MUC1-C activates BMI1 in human cancer cells
B-cell-specific Moloney murine leukemia virus integration site 1 (BMI1) is a component of the polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) complex that is overexpressed in breast and other cancers, and promotes self-renewal of cancer stem-like cells. The oncogenic mucin 1 (MUC1) C-terminal (MUC1-C) subunit is similarly overexpressed in human carcinoma cells and has been linked to their self-renewal. There is no known relationship between MUC1-C and BMI1 in cancer. The present studies demonstrate that MUC1-C drives BMI1 transcription by a MYC-dependent mechanism in breast and other cancer cells. In addition, we show that MUC1-C blocks miR-200c-mediated downregulation of BMI1 expression. The functional significance of this MUC1-C → BMI1 pathway is supported by the demonstration that targeting MUC1-C suppresses BMI1-induced ubiquitylation of H2A and thereby derepresses homeobox HOXC5 and HOXC13 gene expression. Notably, our results further show that MUC1-C binds directly to BMI1 and promotes occupancy of BMI1 on the CDKN2A promoter. In concert with BMI1-induced repression of the p16INK4a tumor suppressor, we found that targeting MUC1-C is associated with induction of p16INK4a expression. In support of these results, analysis of three gene expresssion data sets demonstrated highly significant correlations between MUC1-C and BMI1 in breast cancers. These findings uncover a previously unrecognized role for MUC1-C in driving BMI1 expression and in directly interacting with this stem cell factor, linking MUC1-C with function of the PRC1 in epigenetic gene silencing.