The dual role of FOXF2 in regulation of DNA replication and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition in breast cancer progression

Cell Signal. 2016 Oct;28(10):1502-19. doi: 10.1016/j.cellsig.2016.06.021. Epub 2016 Jul 1.


Dysregulation of Forkhead-box (FOX) transcription factors is linked to cancers of numerous tissue types. Here, we report that FOXF2 is frequently silenced in luminal-type and HER2-positive breast cancers, but is overexpressed in basal-like breast cancers; thus, FOXF2 appears to play distinct roles in different breast cancer subtypes. Inactivation of FOXF2 in luminal-type and HER2-positive breast cancers is attributable to epigenetic silencing. Silencing of FOXF2 is associated with poor prognosis in luminal-type breast cancer. Ectopic expression of FOXF2 in luminal and HER2-positive breast cancer cells suppresses their tumorigenic properties in vitro and in vivo via inhibition of the CDK2-RB-E2F cascade. The in vivo function of FOXF2 is to maintain the stringency of DNA replication, and its loss triggers dysregulation of DNA replication, which in turn activates the p53 checkpoint pathway. Besides its role in cell cycle regulation, FOXF2 is functionally required for mobility and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of normal breast epithelial cells. In basal-like breast cancer cells, the cell-cycle function of FOXF2 is impaired. However, the EMT function of FOXF2 is still required for mobility, invasiveness and anchorage-independent growth of basal-like breast cancer cells. Our gene expression profiling studies demonstrate that FOXF2 regulates the expression of genes implicated in cell cycle and EMT regulation. Moreover, FOXF2 is highly co-expressed with basal- and metastasis-related genes in breast cancer. These findings suggest that FOXF2 has a dual role in breast tumorigenesis and functions as either a tumor suppressor or an oncogene depending on the breast tumor subtype.

Keywords: Basal-like/triple-negative breast cancer; DNA methylation; Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; FOXF2; HER2-positive breast cancer; Luminal breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • DNA Replication / genetics*
  • Disease Progression*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition / genetics*
  • Female
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Mice, Nude
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • FOXF2 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2