Identification of an NKX3.1-G9a-UTY transcriptional regulatory network that controls prostate differentiation

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1576-1580
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9512

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Clues to cancer from an identity change

The prostate and seminal vesicle have closely related developmental histories and both are regulated by the same androgenic hormones. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms controlling the development of the two tissues could help solve why cancer arises frequently in the prostate but only rarely in seminal vesicles. Working with cell and mouse models, Dutta et al. show that forced expression of a single gene, the homeobox gene NKX3.1, causes seminal vesicle epithelium to differentiate into prostate. NKX3.1 regulates the expression of a gene program associated with prostate differentiation by interacting with the G9a histone methyltransferase. Disruption of this regulatory network probably contributes to prostate cancer development.

Science, this issue p. 1576


The NKX3.1 homeobox gene plays essential roles in prostate differentiation and prostate cancer. We show that loss of function of Nkx3.1 in mouse prostate results in down-regulation of genes that are essential for prostate differentiation, as well as up-regulation of genes that are not normally expressed in prostate. Conversely, gain of function of Nkx3.1 in an otherwise fully differentiated nonprostatic mouse epithelium (seminal vesicle) is sufficient for respecification to prostate in renal grafts in vivo. In human prostate cells, these activities require the interaction of NKX3.1 with the G9a histone methyltransferase via the homeodomain and are mediated by activation of target genes such as UTY (KDM6c), the male-specific paralog of UTX (KDM6a). We propose that an NKX3.1-G9a-UTY transcriptional regulatory network is essential for prostate differentiation, and we speculate that disruption of such a network predisposes to prostate cancer.

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