Misexpression of developmental transcription factors occurs often in human cancers, where embryonic programs may be reinstated in a context that promotes or sustains malignant development. In this study, we report the involvement of the kidney development transcription factor Six2 in the metastatic progression of human breast cancer. We found that Six2 promoted breast cancer metastasis by a novel mechanism involving both transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of E-cadherin. Downregulation of E-cadherin by Six2 was necessary for its ability to increase soft agar growth and in vivo metastasis in an immunocompetent mouse model of breast cancer. Mechanistic investigations showed that Six2 represses E-cadherin expression by upregulating Zeb2, in part, through a microRNA-mediated mechanism and by stimulating promoter methylation of the E-cadherin gene (Cdh1). Clinically, SIX2 expression correlated inversely with CDH1 expression in human breast cancer specimens, corroborating the disease relevance of their interaction. Our findings establish Six2 as a regulator of metastasis in human breast cancers and demonstrate an epigenetic function for SIX family transcription factors in metastatic progression through the regulation of E-cadherin.
©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.