Growth-promoting and tumourigenic activity of c-Myc is suppressed by Hhex

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c-Myc transcription factor is a key protein involved in cellular growth, proliferation and metabolism. c-Myc is one of the most frequently activated oncogenes, highlighting the need to identify intracellular molecules that interact directly with c-Myc to suppress its function. Here we show that Hhex is able to interact with the basic region/helix-loop-helix/leucine zipper of c-Myc. Knockdown of Hhex increases proliferation rate in hepatocellular carcinoma cells, whereas Hhex expression cell-autonomously reduces cell proliferation rate in multiple cell lines by increasing G1 phase length through a c-Myc-dependent mechanism. Global transcriptomic analysis shows that Hhex counter-regulates multiple c-Myc targets involved in cell proliferation and metabolism. Concomitantly, Hhex expression leads to reduced cell size, lower levels of cellular RNA, downregulation of metabolism-related genes, decreased sensitivity to methotrexate and severe reduction in the ability to form tumours in nude mouse xenografts, all indicative of decreased c-Myc activity. Our data suggest that Hhex is a novel regulator of c-Myc function that limits c-Myc activity in transformed cells.

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