Mutations in components of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway drive colorectal cancer (CRC), in part, by deregulating expression of genes controlled by the T-cell factor (TCF) family of transcription factors. TCFs contain a conserved DNA binding domain that mediates association with TCF binding elements (TBEs) within Wnt-responsive DNA elements (WREs). Intestinal stem cell marker, leucine-rich-repeat containing G-protein-coupled receptor 5 (LGR5), is a Wnt target gene that has been implicated in CRC stem cell plasticity. However, the WREs at the LGR5 gene locus and how TCF factors directly regulate LGR5 gene expression in CRC have not been fully defined. Here, we report that TCF family member, TCF7L1, plays a significant role in regulating LGR5 expression in CRC cells. We demonstrate that TCF7L1 binds to a novel promoter-proximal WRE through association with a consensus TBE at the LGR5 locus to repress LGR5 expression. Using CRISPR activation and interference (CRISPRa/i) technologies to direct epigenetic modulation, we demonstrate that this WRE is a critical regulator of LGR5 expression and spheroid formation capacity of CRC cells. Furthermore, we found that restoring LGR5 expression rescues the TCF7L1-mediated reduction in spheroid formation efficiency. These results demonstrate a role for TCF7L1 in repressing LGR5 gene expression to govern the spheroid formation potential of CRC cells.
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