maria-Francesca Santolla, Julie K Watson, Lucia L Correia, Madhumita Das, Rosemary Ugur, Sara Pensa, Lukas Becker, Lia S Campos, Graham Ladds, Pentao Liu, Gerard Evan, Frank McCaughan, John Le Quesne, Joo-Hyeon Lee, Dinis Calado, Walid T Khaled

Posted 22 Nov 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/223776 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05790-5)

Patients diagnosed with lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) have limited targeted therapeutic options. We report here the identification and characterisation of the transcriptional regulator, BCL11A, as a LUSC oncogene. Analysis of cancer genomics datasets revealed BCL11A to be upregulated in LUSC but not lung adenocarcinoma (LUAD). We demonstrated that knockdown of BCL11A in LUSC cell lines abolished xenograft tumour growth and its overexpression in vivo led to lung airway hyperplasia and the development of reserve cell hyperplastic lesions. In addition, deletion of Bcl11a in the tracheal basal cells abolished the development of tracheosphere organoids while its overexpression led to solid tracheospheres with a squamous phenotype. At the molecular level we found BCL11A to be a target of SOX2 and we show that it is required for the oncogenic role of SOX2 in LUSC. Furthermore, we showed that BCL11A and SOX2 interact at the protein level and that together they co-regulated the expression of several transcription factors. We demonstrate that pharmacological inhibition of SETD8, a gene co-regulated by BCL11A and SOX2, alone or in combination with cisplatin treatment, shows significant selectivity to LUSC in comparison to LUAD cells. Collectively, these results indicate that the disruption of the BCL11A-SOX2 transcriptional program provides a future framework for the development of targeted therapeutic intervention for LUSC patients.

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