Research ArticleCancer

Loss of tumor suppressor KDM6A amplifies PRC2-regulated transcriptional repression in bladder cancer and can be targeted through inhibition of EZH2

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Science Translational Medicine  22 Feb 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 378, eaai8312
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aai8312

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Cancer’s loss is targeted therapy’s gain

A demethylating protein called KDM6A is a known tumor suppressor, and its function is often lost in bladder cancer as a result of inactivating mutations. There is no way to directly target the loss of the tumor suppressor, but Ler et al. found another strategy to effectively treat tumors with this mutation. The authors demonstrated that KDM6A-deficient cells are dependent on the function of another protein, called EZH2. Small-molecule inhibitors of EZH2 were effective against KDM6A-null bladder cancer in multiple mouse models, paving the way for further development of these drugs.


Trithorax-like group complex containing KDM6A acts antagonistically to Polycomb-repressive complex 2 (PRC2) containing EZH2 in maintaining the dynamics of the repression and activation of gene expression through H3K27 methylation. In urothelial bladder carcinoma, KDM6A (a H3K27 demethylase) is frequently mutated, but its functional consequences and therapeutic targetability remain unknown. About 70% of KDM6A mutations resulted in a total loss of expression and a consequent loss of demethylase function in this cancer type. Further transcriptome analysis found multiple deregulated pathways, especially PRC2/EZH2, in KDM6A-mutated urothelial bladder carcinoma. Chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing analysis revealed enrichment of H3K27me3 at specific loci in KDM6A-null cells, including PRC2/EZH2 and their downstream targets. Consequently, we targeted EZH2 (an H3K27 methylase) and demonstrated that KDM6A-null urothelial bladder carcinoma cell lines were sensitive to EZH2 inhibition. Loss- and gain-of-function assays confirmed that cells with loss of KDM6A are vulnerable to EZH2. IGFBP3, a direct KDM6A/EZH2/H3K27me3 target, was up-regulated by EZH2 inhibition and contributed to the observed EZH2-dependent growth suppression in KDM6A-null cell lines. EZH2 inhibition delayed tumor onset in KDM6A-null cells and caused regression of KDM6A-null bladder tumors in both patient-derived and cell line xenograft models. In summary, our study demonstrates that inactivating mutations of KDM6A, which are common in urothelial bladder carcinoma, are potentially targetable by inhibiting EZH2.

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