Dual role of Sp3 transcription factor as an inducer of apoptosis and a marker of tumour aggressiveness

PLoS One. 2009;4(2):e4478. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004478. Epub 2009 Feb 12.


Background: The ambiguous role of transcription factor Sp3 for tumour progression is still debated since it was described as a transcriptional repressor or activator. Here we tried to decipher the molecular mechanisms implicated in Sp3 accumulation observed in aggressive tumours.

Methodology: We generated normal and tumour cell lines conditionally expressing Sp3. Cell growth was analyzed in vitro and after inoculation in nude mice. Apoptosis was assessed by pan- caspase activity assays, by counting fragmented nuclei and by determination of caspase 9 cleavage. Gene expression was determined by quantitative PCR. Cleavage by different caspases was performed after in vitro translation of the Sp3 cDNA in the presence of [S(35)] labelled methionine. Different tumour cell lines and head and neck tumour samples were tested for the presence of Sp3 by western blots. Correlation between Sp3 expression and overall survival has been statistically determined.

Principal findings: Conditional over-expression of Sp3 induces apoptosis and modifies expression of genes implicated in the regulation of cell cycle and pro and anti apoptotic genes. Sp3 over-expression strongly reduces the development of tumours in nude mice confirming its pro-apoptotic potential in vivo. However, cells can survive to apoptosis through selective Sp3 cleavage by caspase. Sp3 induction in established tumours resulted in transient regression then progression. Progression coincides with re-accumulation of the full length form of Sp3. Sp3 is over-expressed in tumour cell lines of different origins. The presence of high levels of the full-length form of Sp3 indicates a poor prognosis for overall survival of patients with head and neck tumours.

Conclusions: Full length Sp3 accumulation highlights bypass of tumour cell apoptotic capacities and is indicative of head and neck tumours aggressiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Expression
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasm Transplantation
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Prognosis
  • Sp3 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Sp3 Transcription Factor / metabolism*
  • Survival Rate


  • Sp3 Transcription Factor
  • Caspases