COP1 is a tumour suppressor that causes degradation of ETS transcription factors


The proto-oncogenes ETV1, ETV4 and ETV5 encode transcription factors in the E26 transformation-specific (ETS) family, which includes the most frequently rearranged and overexpressed genes in prostate cancer1,2,3,4. Despite being critical regulators of development, little is known about their post-translational regulation. Here we identify the ubiquitin ligase COP1 (also known as RFWD2) as a tumour suppressor that negatively regulates ETV1, ETV4 and ETV5. ETV1, which is mutated in prostate cancer more often, was degraded after being ubiquitinated by COP1. Truncated ETV1 encoded by prostate cancer translocation TMPRSS2:ETV1 lacks the critical COP1 binding motifs and was 50-fold more stable than wild-type ETV1. Almost all patient translocations render ETV1 insensitive to COP1, implying that this confers a selective advantage to prostate epithelial cells. Indeed, COP1 deficiency in mouse prostate elevated ETV1 and produced increased cell proliferation, hyperplasia, and early prostate intraepithelial neoplasia. Combined loss of COP1 and PTEN enhanced the invasiveness of mouse prostate adenocarcinomas. Finally, rare human prostate cancer samples showed hemizygous loss of the COP1 gene, loss of COP1 protein, and elevated ETV1 protein while lacking a translocation event. These findings identify COP1 as a tumour suppressor whose downregulation promotes prostatic epithelial cell proliferation and tumorigenesis.

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Figure 1: The COP1/DET1 ubiquitin ligase regulates ETV1 turnover.
Figure 2: Truncated ETV1 encoded by prostate cancer translocations is not degraded by the COP1/DET1 ubiquitin ligase.
Figure 3: COP1 deficiency in prostatic epithelium causes hyperplasia, early MPIN, and enhances the effects of PTEN loss.
Figure 4: Loss of COP1 and decreased ETV1 protein expression in human prostate adenocarcinomas.

Accession codes

Primary accessions

Gene Expression Omnibus

Data deposits

Microarray data has been deposited with the Gene Expression Omnibus under accession codes GSE27914.


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We thank E. White and A. Chinnaiyan for reagents, B. Bolon for pathology support, and D. Dunlap for in situ hybridization.

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A.C.V. designed and performed in vitro experiments. A.C.V., K.G.L., C.Y. and W.-Q.G. designed and performed in vivo experiments. K.N. designed and generated the Cop1 mutant mice. R.V., R.F. and J.-A.H. generated monoclonal antibodies and performed immunohistochemistry. K.O. made constructs. J.L. performed bioinformatics analyses. S.M. and A.P. designed and performed FISH experiments. L.P. and D.A. designed and performed mass spectrometry experiments. S.S.C. and D.M.F. assessed the histopathology of mouse and human tissues. A.C.V., K.G.L., K.N., K.O., J.L., L.P., R.F., S.M., A.P., D.A., D.M.F. and V.M.D. prepared the manuscript and figures. A.C.V., K.G.L., K.N., C.Y., J.L., R.F., S.M., A.P., D.A., I.E.W., W.-Q.G., D.M.F. and V.M.D. contributed to the study design and data analyses.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vishva M. Dixit.

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All authors were employees of Genentech, Inc.

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Vitari, A., Leong, K., Newton, K. et al. COP1 is a tumour suppressor that causes degradation of ETS transcription factors. Nature 474, 403–406 (2011).

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