Identification of genes with cancer-specific overexpression offers the potential to efficiently discover cancer-specific activities in an unbiased manner. We apply this paradigm to study mesothelin (MSLN) overexpression, a nearly ubiquitous, diagnostically and therapeutically useful characteristic of pancreatic cancer. We identified an 18-bp upstream enhancer, termed CanScript, strongly activating transcription from an otherwise weak tissue-nonspecific promoter and operating selectively in cells having aberrantly elevated cancer-specific MSLN transcription. Introducing mutations into CanScript showed two functionally distinct sites: an Sp1-like site and an MCAT element. Gel retardation and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays showed the MCAT element to be bound by transcription enhancer factor (TEF)-1 (TEAD1) in vitro and in vivo. The presence of TEF-1 was required for MSLN protein overexpression as determined by TEF-1 knockdown experiments. The cancer specificity seemed to be provided by a putative limiting cofactor of TEF-1 that could be outcompeted by exogenous TEF-1 only in a MSLN-overexpressing cell line. A CanScript concatemer offered enhanced activity. These results identify a TEF family member as a major regulator of MSLN overexpression, a fundamental characteristic of pancreatic and other cancers, perhaps due to an upstream and highly frequent aberrant cellular activity. The CanScript sequence represents a modular element for cancer-specific targeting, potentially suitable for nearly a third of human malignancies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research