Boone DN, Qi Y, Li Z, and Hann S. Egr1 mediates p53-independent c-Myc-induced apoptosis via a noncanonical ARF-dependent transcriptional mechanism. PNAS. 2011 Jan 11;108(2):632-7. PUBMED 21187408
c-Myc is frequently deregulated in human cancers. Although deregulated c-Myc leads to tumor growth, it also triggers apoptosis in partnership with tumor suppressors such as ARF and p53. Apoptosis induced by c-Myc is a critical fail-safe mechanism for the cell to protect against unrestrained proliferation. Despite the plethora of information on c-Myc, the molecular mechanism of how c-Myc induces both transformation and apoptosis is unclear. Oncogenic c-Myc can indirectly induce the expression of the tumor suppressor ARF, which leads to apoptosis through the stabilization of p53, but both c-Myc and ARF have apoptotic activities that are independent of p53. In cells without p53, ARF directly binds to c-Myc protein and inhibits c-Myc-induced hyperproliferation and transformation with a concomitant inhibition of canonical c-Myc target gene induction. However, ARF is an essential cofactor for p53-independent c-Myc-induced apoptosis. Here we show that ARF is necessary for c-Myc to drive transcription of a unique noncanonical target gene, Egr1. In contrast, c-Myc induces another family member, Egr2, through a canonical mechanism that is inhibited by ARF. We further demonstrate that Egr1 is essential for p53-independent c-Myc-induced apoptosis, but not ARF-independent c-Myc-induced apoptosis. Therefore, ARF binding switches the inherent activity of c-Myc from a proliferative to apoptotic protein without p53 through a unique noncanonical transcriptional mechanism. These findings also provide evidence that cofactors can differentially regulate specific transcriptional programs of c-Myc leading to different biological outcomes.