The dark side of SOX2: cancer - a comprehensive overview

Erin L. Wuebben and Angie Rizzino _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:44917-44943. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.16570

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Erin L. Wuebben1 and Angie Rizzino1,2

1 Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

2 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Correspondence to:

Angie Rizzino, email:

Keywords: SOX2, cancer, tumor progression, tumor-initiating cells, cancer stem cell markers

Received: December 20, 2016 Accepted: March 16, 2017 Published: March 25, 2017


The pluripotency-associated transcription factor SOX2 is essential during mammalian embryogenesis and later in life, but SOX2 expression can also be highly detrimental. Over the past 10 years, SOX2 has been shown to be expressed in at least 25 different cancers. This review provides a comprehensive overview of the roles of SOX2 in cancer and focuses on two broad topics. The first delves into the expression and function of SOX2 in cancer focusing on the connection between SOX2 levels and tumor grade as well as patient survival. As part of this discussion, we address the developing connection between SOX2 expression and tumor drug resistance. We also call attention to an under-appreciated property of SOX2, its levels in actively proliferating tumor cells appear to be optimized to maximize tumor growth - too little or too much SOX2 dramatically alters tumor growth. The second topic of this review focuses on the exquisite array of molecular mechanisms that control the expression and transcriptional activity of SOX2. In addition to its complex regulation at the transcriptional level, SOX2 expression and activity are controlled carefully by microRNAs, long non-coding RNAs, and post-translational modifications. In the Conclusion and Future Perspectives section, we point out that there are still important unanswered questions. Addressing these questions is expected to lead to new insights into the functions of SOX2 in cancer, which will help design novels strategies for more effectively treating some of the most deadly cancers.

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