Stress-inducible transcription factors play a pivotal role in cellular adaptation to environment to maintain homeostasis and integrity of the genome. Activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3) is induced by a variety of stress and inflammatory conditions and is over-expressed in many kinds of cancer cells. However, molecular mechanisms underlying pleiotropic functions of ATF3 have remained elusive. Here we employed systems analysis to identify genome-wide targets of ATF3 that is either induced by an alkylating agent methyl methanesulfonate (MMS) or over-expressed in a prostate tumour cell line LNCaP. We show that stress-induced and cancer-associated ATF3 is recruited to 5,984 and 1,423 targets, respectively, in the human genome, 89% of which are common. Notably, ATF3 targets are highly enriched for not only ATF/CRE motifs but also binding sites of several other stress-inducible transcription factors indicating an extensive network of stress response factors in transcriptional regulation of target genes. Further analysis of effects of ATF3 knockdown on these targets revealed that stress-induced ATF3 regulates genes in metabolic pathways, cell cycle, apoptosis, cell adhesion, and signalling including insulin, p53, Wnt, and VEGF pathways. Cancer-associated ATF3 is involved in regulation of distinct sets of genes in processes such as calcium signalling, Wnt, p53 and diabetes pathways. Notably, stress-induced ATF3 binds to 40% of p53 targets and activates pro-apoptotic genes such as TNFRSF10B/DR5 and BBC3/PUMA. Cancer-associated ATF3, by contrast, represses these pro-apoptotic genes in addition to CDKN1A/p21. Taken together, our data reveal an extensive network of stress-inducible transcription factors and demonstrate that ATF3 has opposing, cell context-dependent effects on p53 target genes in DNA damage response and cancer development.
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