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Transcriptional regulation of the Nkx3.1 gene in prostate luminal stem cell specification and cancer initiation via its 3′ genomic region


NK3 homeobox 1 (Nkx3.1), a transcription factor expressed in the prostate epithelium, is crucial for maintaining prostate cell fate and suppressing tumor initiation. Nkx3.1 is ubiquitously expressed in luminal cells of hormonally intact prostate but, upon androgen deprivation, exclusively labels a type of luminal stem cells named castration-resistant Nkx3.1-expressing cells (CARNs). During prostate cancer initiation, Nkx3.1 expression is frequently lost in both humans and mouse models. Therefore, investigating how Nkx3.1 expression is regulated in vivo is important for understanding the mechanisms of prostate stem cell specification and cancer initiation. Here, using a transgenic mouse line with destabilized GFP, we identified an 11-kb genomic region 3' of the Nkx3.1 transcription start site to be responsible for alterations in Nkx3.1 expression patterns under various physiological conditions. We found that androgen cell-autonomously activates Nkx3.1 expression through androgen receptor (AR) binding to the 11-kb region in both normal luminal cells and CARNs and discovered new androgen response elements in the Nkx3.1 3' UTR. In contrast, we found that, in Pten-/- prostate tumors, loss of Nkx3.1 expression is mediated at the transcriptional level through the 11-kb region despite functional AR in the nucleus. Importantly, the GFP reporter specifically labeled CARNs in the regressed prostate only in the presence of cell-autonomous AR, supporting a facultative model for CARN specification.

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