Loss of the nuclear Wnt pathway effector TCF7L2 promotes migration and invasion of human colorectal cancer cells

Oncogene. 2020 May;39(19):3893-3909. doi: 10.1038/s41388-020-1259-7. Epub 2020 Mar 20.


The transcription factor TCF7L2 is indispensable for intestinal tissue homeostasis where it transmits mitogenic Wnt/β-Catenin signals in stem and progenitor cells, from which intestinal tumors arise. Yet, TCF7L2 belongs to the most frequently mutated genes in colorectal cancer (CRC), and tumor-suppressive functions of TCF7L2 were proposed. This apparent paradox warrants to clarify the role of TCF7L2 in colorectal carcinogenesis. Here, we investigated TCF7L2 dependence/independence of CRC cells and the cellular and molecular consequences of TCF7L2 loss-of-function. By genome editing we achieved complete TCF7L2 inactivation in several CRC cell lines without loss of viability, showing that CRC cells have widely lost the strict requirement for TCF7L2. TCF7L2 deficiency impaired G1/S progression, reminiscent of the physiological role of TCF7L2. In addition, TCF7L2-negative cells exhibited morphological changes, enhanced migration, invasion, and collagen adhesion, albeit the severity of the phenotypic alterations manifested in a cell-line-specific fashion. To provide a molecular framework for the observed cellular changes, we performed global transcriptome profiling and identified gene-regulatory networks in which TCF7L2 positively regulates the proto-oncogene MYC, while repressing the cell cycle inhibitors CDKN2C/CDKN2D. Consistent with its function in curbing cell motility and invasion, TCF7L2 directly suppresses the pro-metastatic transcription factor RUNX2 and impinges on the expression of cell adhesion molecules. Altogether, we conclude that the proliferation-stimulating activity of TCF7L2 persists in CRC cells. In addition, TCF7L2 acts as invasion suppressor. Despite its negative impact on cell cycle progression, TCF7L2 loss-of-function may thereby increase malignancy, which could explain why TCF7L2 is mutated in a sizeable fraction of colorectal tumors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Core Binding Factor Alpha 1 Subunit / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / genetics
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 Protein / genetics*
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / genetics
  • beta Catenin / genetics


  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • Core Binding Factor Alpha 1 Subunit
  • MAS1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • RUNX2 protein, human
  • TCF7L2 protein, human
  • Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 Protein
  • beta Catenin