Background: SYT-SSX is the oncogene associated with synovial sarcoma (SS), a stem cell disease. SYT-SSX is thought to be responsible for sarcoma initiation and development. It interacts with components of Polycomb and SWI/SNF complexes, the two epigenetic controllers that maintain the heritable status of differentiation-specific genes in the stem/progenitor cell. Through these associations SYT-SSX is thought to alter gene expression programs by epigenetic mechanisms. Recently, we reported that SYT-SSX2 reprograms mesenchymal stem cells and myoblasts by dictating their commitment to the neural lineage while disrupting their normal differentiation. This reprogramming was due to the direct occupancy of proneural genes by the SYT-SSX2 nuclear complex. To gain a clear understanding of SYT-SSX2 control of gene expression networks, we conducted a thorough genome-wide analysis to determine the mechanism of its recruitment and identify signature sets of epigenetic markers that would predict its targeting and transcriptional activity.
Results: SYT-SSX2 was recruited to distinct loci across all chromosomes, and an overwhelming number of Polycomb-modified sites enriched with the trimethylated histone H3 on lysine 27 (H3K27me3) formed the main recruiting module for SYT-SSX2. Not all SYT-SSX2/H3K27me3-occupied genes had altered expression, denoting the requirement for additional signals upon oncogene binding. Differential binding and epigenetic patterns distinguished upregulated and downregulated genes. Most activated genes had SYT-SSX2 sites enriched with H3K27me3 within their body or near their transcription start site (TSS) whereas a majority of downregulated genes were characterized by SYT-SSX2/H3K27me3-rich regions at long-range, or by modifications associated with transcription activation within the gene body or near the TSS. Hierarchical and functional clustering identified H3K27me3 as the dominant epigenetic marker associated with SYT-SSX2 binding and gene expression. Notably, this analysis revealed a cluster of upregulated neuronal genes densely covered by H3K27me3, consistent with programming toward the neural lineage by SYT-SSX2 observed previously.
Conclusions: The data analysis revealed that Polycomb complexes or their modified chromatin and their stably silenced differentiation programs seem to be the main target for SYT-SSX2, suggesting that their perturbation is at the center of tumorigenesis driven by the oncogene. Further research into this mechanism is crucial to the full understanding of SS biology.