MLL5 Orchestrates a Cancer Self-Renewal State by Repressing the Histone Variant H3.3 and Globally Reorganizing Chromatin


Mutations in the histone 3 variant H3.3 have been identified in one-third of pediatric glioblastomas (GBMs), but not in adult tumours. Here we show that H3.3 is a dynamic determinant of functional properties in adult GBM. H3.3 is repressed by mixed-lineage leukemia 5 (MLL5) in self-renewing GBM cells. MLL5 is a global epigenetic repressor that orchestrates reorganization of chromatin structure by punctuating chromosomes with foci of compacted chromatin, favouring tumorigenic and self-renewing properties. Conversely, H3.3 antagonizes self-renewal and promotes differentiation. We exploited these epigenetic states to rationally identify two small molecules that effectively curb cancer stem cell properties in a preclinical model. Our work uncovers a role for MLL5 and H3.3 in maintaining self-renewal hierarchies in adult GBM.

PMID: 26626085

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