The transcription factor GLI1 cooperates with the chromatin remodeler SMARCA2 to regulate chromatin accessibility at distal DNA regulatory elements

Stephanie L. Safgren, Rachel L.O. Olson, Anne M. Vrabel, Luciana L. Almada, David L. Marks, Nelmary Hernandez-Alvarado, Alexandre Gaspar-Maia, Martin E. Fernandez-Zapico

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1 Scopus citations


The transcription factor GLI1 (GLI family zinc finger 1) plays a key role in the development and progression of multiple malignancies. To date, regulation of transcriptional activity at target gene promoters is the only molecular event known to underlie the oncogenic function of GLI1. Here, we provide evidence that GLI1 controls chromatin accessibility at distal regulatory regions by modulating the recruitment of SMARCA2 (SWI/SNF-related, matrix-associated, actin-dependent regulator of chromatin, subfamily A, member 2) to these elements. We demonstrate that SMARCA2 endogenously interacts with GLI1 and enhances its transcriptional activity. Mapping experiments indicated that the C-terminal transcriptional activation domain of GLI1 and SMARCA2’s central domains, including its ATPase motif, are required for this interaction. Interestingly, similar to SMARCA2, GLI1 overexpression increased chromatin accessibility, as indicated by results of the micrococcal nuclease assay. Further, results of assays for transposase-accessible chromatin with sequencing (ATAC-seq) after GLI1 knockdown supported these findings, revealing that GLI1 regulates chromatin accessibility at several regions distal to gene promoters. Integrated RNA-seq and ATAC-seq data analyses identified a subset of differentially expressed genes located in cis to these regulated chromatin sites. Finally, using the GLI1-regulated gene HHIP (Hedgehog-interacting protein) as a model, we demonstrate that GLI1 and SMARCA2 co-occupy a distal chromatin peak and that SMARCA2 recruitment to this HHIP putative enhancer requires intact GLI1. These findings provide insights into how GLI1 controls gene expression in cancer cells and may inform approaches targeting this oncogenic transcription factor to manage malignancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8725-8735
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 26 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding and additional information—This work was supported by NCI, National Institutes of Health Grant CA136526 (to M. E. F.-Z.). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Safgren et al.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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