Tan EJ, Thuault S, Caja L, Carletti T, Heldin CH, Moustakas A
J. Biol. Chem. 287 (10) 7134-7145 [2012-03-02; online 2012-01-11]
Deciphering molecular mechanisms that control epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) contributes to our understanding of how tumor cells become invasive and competent for intravasation. We have established that transforming growth factor β activates Smad proteins, which induce expression of the embryonic factor high mobility group A2 (HMGA2), which causes mesenchymal transition. HMGA2 associates with Smad complexes and induces expression of an established regulator of EMT, the zinc finger transcription factor Snail. We now show that HMGA2 can also induce expression of a second regulator of EMT, the basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor Twist. Silencing of endogenous Twist demonstrated that this protein acts in a partially redundant manner together with Snail. Double silencing of Snail and Twist reverts mesenchymal HMGA2-expressing cells to a more epithelial phenotype when compared with single silencing of Snail or Twist. Furthermore, HMGA2 can directly associate with A:T-rich sequences and promote transcription from the Twist promoter. The new evidence proposes a model whereby HMGA2 directly induces multiple transcriptional regulators of the EMT program and, thus, is a potential biomarker for carcinomas displaying EMT during progression to more advanced stages of malignancy.