The histone H3.3K36M mutation reprograms the epigenome of chondroblastomas

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Science  10 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6291, pp. 1344-1348
DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0065

A cancer-promoting histone protein

Mutations in the chromatin protein histone H3 are found in a number of pediatric cancers. The lysine-36–to–methionine (K36M) “oncohistone” mutation is seen in almost all chondroblastomas. Fang et al. show that the K36M mutant histones inhibit the normal methylation of this same residue in wild-type H3 histones. They do so by interfering with the enzymes that normally methylate this residue. The altered chromatin methylation patterns alter the expression of known cancer-related genes and impart cancer-related characteristics to the chondrocyte cells.

Science, this issue p. 1344


More than 90% of chondroblastomas contain a heterozygous mutation replacing lysine-36 with methionine-36 (K36M) in the histone H3 variant H3.3. Here we show that H3K36 methylation is reduced globally in human chondroblastomas and in chondrocytes harboring the same genetic mutation, due to inhibition of at least two H3K36 methyltransferases, MMSET and SETD2, by the H3.3K36M mutant proteins. Genes with altered expression as well as H3K36 di- and trimethylation in H3.3K36M cells are enriched in cancer pathways. In addition, H3.3K36M chondrocytes exhibit several hallmarks of cancer cells, including increased ability to form colonies, resistance to apoptosis, and defects in differentiation. Thus, H3.3K36M proteins reprogram the H3K36 methylation landscape and contribute to tumorigenesis, in part through altering the expression of cancer-associated genes.

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