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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A co-ordinated interaction between CTCF and ER in breast cancer cells

Caryn S Ross-Innes12, Gordon D Brown1 and Jason S Carroll12*

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Research UK, Cambridge Research Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre, Robinson Way, Cambridge, CB2 0RE, UK

2 Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0RE, UK

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:593  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-593

Published: 5 December 2011



CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) is a conserved zinc finger transcription factor that is involved in both intra- and interchromasomal looping. Recent research has shown a role for CTCF in estrogen receptor (ER) biology, at some individual loci, but a multi-context global analysis of CTCF binding and transcription activity is lacking.


We now map CTCF binding genome wide in breast cancer cells and find that CTCF binding is unchanged in response to estrogen or tamoxifen treatment. We find a small but reproducible set of CTCF binding events that overlap with both the nuclear receptor, estrogen receptor, and the forkhead protein FOXA1. These overlapping binding events are likely functional as they are biased towards estrogen-regulated genes, compared to regions lacking either CTCF or ER binding. In addition we identify cell-line specific CTCF binding events. These binding events are more likely to be associated with cell-line specific ER binding events and are also more likely to be adjacent to genes that are expressed in that particular cell line.


The evolving role for CTCF in ER biology is complex, but is likely to be multifunctional and possibly influenced by the specific genomic locus. Our data suggest a positive, pro-transcriptional role for CTCF in ER-mediated gene expression in breast cancer cells. CTCF not only provides boundaries for accessible and 'protected' transcriptional blocks, but may also influence the actual binding of ER to the chromatin, thereby modulating the estrogen-mediated gene expression changes observed in breast cancer cells.