E2F3a functions as an oncogene and induces DNA damage response pathway mediated apoptosis



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Mutation or inactivation of RB occurs in most human tumors and results in the deregulation of several E2F family transcription factors. Among the E2F family, E2F3 has been implicated as a key regulator of cell proliferation and E2f3 gene amplification and overexpression is detected in some human tumors. To study the role of E2F3a in tumor development, we established a transgenic mouse model expressing E2F3a in a number of epithelial tissues via a keratin 5 (K5) promoter. Transgenic expression of E2F3a leads to hyperproliferation, hyperplasia and increased levels of p53-independent apoptosis in transgenic epidermis. Consistent with data from human cancers, the E2f3a transgene is found to have a weak oncogenic activity on its own and to enhance the response to a skin carcinogenesis protocol. While E2F3a induces apoptosis in the absence of p53, the inactivation of both p53 and p73, but not p73 alone, significantly impairs apoptosis induced by E2F3a. This suggests that both p53 and p73 contribute to E2F3a induced apoptosis but that their function is compensatory. Even though data suggest that E2F3a carries out its unique apoptotic activity in part through another E2F family member E2F1, unlike E2F1, the ARF tumor suppressor is required for E2F3a-induced apoptosis. While both E2F3a and E2F1 require ATM for apoptosis, E2F3a activates ATM through a distinct mechanism from E2F1. The overexpression of E2F3a results in the accumulation of DNA damage in K5 transgenic keratinocytes and normal human fibroblasts (NHFs). In response to this, the DNA damage checkpoint kinase ATM is activated, and phosphorylation of the downstream targets p53 and the histone variant H2AX are significantly increased. Additional studies show that increased Cdk activity and aberrant DNA replication contributes to DNA damage, ATM activation and apoptosis in response to deregulated E2F3a, which suggest that aberrant replication imposed by deregulated E2F3a plays an important role in the activation of the ATM DNA damage response pathway. Activation of ATM by E2F3a is not affected by loss of ARF or E2F1. Meanwhile, E2F3a-induced ARF upregulation is not affected by E2F1 loss. The above results indicate that E2F3a engages several parallel pathways involving E2F1, ARF and the ATM kinase, and these pathways cooperate to promote apoptosis.