PloS one

HoxA-11 and FOXO1A cooperate to regulate decidual prolactin expression: towards inferring the core transcriptional regulators of decidual genes.

PMID 19727442


During the menstrual cycle, the ovarian steroid hormones estrogen and progesterone control a dramatic transcriptional reprogramming of endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) leading to a receptive state for blastocyst implantation and the establishment of pregnancy. A key marker gene of this decidualization process is the prolactin gene. Several transcriptional regulators have been identified that are essential for decidualization of ESCs, including the Hox genes HoxA-10 and HoxA-11, and the forkhead box gene FOXO1A. While previous studies have identified downstream target genes for HoxA-10 and FOXO1A, the role of HoxA-11 in decidualization has not been investigated. Here, we show that HoxA-11 is required for prolactin expression in decidualized ESC. While HoxA-11 alone is a repressor on the decidual prolactin promoter, it turns into an activator when combined with FOXO1A. Conversely, HoxA-10, which has been previously shown to associate with FOXO1A to upregulate decidual IGFBP-1 expression, is unable to upregulate PRL expression when co-expressed with FOXO1A. By co-immunoprecipitation and chromatin immunoprecipitation, we demonstrate physical association of HoxA-11 and FOXO1A, and binding of both factors to an enhancer region (-395 to -148 relative to the PRL transcriptional start site) of the decidual prolactin promoter. Because FOXO1A is induced upon decidualization, it serves to assemble a decidual-specific transcriptional complex including HoxA-11. These data highlight cooperativity between numerous transcription factors to upregulate PRL in differentiating ESC, and suggest that this core set of transcription factors physically and functionally interact to drive the expression of a gene battery upregulated in differentiated ESC. In addition, the functional non-equivalence of HoxA-11 and HoxA-10 with respect to PRL regulation suggests that these transcription factors regulate distinct sets of target genes during decidualization.