Elevated FOXG1 and SOX2 in glioblastoma enforces neural stem cell identity through transcriptional control of cell cycle and epigenetic regulators

Harry Bulstrode, Ewan Johnstone, Maria Angeles Marques-Torrejon, Kirsty M Ferguson, Raul Bardini Bressan, Carla Blin, Vivien Grant, Sabine Gogolok, Ester Gangoso, Sladjana Gagrica, Christine Ender, Vassiliki Fotaki, Duncan Sproul, Paul Bertone, Steven M Pollard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is an aggressive brain tumor driven by cells with hallmarks of neural stem (NS) cells. GBM stem cells frequently express high levels of the transcription factors FOXG1 and SOX2. Here we show that increased expression of these factors restricts astrocyte differentiation and can trigger dedifferentiation to a proliferative NS cell state. Transcriptional targets include cell cycle and epigenetic regulators (e.g., Foxo3, Plk1, Mycn, Dnmt1, Dnmt3b, and Tet3). Foxo3 is a critical repressed downstream effector that is controlled via a conserved FOXG1/SOX2-bound cis-regulatory element. Foxo3 loss, combined with exposure to the DNA methylation inhibitor 5-azacytidine, enforces astrocyte dedifferentiation. DNA methylation profiling in differentiating astrocytes identifies changes at multiple polycomb targets, including the promoter of Foxo3. In patient-derived GBM stem cells, CRISPR/Cas9 deletion of FOXG1 does not impact proliferation in vitro; however, upon transplantation in vivo, FOXG1-null cells display increased astrocyte differentiation and up-regulate FOXO3. In contrast, SOX2 ablation attenuates proliferation, and mutant cells cannot be expanded in vitro. Thus, FOXG1 and SOX2 operate in complementary but distinct roles to fuel unconstrained self-renewal in GBM stem cells via transcriptional control of core cell cycle and epigenetic regulators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-773
Number of pages7
JournalGenes and Development
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2017


  • Journal Article


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