PHF20L1 Antagonizes SOX2 Proteolysis Triggered by the MLL1/WDR5 Complexes

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Laboratory Investigation

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Transcriptional factor SOX2 regulates stem cell pluripotency, cell differentiation and tumorigenesis. As a key factor, the expression of SOX2 is tightly regulated at transcriptional and post-translational levels. However, the underlying mechanism of SOX2 protein stability remains to be elucidated. Here we show that the histone-lysine N-methyltransferase MLL1/WDR5 complexes physically interact with SOX2 and evoke SOX2 proteolysis, possibly through methylation on a potential site lysine 42 (K42). Small interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated gene silencing of the components of the MLL1/WDR5 complexes WDR5, MLL1, RBBP5, and ASH2L lead to the accumulation of SOX2, while forced expression of WDR5 promotes SOX2 ubiquitination and proteolysis. Conversely, PHD finger protein 20-like protein 1 (PHF20L1) associates with SOX2, antagonizes SOX2 ubiquitination and the sequential degradation induced by the MLL1/WDR5 complexes. RNA interferences of PHF20L1 promote the degradation of SOX2, while forced expression of PHF20L1 stabilizes SOX2. Co-silencing of MLL1/WDR5 components and PHF20L1 preclude degradation of SOX2 induced by knockdown of PHF20L1. Moreover, co-expression of PHF20L1 and WDR5 prevent ubiquitination of SOX2 triggered by WDR5 over-expression. However, SOX2 mutant K42R is non-sensitive to the MLL1/WDR5 complexes or PHF20L1. In addition, PHF20L1 may regulate the stability of SOX2 through its malignant brain tumor (MBT) domain, since the degradation of SOX2 is accelerated by UNC1215 and UNC669, inhibitors that bind to the MBT domain. Furthermore, abundant expression of SOX2 is highly correlated to immature ovarian teratoma. Loss of PHF20L1 weakened the tumor initiation ability of PA-1 cells while ablation of MLL1 promoted the growth of tumors. Thus, our studies reveal an antagonistic mechanism by which the protein stability of SOX2 is regulated by the MLL1/WDR5 complexes and PHF20L1, possibly through methylation of SOX2 protein, and provide a novel perspective on SOX2-positive cancer treatment.





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