Background: The AP2 transcription factor family is a set of developmentally regulated, retinoic acid (RA) inducible genes, which regulate expression of estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha) in breast carcinoma. We hypothesized that AP2 factors regulate a set of genes characteristic of the hormone responsive breast cancer phenotype. To better understand the role of AP2 factors in hormone responsive breast cancer, we sought to identify AP2-target genes in breast epithelial cells.
Materials and methods: Overexpression of AP2 factors was achieved in human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) using adenoviral vectors. AP2 target genes were identified by comparative hybridization to cDNA microarrays containing 30,000 human genes. Expression patterns were confirmed by Northern and Western blot and by elimination of AP2 using siRNA. Potential regulatory elements in promoters of target genes were identified by DNase I hypersensitive site mapping.
Results: Comparative cDNA microarray hybridization identified a set of genes induced by overexpression of AP2alpha and AP2gamma in HMECs. The up-regulation of cellular retinoic acid-binding protein 2 (CRABPII), EST-1, and ECM1 was induced by overexpression of AP2alpha, AP2gamma, or a chimeric AP2 factor in which the activation domain of AP2alpha was replaced by the activation domain of herpesvirus VP16. Interestingly, hormone unresponsive MDA-MB-231 cells were resistant to CRABPII induction by any of the AP2 factors. Elimination of AP2gamma in MCF7 cells resulted in a significant reduction in CRABPII expression. AP2alpha induced DNase I hypersensitive sites in the promoter of the CRABPII gene at -5000 bp, which corresponds to the site of action of RAR/RXR factors.
Conclusions: AP2 factors regulate CRABPII expression in HMECs and breast cancer cells and accounts for the associated expression of ERalpha and CRABPII in hormone responsive breast cancer. Because CRABPII mediates growth suppressive effects of RA in breast cancer, the data suggest that AP2 factors have the ability to mediate RA responsiveness through the regulation of CRABP II expression.