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Histone Methylases and Demethylases Regulating Antagonistic Methyl Marks: Changes Occurring in Cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number1113
Issue number7
Early online date25 Mar 2022
E-pub ahead of print25 Mar 2022
Published1 Apr 2022

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Publisher Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

King's Authors


Epigenetic regulation of gene expression is crucial to the determination of cell fate in development and differentiation, and the Polycomb (PcG) and Trithorax (TrxG) groups of proteins, acting antagonistically as complexes, play a major role in this regulation. Although originally identified in Drosophila, these complexes are conserved in evolution and the components are well defined in mammals. Each complex contains a protein with methylase activity (KMT), which can add methyl groups to a specific lysine in histone tails, histone 3 lysine 27 (H3K27), by PcG complexes, and H3K4 and H3K36 by TrxG complexes, creating transcriptionally repressive or active marks, respectively. Histone demethylases (KDMs), identified later, added a new dimension to histone methylation, and mutations or changes in levels of expression are seen in both methylases and demethylases and in components of the PcG and TrX complexes across a range of cancers. In this review, we focus on both methylases and demethylases governing the methylation state of the suppressive and active marks and consider their action and interaction in normal tissues and in cancer. A picture is emerging which indicates that the changes which occur in cancer during methylation of histone lysines can lead to repression of genes, including tumour suppressor genes, or to the activation of oncogenes. Methylases or demethylases, which are themselves tumour suppressors, are highly mutated. Novel targets for cancer therapy have been identified and a methylase (KMT6A/EZH2), which produces the repressive H3K27me3 mark, and a demethylase (KDM1A/LSD1), which demethylates the active H3K4me2 mark, are now under clinical evaluation.

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