The Snail transcription factor plays as a master regulator of epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT), one of the steps of tumor metastasis. Snail enhances expressions of a lot of mesenchymal genes including the matrix degradation enzyme matrix metalloproteinases 9 (MMP9) and the EMT transcription factor zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1 (ZEB1), however, the underlying mechanisms are not clarified. Herein, we investigated how Snail upregulated transcription of ZEB1 and MMP9 induced by the tumor promoter 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol 13-acetate (TPA) in hepatoma cell HepG2. According to deletion mapping and site directed mutagenesis analysis, the TPA-responsive elements on both MMP9 and ZEB1 promoters locate on a putative EGR1 and SP1 overlapping region coupled with an upstream proposed Snail binding motif TCACA. Consistently, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assay showed TPA triggered binding of Snail, EGR1 and SP1 on MMP9 and ZEB1 promoters. Double ChIP further indicated TPA induced association of Snail with EGR1 and SP1 on both promoters. Also, electrophoresis mobility shift assay revealed TPA enhanced binding of Snail with a MMP9 promoter fragment. According to shRNA techniques, Snail was essential for gene expression of both ZEB1 and MMP9. In conclusion, Snail transactivates genes involved in tumor progression via direct binding to a specific promoter region.
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