Homeodomain-containing proteins are transcription factors that regulate the co-ordinated expression of multiple genes involved in development, differentiation and malignant transformation. In an attempt to characterize expressed homeobox (HOX) genes in breast cancer cells, we cloned two distinct HOXC6 transcripts from an MCF7 cDNA library. Interestingly, one of them represents a new HOXC6 mRNA encoding a homeodomain-containing protein harbouring a unique N-terminal sequence. Moreover we demonstrate that this HOXC6 transcript is less abundant in human breast cancer cells than in non-tumorigenic cell lines, is detected in breast carcinomas and adjacent tissues and is expressed in a variety of human tumours. In addition, transient co-transfection experiments illustrated that both HOXC6 transcripts encode gene products that repress transcription from a HOX binding sequence in MDA-MB231 cells and co-operate with other HOX gene products such as HOXB7 on their target genes. Taken together, our results suggest that HOXC6 proteins might contribute to the breast cell phenotype through co-operative interactions with other HOX-derived proteins and repression of their target genes.

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