Castillo SD, Matheu A, Mariani N, Carretero J, Lopez-Rios F, Lovell-Badge R, Sanchez-Cespedes M
The HMG box transcription factor SOX4 involved in neuronal development is amplified and overexpressed in a subset of lung cancers, suggesting that it may be a driver oncogene. In this study, we sought to develop this hypothesis including by defining targets of SOX4 that may mediate its involvement in lung cancer. Ablating SOX4 expression in SOX4-amplified lung cancer cells revealed a gene expression signature that included genes involved in neuronal development such as PCDHB, MYB, RBP1, and TEAD2. Direct recruitment of SOX4 to gene promoters was associated with their upregulation upon ectopic overexpression of SOX4. We confirmed upregulation of the SOX4 expression signature in a panel of primary lung tumors, validating their specific response by a comparison using embryonic fibroblasts from Sox4-deficient mice. Interestingly, we found that small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a subtype of lung cancer with neuroendocrine characteristics, was generally characterized by high levels of SOX2, SOX4, and SOX11 along with the SOX4-specific gene expression signature identified. Taken together, our findings identify a functional role for SOX genes in SCLC, particularly for SOX4 and several novel targets defined in this study.