Polycomb group (PcG) complexes regulate cellular identity through epigenetic programming of chromatin. Here, we show that SSX2, a germline-specific protein ectopically expressed in melanoma and other types of human cancers, is a chromatin-associated protein that antagonizes BMI1 and EZH2 PcG body formation and derepresses PcG target genes. SSX2 further negatively regulates the level of the PcG-associated histone mark H3K27me3 in melanoma cells, and there is a clear inverse correlation between SSX2/3 expression and H3K27me3 in spermatogenesis. However, SSX2 does not affect the overall composition and stability of PcG complexes, and there is no direct concordance between SSX2 and BMI1/H3K27me3 presence at regulated genes. This suggests that SSX2 antagonizes PcG function through an indirect mechanism, such as modulation of chromatin structure. SSX2 binds double-stranded DNA in a sequence non-specific manner in agreement with the observed widespread association with chromatin. Our results implicate SSX2 in regulation of chromatin structure and function.
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