Chou Jinjiang et al.
Background AP4 (TFAP4) encodes a basic helix-loop-helix leucine zipper (bHLH-LZ) transcription factor and is a direct target gene of the oncogenic transcription factor c-MYC. Here, we set out to determine the relevance of AP4 in human colorectal cancer (CRC) cells. Methods A CRISPR/Cas9 approach was employed to generate AP4-deficient CRC cell lines with inducible expression of c-MYC. Colony formation, β-gal staining, immunofluorescence, comet and homologous recombination (HR) assays and RNA-Seq analysis were used to determine the effects of AP4 inactivation. qPCR and qChIP analyses was performed to validate differentially expressed AP4 targets. Expression data from CRC cohorts was subjected to bioinformatics analyses. Immunohistochemistry was used to evaluate AP4 targets in vivo. Ap4-deficient APCmin/+ mice were analyzed to determine conservation. Immunofluorescence, chromosome and micronuclei enumeration, MTT and colony formation assays were used to determine the effects of AP4 inactivation and target gene regulation on chromosomal instability (CIN) and drug sensitivity. Results Inactivation of AP4 in CRC cell lines resulted in increased spontaneous and c-MYC-induced DNA damage, chromosomal instability (CIN) and cellular senescence. AP4-deficient cells displayed increased expression of the long non-coding RNA MIR22HG, which encodes miR-22-3p and was directly repressed by AP4. Furthermore, Mediator of DNA damage Checkpoint 1 (MDC1), a central component of the DNA damage response and a known target of miR-22-3p, displayed decreased expression in AP4-deficient cells. Accordingly, MDC1 was directly induced by AP4 and indirectly by AP4-mediated repression of miR-22-3p. Adenomas and organoids from Ap4-deficient APCmin/+ mice displayed conservation of these regulations. Inhibition of miR-22-3p or ectopic MDC1 expression reversed the increased senescence, DNA damage, CIN and defective HR observed in AP4-deficient CRC cells. AP4-deficiency also sensitized CRC cells to 5-FU treatment, whereas ectopic AP4 conferred resistance to 5-FU in a miR-22-3p and MDC1-dependent manner. Conclusions In summary, AP4, miR-22-3p and MDC1 form a conserved and coherent, regulatory feed-forward loop to promote DNA repair, which suppresses DNA damage, senescence and CIN, and contributes to 5-FU resistance. These findings explain how elevated AP4 expression contributes to development and chemo-resistance of colorectal cancer after c-MYC activation. Graphical abstract Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12943-022-01581-1.
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