Re-activation of a dormant tumor suppressor gene maspin by designed transcription factors

A. Beltran, S. Parikh, Y. Liu, B. D. Cuevas, G. L. Johnson, B. W. Futscher, P. Blancafort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The controlled and specific re-activation of endogenous tumor suppressors in cancer cells represents an important therapeutic strategy to block tumor growth and subsequent progression. Other than ectopic delivery of tumor suppressor-encoded cDNA, there are no therapeutic tools able to specifically re-activate tumor suppressor genes that are silenced in tumor cells. Herein, we describe a novel approach to specifically regulate dormant tumor suppressors in aggressive cancer cells. We have targeted the Mammary Serine Protease Inhibitor (maspin) (SERPINB5) tumor suppressor, which is silenced by transcriptional and aberrant promoter methylation in aggressive epithelial tumors. Maspin is a multifaceted protein, regulating tumor cell homeostasis through inhibition of cell growth, motility and invasion. We have constructed artificial transcription factors (ATFs) made of six zinc-finger (ZF) domains targeted against 18-base pair (bp) unique sequences in the maspin promoter. The ZFs were linked to the activator domain VP64 and delivered in breast tumor cells. We found that the designed ATFs specifically interact with their cognate targets in vitro with high affinity and selectivity. One ATF was able to re-activate maspin in cell lines that comprise a maspin promoter silenced by epigenetic mechanisms. Consistently, we found that this ATF was a powerful inducer of apoptosis and was able to knock down tumor cell invasion in vitro. Moreover, this ATF was able to suppress MDA-MB-231 growth in a xenograft breast cancer model in nude mice. Our work suggests that ATFs could be used in cancer therapeutics as novel molecular switches to re-activate dormant tumor suppressors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2791-2798
Number of pages8
Issue number19
StatePublished - Apr 26 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial transcription factors
  • Metastatic cells
  • Methylation
  • Zinc-fingers
  • maspin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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