Multiple genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have linked Forkhead Box F1 (FOXF1) to Barrett’s esophagus (BE). Understanding whether FOXF1 is involved in initiation of Barrett’s metaplasia could allow FOXF1 to be used for risk stratification and for therapy. Two-dimensional cell cultures and three-dimensional organoid cultures and well-annotated human biopsies were used to determine the role of FOXF1 in BE pathogenesis. Multiple established esophageal squamous and BE cell lines were tested in gain- and loss-of-function studies. Initiation of a BE-like metaplastic change was evaluated by measuring characteristic cytokeratins and global gene expression profiling and by culturing organoids. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) was evaluated by immunostaining for E-cadherin, vimentin and Snail, and by cell motility assay. Columnar esophageal epithelium of BE patients exhibited higher expression of FOXF1 compared to normal squamous esophageal epithelium of GERD patients (P < 0.001). Acidic bile salts induced nuclear FOXF1 in esophageal squamous cells. FOXF1 overexpression in normal esophageal squamous cells: (a) increased columnar cytokeratins and decreased squamous cytokeratins, (b) converted squamous organoids to glandular organoids, and (c) switched global gene profiles to resemble that of human BE epithelium (P = 2.1685e − 06 for upregulated genes and P = 8.3378e − 09 for downregulated genes). FOXF1 inhibition in BE cell lines led to loss of BE differentiation markers, CK7, and mucin 2. Also, FOXF1 induced EMT and promoted cell motility in normal esophageal squamous epithelial cells. FOXF1-induced genes mapped to pathways such as Cancer, Cellular Assembly and Organization, DNA Replication, Recombination, and Repair. In conclusion, FOXF1 promotes a BE-like columnar phenotype and cell motility in esophageal squamous epithelial cells, which may have a critical role in BE development. FOXF1 should be studied further as a biomarker for BE and as a target for BE treatment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology