The developmental transcription factor IRF6 attenuates ABCG2 gene expression and distinctively reverses stemness phenotype in nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Cancer Lett. 2018 Sep 1:431:230-243. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2017.10.016. Epub 2017 Oct 27.


Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), which originates from the nasopharynx, is highly prevalent in Southern China and Southeast Asia, and more than 90% of all NPCs are non-keratinizing undifferentiated cells or poorly differentiated squamous cells. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are capable of self-renewal and have differentiation potential. These properties form the basis of cancer initiation, development, and radiochemoresistance. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying NPC CSC maintenance remain poorly understood. Here, genomic expression profiling using our previously established monoclonal cellular and animal models revealed that interferon regulatory factor 6 (IRF6) was downregulated in highly metastatic NPC cells, cancer stem-like NPC cells and animal models. Functional assays revealed that elevated IRF6 expression suppressed cell proliferation, growth, CSCs properties and enhanced cell chemotherapeutic sensitivity. However, silencing IRF6 resulted in opposing effects. Moreover, we determined that as a tumor suppressor gene and transcription factor, IRF6 directly bound the upstream region of the ATP-binding cassette sub-family G member 2 (ABCG2) DNA element and suppressed target ABCG2 expression in NPC cells. Consistently, an inverse correlation was observed between the mRNA levels of IRF6 and ABCG2 in clinical NPC samples. With these results, we provide the first evidence that IRF6 directly targets the ABCG2 gene and selectively kills CSCs in NPC and that IRF6 may be a valuable tool for developing new CSC-targeted treatment strategies for undifferentiated NPC patients.

Keywords: ABCG2; Cancer stem cells; IRF6; Nasopharyngeal carcinoma; Transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily G, Member 2 / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Down-Regulation
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors / genetics*
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Phenotype
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism


  • ABCG2 protein, human
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily G, Member 2
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • IRF6 protein, human
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering