Laboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology

Neural lineage-specific homeoprotein BRN2 is directly involved in TTF1 expression in small-cell lung cancer.

PMID 23358112


Thyroid transcription factor 1 (TTF1) plays crucial roles in thyroid, lung, and developing brain morphogenesis. Because TTF1-expressing neoplasms are generated from organs and tissues that normally express TTF1, such as the thyroid follicular epithelium and peripheral lung airway epithelium, TTF1 is widely used as a cell lineage-specific and diagnostic marker for thyroid carcinomas and for lung adenocarcinomas with terminal respiratory unit (TRU) differentiation. However, among lung neuroendocrine tumors, small-cell carcinomas (small-cell lung cancers (SCLCs)), most of which are generated from the central airway, also frequently express TTF1 at high levels. To clarify how SCLCs express TTF1, we investigated the molecular mechanisms of its expression using cultivated lung cancer cells and focusing upon neural cell-specific transcription factors. Both SCLC cells and lung adenocarcinoma cells predominantly expressed isoform 2 of TTF1, and TTF1 promoter assays in SCLC cells revealed that the crucial region for activation of the promoter, which is adjacent to the transcription start site of TTF1 isoform 2, has potent FOX-, LHX-, and BRN2-binding sites. Transfection experiments using expression vectors for FOXA1, FOXA2, LHX2, LHX6, and BRN2 showed that BRN2 substantially upregulated TTF1 expression, whereas FOXA1/2 weakly upregulated TTF1 expression. BRN2 and FOXA1/2 binding to the TTF1 promoter was confirmed through chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments, and TTF1 expression in SCLC cells was considerably downregulated after BRN2 knockdown. Furthermore, the TTF1 promoter in SCLC cells was scarcely methylated, and immunohistochemical examinations using a series of primary lung tumors indicated that TTF1 and BRN2 were coexpressed only in SCLC cells. These findings suggest that TTF1 expression in SCLC is a cell lineage-specific phenomenon that involves the developing neural cell-specific homeoprotein BRN2.