The Malignant Brain Tumor (MBT) domain is a "chromatin reader", a protein module that binds to post-translational modifications on histone tails that are thought to affect a variety of chromatin processes, including transcription. More specifically, MBT domains recognize mono- and di-methylated lysines at a number of different positions on histone H3 and H4 tails. Three Drosophila proteins, SCM, L(3)MBT and SFMBT contain multiple adjacent MBT repeats and have critical roles in development, maintenance of cell identity, and tumor suppression. Although they function in different pathways, these proteins all localize to chromatin in vivo and repress transcription by a currently unknown molecular mechanism that requires the MBT domains. The human genome contains several homologues of these MBT proteins, some of which have been linked to important gene regulatory pathways, such as E2F/Rb- and Polycomb-mediated repression, and to the insurgence of certain neurological tumors. Here, we review the genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology of MBT proteins and their role in development and disease.
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