Abstract

The conserved Musashi (Msi) family of RNA binding proteins are expressed in stem/progenitor and cancer cells, but generally absent from differentiated cells, consistent with a role in cell state regulation. We found that Msi genes are rarely mutated but frequently overexpressed in human cancers, and are associated with an epithelial-luminal cell state. Using ribosome profiling and RNA-seq analysis of genetic mouse models in neuronal and mammary cell types, we found that Msis regulate translation of genes implicated in epithelial cell biology and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and promote an epithelial splicing pattern. Overexpression of Msi proteins inhibited translation of genes required for EMT, including Jagged1, and repressed EMT in cell culture and in mammary gland in vivo, while knockdown in epithelial cancer cells promoted loss of epithelial identity. Our results show that mammalian Msi proteins contribute to an epithelial gene expression program in neural and mammary cell types.