Loss of methylation marks could allow expression of nearby genes. To confirm this, the group employed a Drosophila staining trick that allows experimenters to visualize how repressed genes are affected in entire tissues. The expression of KDM3B demethylase derepressed the gene expression in tissues such as salivary glands, just like the expression of the H3K9 mutant. This supports the idea that K-to-M mutations recruit a demethylase (like KDM3B) to demethylate chromatin on the K9 residue of H3.3 proteins in the neighborhood, where it likely uncoils chromatin to allow activation of genes that should be silenced.
This outcome could cause cancer in numerous ways. "One possibility might be that oncogenes that are usually silenced by methylation of residue 9 might be derepressed in the presence of the mutation," says Hans-Martin Herz, Ph.D., a co-first author of the paper. But Herz is cautious in interpreting these findings, simply because, unlike the K27 mutations, mutations at residue K9 are not yet reported to be associated with cancer.
Intriguingly, other researchers recently reported a different K-to-M mutation (at residue 36 of histone H3.3) in chondroblastoma, a bone cancer sub-type. Why K-to-M mutations are so specific to a particular cancer is unknown, but Shilatifard says there can be little doubt that they play a central rather than a bystander role in tumorigenesis. "Uncharacterized K-to-M mutations may occur in other cancers," he says. "Our work allows us to identify the molecular players involved in chromatin signaling in Drosophila and then apply those findings to human cells."
|Contact: Kim Bland, Ph.D.|
Stowers Institute for Medical Research