Enhancer demethylation in leukemia has been shown to lead to overexpression of genes which promote cancer characteristics. The vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) enhancer, located 157 Kb downstream of its promoter, is demethylated in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). VEGFA has several alternative splicing isoforms with different roles in cancer progression. Since transcription and splicing are coupled, we wondered whether VEGFA enhancer activity can also regulate the gene's alternative splicing to contribute to the pathology of CML. Our results show that mutating the VEGFA +157 enhancer promotes exclusion of exons 6a and 7 and activating the enhancer by tethering a chromatin activator has the opposite effect. In line with these results, CML patients present with high expression of +157 eRNA and inclusion of VEGFA exons 6a and 7. In addition, our results show that the positive regulator of RNAPII transcription elongation, CCNT2, binds VEGFA's promoter and enhancer, and its silencing promotes exclusion of exons 6a and 7 as it slows down RNAPII elongation rate. Thus our results suggest that VEGFA's +157 enhancer regulates its alternative splicing by increasing RNAPII elongation rate via CCNT2. Our work demonstrates for the first time a connection between an endogenous enhancer and alternative splicing regulation of its target gene.
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© 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of NAR Cancer.