HER2/ErbB2 activation turns on transcriptional processes that induce local invasion and lead to systemic metastasis. The early transcriptional changes needed for ErbB2-induced invasion are poorly understood. Here, we link ErbB2 activation to invasion via ErbB2-induced, SUMO-directed phosphorylation of a single serine residue, S27, of the transcription factor myeloid zinc finger-1 (MZF1). Utilizing an antibody against MZF1-pS27, we show that the phosphorylation of S27 correlates significantly (p < 0.0001) with high-level expression of ErbB2 in primary invasive breast tumors. Phosphorylation of MZF1-S27 is an early response to ErbB2 activation and results in increased transcriptional activity of MZF1. It is needed for the ErbB2-induced expression of MZF1 target genes CTSB and PRKCA, and invasion of single-cells from ErbB2-expressing breast cancer spheroids. The phosphorylation of MZF1-S27 is preceded by poly-SUMOylation of K23, which can make S27 accessible to efficient phosphorylation by PAK4. Based on our results, we suggest for an activation mechanism where phosphorylation of MZF1-S27 triggers MZF1 dissociation from its transcriptional repressors such as the CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF). Our findings increase understanding of the regulation of invasive signaling in breast cancer by uncovering a detailed biological mechanism of how ErbB2 activation can rapidly lead to its invasion-promoting target gene expression and invasion.

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The raw data from the mass spectrometry analysis and TMA staining are available upon request. The scripts and the files of the modeling and molecular dynamics simulation are available as a Github repository at https://github.com/ELELAB/MZF1_SUMO.

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We acknowledge the excellent technical assistance of Anni Hadesten and Louise Vandervox and give special thanks to Professor Audrey Minden for PAK4, Professor Marin Barisic for the ΔT-3xHA-DEST CW plasmids, and Dr. Vincent Collins for help with the language editing.


Funding was provided by the Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF15OC0017324) (TK), the Danish Medical Research Council (0602-02386B) (TK), the Danish Cancer Society Scientific Committee (KBVU) (R124-A7854-15-S2 and R56-A3108-12-S2) (TK), the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF125) (MJ), the European Research Council (AdG 340751) (MJ), EU-PRACE DECI13th grant for computational resources (EP), and the DeiC Pilot Grant 2015-2016 for the Danish Supercomputing Center Computerome (EP).

Author information


  1. Cell Death and Metabolism, Center for Autophagy, Recycling and Disease, Danish Cancer Society Research Center, Strandboulevarden 49, 2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Ditte Marie Brix
    • , Siri Amanda Tvingsholm
    • , Malene Bredahl Hansen
    • , Knut Bundgaard Clemmensen
    • , Pietri Puustinen
    • , Marja Jäättelä
    •  & Tuula Kallunki
  2. Institute of Biotechnology, Helsinki Institute of Life Science, University of Helsinki, 00014UH, Helsinki, Finland

    • Tiina Ohman
    •  & Markku Varjosalo
  3. Institute for Immunotechnology, Medicon Village, Lund University, 223 81, Lund, Sweden

    • Valentina Siino
  4. Computational Biology Laboratory, Center for Autophagy, Recycling and Disease, Danish Cancer Society Research Center, 2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Matteo Lambrughi
    •  & Elena Papaleo
  5. Biotech Research and Innovation Center, Copenhagen University, 2200, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Klaus Hansen
  6. Breast Cancer Biology, Unit of Genome Integrity, Center for Autophagy, Recycling and Disease, Danish Cancer Society Research Center, 2100, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Irina Gromova
  7. Turku Centre for Biotechnology, Åbo Akademi University and University of Turku, 20014, Turku, Finland

    • Peter James
  8. Department of Drug Design and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, 2200, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • José Moreira
    •  & Tuula Kallunki


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DMB, SAT, MBH, KBC, TO, VS, ML, PP, EP, and JM performed the experiments. KH, IG, PJ, and MV provided materials and/or facilities, TK planned the project, and wrote the manuscript, and TK, DMB, and MJ edited it.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Marja Jäättelä or Tuula Kallunki.

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