GABPA is a master regulator of luminal identity and restrains aggressive diseases in bladder cancer

Cell Death Differ. 2020 Jun;27(6):1862-1877. doi: 10.1038/s41418-019-0466-7. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


TERT promoter mutations occur in the majority of glioblastoma, bladder cancer (BC), and other malignancies while the ETS family transcription factors GABPA and its partner GABPB1 activate the mutant TERT promoter and telomerase in these tumors. GABPA depletion or the disruption of the GABPA/GABPB1 complex by knocking down GABPB1 was shown to inhibit telomerase, thereby eliminating the tumorigenic potential of glioblastoma cells. GABPA/B1 is thus suggested as a cancer therapeutic target. However, it is unclear about its role in BC. Here we unexpectedly observed that GABPA ablation inhibited TERT expression, but robustly increased proliferation, stem, and invasive phenotypes and cisplatin resistance in BC cells, while its overexpression exhibited opposite effects, and inhibited in vivo metastasizing in a xenograft transplant model. Mechanistically, GABPA directly activates the transcription of FoxA1 and GATA3, key transcription factors driving luminal differentiation of urothelial cells. Consistently, TCGA/GEO dataset analyses show that GABPA expression is correlated positively with luminal while negatively with basal signatures. Luminal tumors express higher GABPA than do basal ones. Lower GABPA expression is associated with the GABPA gene methylation or deletion (especially in basal subtype of BC tumors), and predicted significantly shorter patient survival based on TCGA and our cohort of BC patient analyses. Taken together, GABPA dictates luminal identity of BC cells and inhibits aggressive diseases in BC by promoting cellular differentiation despite its stimulatory effect on telomerase/TERT activation. Given these biological functions and its frequent methylation and/or deletion, GABPA serves as a tumor suppressor rather than oncogenic factor in BC. The GABPA effect on oncogenesis is context-dependent and its targeting for telomerase inhibition in BC may promote disease metastasizing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • GA-Binding Protein Transcription Factor / metabolism*
  • GA-Binding Protein Transcription Factor / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Telomerase / metabolism*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • GA-Binding Protein Transcription Factor
  • GABPA protein, human
  • GABPB1 protein, human
  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase