The transcription factor ETS1 promotes apoptosis resistance of senescent cholangiocytes by epigenetically up-regulating the apoptosis suppressor BCL2L1

J Biol Chem. 2019 Dec 6;294(49):18698-18713. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010176. Epub 2019 Oct 28.


Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is an idiopathic, progressive cholangiopathy. Cholangiocyte senescence is important in PSC pathogenesis, and we have previously reported that senescence is regulated by the transcription factor ETS proto-oncogene 1 (ETS1) and associated with overexpression of BCL2 like 1 (BCL2L1 or BCL-xL), an anti-apoptotic BCL2-family member. Here, we further explored the mechanisms regulating BCL-xL-mediated, apoptosis resistance in senescent cholangiocytes and uncovered that ETS1 and the histone acetyltransferase E1A-binding protein P300 (EP300 or p300) both promote BCL-xL transcription. Using immunofluorescence, we found that BCL-xL protein expression is increased both in cholangiocytes of livers from individuals with PSC and a mouse model of PSC. Using an in vitro model of lipopolysaccharide-induced senescence in normal human cholangiocytes (NHCs), we found increased BCL-xL mRNA and protein levels, and ChIP-PCRs indicated increased occupancy of ETS1, p300, and histone 3 Lys-27 acetylation (H3K27Ac) at the BCL-xL promoter. Using co-immunoprecipitation and proximity ligation assays, we further demonstrate that ETS1 and p300 physically interact in senescent but not control NHCs. Additionally, mutagenesis of predicted ETS1-binding sites within the BCL-xL promoter blocked luciferase reporter activity, and CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genetic deletion of ETS1 reduced senescence-associated BCL-xL expression. In senescent NHCs, TRAIL-mediated apoptosis was reduced ∼70%, and ETS1 deletion or RNAi-mediated BCL-xL suppression increased apoptosis. Overall, our results suggest that ETS1 and p300 promote senescent cholangiocyte resistance to apoptosis by modifying chromatin and inducing BCL-xL expression. These findings reveal ETS1 as a central regulator of both cholangiocyte senescence and the associated apoptosis-resistant phenotype.

Keywords: BCL2 like 1 (BCL2L1); apoptosis; cholangiocyte; chromatin modification; epigenetics; gene expression; primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC); senescence; transcription factor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / genetics
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Cellular Senescence / drug effects
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1 / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • bcl-X Protein / genetics*
  • bcl-X Protein / metabolism


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • MAS1 protein, human
  • P-glycoprotein 2
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1
  • Transcription Factors
  • bcl-X Protein