EMT Transcription Factor ZEB1 Represses the Mutagenic POLθ-Mediated End-Joining Pathway in Breast Cancers
A characteristic of cancer development is the acquisition of genomic instability, which results from the inaccurate repair of DNA damage. Among double-strand break repair mechanisms induced by oncogenic stress, the highly mutagenic theta-mediated end-joining (TMEJ) pathway, which requires DNA polymerase theta (POLθ) encoded by the POLQ gene, has been shown to be overexpressed in several human cancers. However, little is known regarding the regulatory mechanisms of TMEJ and the consequence of its dysregulation. In this study, we combined a bioinformatics approach exploring both Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium and The Cancer Genome Atlas databases with CRISPR/Cas9-mediated depletion of the zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1) in claudin-low tumor cells or forced expression of ZEB1 in basal-like tumor cells, two triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtypes, to demonstrate that ZEB1 represses POLQ expression. ZEB1, a master epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition–inducing transcription factor, interacted directly with the POLQ promoter. Moreover, downregulation of POLQ by ZEB1 fostered micronuclei formation in TNBC tumor cell lines. Consequently, ZEB1 expression prevented TMEJ activity, with a major impact on genome integrity. In conclusion, we showed that ZEB1 directly inhibits the expression of POLQ and, therefore, TMEJ activity, controlling both stability and integrity of breast cancer cell genomes.
These findings uncover an original mechanism of TMEJ regulation, highlighting ZEB1 as a key player in genome stability during cancer progression via its repression of POLQ.
See related commentary by Carvajal-Maldonado and Wood, p. 1441