Small RNAs targeting transcription start site induce heparanase silencing through interference with transcription initiation in human cancer cells

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31379. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031379. Epub 2012 Feb 20.


Heparanase (HPA), an endo-h-D-glucuronidase that cleaves the heparan sulfate chain of heparan sulfate proteoglycans, is overexpressed in majority of human cancers. Recent evidence suggests that small interfering RNA (siRNA) induces transcriptional gene silencing (TGS) in human cells. In this study, transfection of siRNA against -9/+10 bp (siH3), but not -174/-155 bp (siH1) or -134/-115 bp (siH2) region relative to transcription start site (TSS) locating at 101 bp upstream of the translation start site, resulted in TGS of heparanase in human prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and gastric cancer cells in a sequence-specific manner. Methylation-specific PCR and bisulfite sequencing revealed no DNA methylation of CpG islands within heparanase promoter in siH3-transfected cells. The TGS of heparanase did not involve changes of epigenetic markers histone H3 lysine 9 dimethylation (H3K9me2), histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) or active chromatin marker acetylated histone H3 (AcH3). The regulation of alternative splicing was not involved in siH3-mediated TGS. Instead, siH3 interfered with transcription initiation via decreasing the binding of both RNA polymerase II and transcription factor II B (TFIIB), but not the binding of transcription factors Sp1 or early growth response 1, on the heparanase promoter. Moreover, Argonaute 1 and Argonaute 2 facilitated the decreased binding of RNA polymerase II and TFIIB on heparanase promoter, and were necessary in siH3-induced TGS of heparanase. Stable transfection of the short hairpin RNA construct targeting heparanase TSS (-9/+10 bp) into cancer cells, resulted in decreased proliferation, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis of cancer cells in vitro and in athymic mice models. These results suggest that small RNAs targeting TSS can induce TGS of heparanase via interference with transcription initiation, and significantly suppress the tumor growth, invasion, metastasis and angiogenesis of cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Argonaute Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Glucuronidase / genetics*
  • Glucuronidase / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • RNA Interference*
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism*
  • Transcription Initiation Site*
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Transfection


  • AGO1 protein, human
  • AGO2 protein, human
  • Argonaute Proteins
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factors
  • Histones
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • heparanase
  • Glucuronidase