Defining the functional modules within transcriptional regulatory factors that govern switching between repression and activation events is a central issue in biology. Recently, we have reported the dynamic role of a beta-catenin-reptin chromatin remodelling complex in regulating a metastasis suppressor gene KAI1 (ref.1), which is capable of inhibiting the progression of tumour metastasis. Here, we identify signalling factors that confer repressive function on reptin and hence repress the expression of KAI1. Biochemical purification of a reptin-containing complex has revealed the presence of specific desumoylating enzymes that reverse the sumoylation of reptin that underlies its function as a repressor. Desumoylation of reptin alters the repressive function of reptin and its association with HDAC1. Furthermore, the sumoylation status of reptin modulates the invasive activity of cancer cells with metastatic potential. These data clearly define a functional model and provide a novel link for SUMO modification in cancer metastasis.