FOXR2 Is an Epigenetically Regulated Pan-Cancer Oncogene That Activates ETS Transcriptional Circuits

Cancer Res. 2022 Sep 2;82(17):2980-3001. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-22-0671.


Forkhead box R2 (FOXR2) is a forkhead transcription factor located on the X chromosome whose expression is normally restricted to the testis. In this study, we performed a pan-cancer analysis of FOXR2 activation across more than 10,000 adult and pediatric cancer samples and found FOXR2 to be aberrantly upregulated in 70% of all cancer types and 8% of all individual tumors. The majority of tumors (78%) aberrantly expressed FOXR2 through a previously undescribed epigenetic mechanism that involves hypomethylation of a novel promoter, which was functionally validated as necessary for FOXR2 expression and proliferation in FOXR2-expressing cancer cells. FOXR2 promoted tumor growth across multiple cancer lineages and co-opted ETS family transcription circuits across cancers. Taken together, this study identifies FOXR2 as a potent and ubiquitous oncogene that is epigenetically activated across the majority of human cancers. The identification of hijacking of ETS transcription circuits by FOXR2 extends the mechanisms known to active ETS transcription factors and highlights how transcription factor families cooperate to enhance tumorigenesis.

Significance: This work identifies a novel promoter that drives aberrant FOXR2 expression and delineates FOXR2 as a pan-cancer oncogene that specifically activates ETS transcriptional circuits across human cancers. See related commentary by Liu and Northcott, p. 2977.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Child
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Oncogenes / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets / metabolism
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • FOXR2 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-ets