Genetic interaction between Tmprss2-ERG gene fusion and Nkx3.1-loss does not enhance prostate tumorigenesis in mouse models


Gene fusions involving ETS family transcription factors (mainly TMPRSS2-ERG and TMPRSS2-ETV1 fusions) have been found in ~50% of human prostate cancer cases. Although expression of TMPRSS2-ERG or TMPRSS2-ETV1 fusion alone is insufficient to initiate prostate tumorigenesis, they appear to sensitize prostate epithelial cells for cooperation with additional oncogenic mutations to drive frank prostate adenocarcinoma. To search for such ETS-cooperating oncogenic events, we focused on a well-studied prostate tumor suppressor NKX3.1, as loss of NKX3.1 is another common genetic alteration in human prostate cancer. Previous studies have shown that deletions at 8p21 (harboring NKX3.1) and 21q22 (resulting in TMPRSS2-ERG fusion) were both present in a subtype of prostate cancer cases, and that ERG can lead to epigenetic silencing of NKX3.1 in prostate cancer cells, whereas NKX3.1 can in turn negatively regulate TMPRSS2-ERG fusion expression via suppression of the TMPRSS2 promoter activity. We recently generated knockin mouse models for TMPRSS2-ERG and TMPRSS2-ETV1 fusions, utilizing the endogenous Tmprss2 promoter. We crossed these knockin models to an Nkx3.1 knockout mouse model. In Tmprss2-ERG;Nkx3.1+/- (or -/-) male mice, although we observed a slight but significant upregulation of Tmprss2-ERG fusion expression upon Nkx3.1 loss, we did not detect any significant cooperation between these two genetic events to enhance prostate tumorigenesis in vivo. Furthermore, retrospective analysis of a previously published human prostate cancer dataset revealed that within ERG-overexpressing prostate cancer cases, NKX3.1 loss or deletion did not predict biochemical relapse after radical prostatectomy. Collectively, these data suggest that although TMPRSS2-ERG fusion and loss of NKX3.1 are among the most common mutational events found in prostate cancer, and although each of them can sensitize prostate epithelial cells for cooperating with other oncogenic events, these two events themselves do not appear to cooperate at a significant level in vivo to enhance prostate tumorigenesis.