The tumor suppressor p16INK4a, one protein encoded by the INK4/ARF locus, is frequently absent in multiple cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Whereas increased methylation of the encoding gene (CDKN2A) accounts for its loss in a third of patients, no molecular explanation exists for the remainder. We unraveled an alternative mechanism for the silencing of the INK4/ARF locus involving the E3 ubiquitin ligase and transcriptional cofactor E6AP (also known as UBE3A). We found that the expression of three tumor suppressor genes encoded in the INK4/ARF locus (p15INK4b, p16INK4a, and p19ARF) was decreased in E6AP-/- mouse embryo fibroblasts. E6AP induced the expression of the INK4/ARF locus at the transcriptional level by inhibiting CDC6 transcription, a gene encoding a key repressor of the locus. Luciferase assays revealed that E6AP inhibited CDC6 expression by reducing its E2F1-dependent transcription. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis indicated that E6AP reduced the amount of E2F1 at the CDC6 promoter. In a subset of NSCLC samples, an E6AP-low/CDC6-high/p16INK4a-low protein abundance profile correlated with low methylation of the gene encoding p16INK4a (CDKN2A) and poor patient prognosis. These findings define a previously unrecognized tumor-suppressive role for E6AP in NSCLC, reveal an alternative silencing mechanism of the INK4/ARF locus, and reveal E6AP as a potential prognostic marker in NSCLC.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia to Y.H. (NHMRC 1063389 and 1026990), by a grant from the Cancer Council Victoria (1085154), and by the Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge, and Innovation award. C.G. was supported by a Victorian Cancer Agency-Richard Pratt Fellowship (Pratt14002).
© 2017 The Authors.