PloS one

Ets1 induces dysplastic changes when expressed in terminally-differentiating squamous epidermal cells.

PMID 19142229


Ets1 is an oncogene that functions as a transcription factor and regulates the activity of many genes potentially important for tumor initiation and progression. Interestingly, the Ets1 oncogene is over-expressed in many human squamous cell cancers and over-expression is highly correlated with invasion and metastasis. Thus, Ets1 is believed to mainly play a role in later stages of the oncogenic process, but not early events. To better define the role of Ets1 in squamous cell carcinogenesis, we generated a transgenic mouse model in which expression of the Ets1 oncogene could be temporally and spatially regulated. Upon Ets1 induction in differentiating cells of stratified squamous epithelium, these mice exhibited dramatic changes in epithelial organization including increased proliferation and blocked terminal differentiation. The phenotype was completely reversed when Ets1 expression was suppressed. In mice where Ets1 expression was re-induced at a later age, the phenotype was more localized and the lesions that developed were more invasive. Many potential Ets1 targets were upregulated in the skin of these mice with the most dramatic being the metalloprotease MMP13, which we demonstrate to be a direct transcriptional target of Ets1. Collectively, our data reveal that upregulation of Ets1 can be an early event that promotes pre-neoplastic changes in epidermal tissues via its regulation of key genes driving growth and invasion. Thus, the Ets1 oncogene may be important for oncogenic processes in both early and late stages of tumor development.