Ovarian cancer is the most lethal cancer of the female reproductive system. In that regard, several epidemiological studies suggest that long-term exposure to estrogen could increase ovarian cancer risk, although its precise role remains controversial. To decipher a mechanism for this, we previously generated a mathematical model of how estrogen-mediated upregulation of the transcription factor, E2F6, upregulates the ovarian cancer stem/initiating cell marker, c-Kit, by epigenetic silencing the tumor suppressor miR-193a, and a competing endogenous (ceRNA) mechanism. In this study, we tested that previous mathematical model, showing that estrogen treatment of immortalized ovarian surface epithelial cells upregulated both E2F6 and c-KIT, but downregulated miR-193a. Luciferase assays further confirmed that microRNA-193a targets both E2F6 and c-Kit. Interestingly, ChIP-PCR and bisulphite pyrosequencing showed that E2F6 also epigenetically suppresses miR-193a, through recruitment of EZH2, and by a complex ceRNA mechanism in ovarian cancer cell lines. Importantly, cell line and animal experiments both confirmed that E2F6 promotes ovarian cancer stemness, whereas E2F6 or EZH2 depletion derepressed miR-193a, which opposes cancer stemness, by alleviating DNA methylation and repressive chromatin. Finally, 118 ovarian cancer patients with miR-193a promoter hypermethylation had poorer survival than those without hypermethylation. These results suggest that an estrogen-mediated E2F6 ceRNA network epigenetically and competitively inhibits microRNA-193a activity, promoting ovarian cancer stemness and tumorigenesis.
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