SOX9 regulates cell lineage specification by directly regulating target genes in a discrete number of tissues, and previous reports have shown cell proliferative and suppressive roles for SOX9. Although SOX9 is expressed in colorectal cancer, only a few direct targets have been identified in intestinal epithelial cells. We previously demonstrated increased proliferation in Sox9-deficient crypts through loss-of-function studies, indicating that SOX9 suppresses cell proliferation. In this study, crypt epithelial cells isolated from Sox9-deficient mice were used to identify potential target genes of SOX9. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-binding protein 4 (IGFBP-4), an inhibitor of the IGF/IGF receptor pathway, was significantly downregulated in Sox9-deficient intestinal epithelial cells and adenoma cells of Sox9-deficient ApcMin/+ mice. Immunolocalization experiments revealed that IGFBP-4 colocalized with SOX9 in mouse and human intestinal epithelial cells and in specimens from patients with primary colorectal cancer. Reporter assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation demonstrated direct binding of SOX9 to the IGFBP-4 promoter. Overexpression of SOX9 attenuated cell proliferation, which was restored following treatment with a neutralizing antibody against IGFBP-4. These results suggest that SOX9 regulates cell proliferation, at least in part via IGFBP-4. Furthermore, the antiproliferative effect of SOX9 was confirmed in vivo using Sox9-deficient mice, which showed increased tumor burden when bred with ApcMin/+ mice. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that SOX9 is a transcriptional regulator of IGFBP-4 and that SOX9-induced activation of IGFBP-4 may be one of the mechanisms by which SOX9 suppresses cell proliferation and progression of colon cancer.
Keywords: ApcMin/+ mice; IGFBP-4; SOX9; colorectal cancer; intestinal epithelial cell proliferation.