The TFAP2C/AP-2γ transcription factor regulates luminal breast cancer genes, and loss of TFAP2C induces epithelial-mesenchymal transition. By contrast, the highly homologous family member, TFAP2A, lacks transcriptional activity at luminal gene promoters. A detailed structure-function analysis identified that sumoylation of TFAP2A blocks its ability to induce the expression of luminal genes. Disruption of the sumoylation pathway by knockdown of sumoylation enzymes, mutation of the SUMO-target lysine of TFAP2A, or treatment with sumoylation inhibitors induced a basal-to-luminal transition, which was dependent on TFAP2A. Sumoylation inhibitors cleared the CD44(+/hi)/CD24(-/low) cell population characterizing basal cancers and inhibited tumor outgrowth of basal cancer xenografts. These findings establish a critical role for sumoylation in regulating the transcriptional mechanisms that maintain the basal cancer phenotype.
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