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The differentiated functions of the human airway epithelium are coordinated by a complex network of transcription factors. These include the pioneer factors Forkhead box A1 and A2 (FOXA1 and FOXA2), which are well studied in several tissues, but their role in airway epithelial cells is poorly characterized. Here, we define the cistrome of FOXA1 and FOXA2 in primary human bronchial epithelial (HBE) cells by chromatin immunoprecipitation with deep-sequencing (ChIP-seq). Next, siRNA-mediated depletion of each factor is used to investigate their transcriptome by RNA-seq. We found that, as predicted from their DNA-binding motifs, genome-wide occupancy of the two factors showed substantial overlap; however, their global impact on gene expression differed. FOXA1 is an abundant transcript in HBE cells, while FOXA2 is expressed at low levels, and both these factors likely exhibit autoregulation and cross-regulation. FOXA1 regulated loci are involved in cell adhesion and the maintenance of epithelial cell identity, particularly through repression of genes associated with epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). FOXA1 also directly targets other transcription factors with a known role in the airway epithelium such as SAM-pointed domain-containing Ets-like factor (SPDEF). The intersection of the cistrome and transcriptome for FOXA1 revealed enrichment of genes involved in epithelial development and tissue morphogenesis. Moreover, depletion of FOXA1 was shown to reduce the transepithelial resistance of HBE cells, confirming the role of this factor in maintaining epithelial barrier integrity.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol

Publication Date





L126 - L136


FOXA1, human bronchial epithelial cells, transcriptional network