EWS/FLI utilizes NKX2-2 to repress mesenchymal features of Ewing sarcoma

John Fadul, Russell Bell, Laura M Hoffman, Mary C Beckerle, Michael E Engel, Stephen L Lessnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


In Ewing sarcoma, NKX2-2 is a critical activated target of the oncogenic transcription factor EWS/FLI that is required for transformation. However, its biological function in this malignancy is unknown. Here we provide evidence that NKX2-2 mediates the EWS/FLI-controlled block of mesenchymal features. Transcriptome-wide RNA sequencing revealed that NKX2-2 represses cell adhesion and extracellular matrix organization genes. NKX2-2-depleted cells form more focal adhesions and organized actin stress fibers, and spread over a wider area-hallmarks of mesenchymally derived cells. Furthermore, NKX2-2 represses the actin-stabilizing protein zyxin, suggesting that these morphological changes are attributable to zyxin de-repression. In addition, NKX2-2-knockdown cells display marked increases in migration and substrate adhesion. However, only part of the EWS/FLI phenotype is NKX2-2-dependent; consequently, NKX2-2 is insufficient to rescue EWS/FLI repression of mesenchymalization. Strikingly, we found that EWS/FLI-and NKX22-repressed genes are activated by ZEB2, which was previously shown to block Ewing sarcoma epithelialization. Together, these data support an emerging theme wherein Ewing sarcoma cells highly express transcription factors that maintain an undifferentiated state. Importantly, co-opting epithelial and mesenchymal traits by Ewing sarcoma cells may explain how the primary tumor grows rapidly while also "passively" metastasizing, without the need for transitions toward differentiated states, as in carcinomas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-43
Number of pages15
JournalGenes & Cancer
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


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