The Journal of experimental medicine

AP4 is a mediator of epithelial-mesenchymal transition and metastasis in colorectal cancer.

PMID 23752226


The basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor AP4/TFAP4/AP-4 is encoded by a c-MYC target gene and displays up-regulation concomitantly with c-MYC in colorectal cancer (CRC) and numerous other tumor types. Here a genome-wide characterization of AP4 DNA binding and mRNA expression was performed using a combination of microarray, genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation, next-generation sequencing, and bioinformatic analyses. Thereby, hundreds of induced and repressed AP4 target genes were identified. Besides many genes involved in the control of proliferation, the AP4 target genes included markers of stemness (LGR5 and CD44) and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) such as SNAIL, E-cadherin/CDH1, OCLN, VIM, FN1, and the Claudins 1, 4, and 7. Accordingly, activation of AP4 induced EMT and enhanced migration and invasion of CRC cells. Conversely, down-regulation of AP4 resulted in mesenchymal-epithelial transition and inhibited migration and invasion. In addition, AP4 induction was required for EMT, migration, and invasion caused by ectopic expression of c-MYC. Inhibition of AP4 in CRC cells resulted in decreased lung metastasis in mice. Elevated AP4 expression in primary CRC significantly correlated with liver metastasis and poor patient survival. These findings imply AP4 as a new regulator of EMT that contributes to metastatic processes in CRC and presumably other carcinomas.