Mutations in the gene encoding the KMT2D (or MLL2) methyltransferase are highly recurrent and occur early during tumorigenesis in diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and follicular lymphoma (FL). However, the functional consequences of these mutations and their role in lymphomagenesis are unknown. Here we show that FL- and DLBCL-associated KMT2D mutations impair KMT2D enzymatic activity, leading to diminished global H3K4 methylation in germinal-center (GC) B cells and DLBCL cells. Conditional deletion of Kmt2d early during B cell development, but not after initiation of the GC reaction, results in an increase in GC B cells and enhances B cell proliferation in mice. Moreover, genetic ablation of Kmt2d in mice overexpressing Bcl2 increases the incidence of GC-derived lymphomas resembling human tumors. These findings suggest that KMT2D acts as a tumor suppressor gene whose early loss facilitates lymphomagenesis by remodeling the epigenetic landscape of the cancer precursor cells. Eradication of KMT2D-deficient cells may thus represent a rational therapeutic approach for targeting early tumorigenic events.
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