ERG transcription factors have a splicing regulatory function involving RBFOX2 that is altered in the EWS-FLI1 oncogenic fusion
ERG family proteins (ERG, FLI1 and FEV) are a subfamily of ETS transcription factors with key roles in physiology and development. In Ewing sarcoma, the oncogenic fusion protein EWS-FLI1 regulates both transcription and alternative splicing of pre-messenger RNAs. However, whether wild-type ERG family proteins might regulate splicing is unknown. Here, we show that wild-type ERG proteins associate with spliceosomal components, are found on nascent RNAs, and induce alternative splicing when recruited onto a reporter minigene. Transcriptomic analysis revealed that ERG and FLI1 regulate large numbers of alternative spliced exons (ASEs) enriched with RBFOX2 motifs and co-regulated by this splicing factor. ERG and FLI1 are associated with RBFOX2 via their conserved carboxy-terminal domain, which is present in EWS-FLI1. Accordingly, EWS-FLI1 is also associated with RBFOX2 and regulates ASEs enriched in RBFOX2 motifs. However, in contrast to wild-type ERG and FLI1, EWS-FLI1 often antagonizes RBFOX2 effects on exon inclusion. In particular, EWS-FLI1 reduces RBFOX2 binding to the ADD3 pre-mRNA, thus increasing its long isoform, which represses the mesenchymal phenotype of Ewing sarcoma cells. Our findings reveal a RBFOX2-mediated splicing regulatory function of wild-type ERG family proteins, that is altered in EWS-FLI1 and contributes to the Ewing sarcoma cell phenotype.