EHMT2 promotes the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma by epigenetically silencing APC expression

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Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide, alone accounts for over half (466,100) of new cancer cases and 422,100 deaths based on the average year incidence rates of 2009 to 2011 in China. Due to unclear and complex underlying mechanisms for HCC development, effective therapy for HCC is still unavailable. The Wnt–β-catenin pathway is a critical contributor of HCC pathogenesis: 40–70% of HCCs from patients harbor the nuclear accumulation of β-catenin protein. However, the mechanisms for β-catenin activation are not fully understood. Methods: The deletion of EHMT2 in Hep3B and Huh1 cells was achieved by transiently transfecting cells with pX459 plasmids, which carry EHMT2 specific small guide RNA (sgRNA) sequences for Cas9 protein. All experiments were performed in triplicate and repeated more than three times. Results: In the present study, we observed that EHMT2 (but not EHMT1) mRNA and protein levels were significantly elevated in HCC compared with normal controls. Next, the results of Ki67 staining, as well as MTT, soft-agar and xenograft assays, in wild-type and EHMT2−/− Hep3B and Huh1 cancer stem cells collectively revealed that the elevation of EHMT2 expression is required for the tumorigenesis of HCC. Meanwhile, we found that elevated EHMT2 expression contributes to the activation of Wnt–β-catenin signaling: deletion of EHMT2 in Hep3B or Huh1 cells promoted the cytoplasmic localization of β-catenin and restrained the expression of Wnt–β-catenin signaling targets such as Myc, CCND1, MMP-7, etc. We demonstrated that EMHT2 directly mediates the H3K9me2 methylation of the APC promoter to epigenetically silence its expression. More intriguingly, our findings also showed that UNC0642, a specific inhibitor of EHMT2, exhibits anti-tumorigenesis effects in HCC both in vitro and in vivo, which were largely abolished by deletion of EHMT2 or overexpression of APC in Hep3B and Huh1 cells. Conclusion: Altogether, our observations emphasize that the EHMT2–APC axis is a critical contributor to Wnt–β-catenin pathway activation in HCC, and UNC0642 may be a potential candidate for target drug treatment of HCC.




Guo, Y., Zhao, Y. R., Liu, H., Xin, Y., Yu, J. Z., Zang, Y. J., & Xu, Q. guo. (2021). EHMT2 promotes the pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma by epigenetically silencing APC expression. Cell and Bioscience, 11(1).

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