Introduction: Although enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) has been associated with both non-small cell and small-cell lung cancers (SCLCs), current observations suggest different mechanisms of EZH2 activation and overexpression in these lung cancer types. Globally, SCLC kills 200,000 people yearly. New clinical approaches for SCLC treatment are required to improve the poor survival rate. Given the therapeutic potential of EZH2 as a target, we sought to delineate the downstream consequences of EZH2 disruption to identify the cellular mechanisms by which EZH2 promotes tumorigenesis in SCLC.
Methods: We generated cells with stable expression of short hairpin RNA targeting EZH2 and corresponding controls (pLKO.1) and determined the consequences of EZH2 knockdown on the cell cycle and apoptosis by means of propidium iodide staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorting, Western blot, quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction as well as cell viability assessment using methylthiazol tetrazolium assays.
Results: We discovered that EZH2 inhibition (1) increased apoptotic activity by up-regulating the proapoptotic factors Puma and Bad, (2) decreased the fraction of cells in S or G2/M phases, and (3) elevated p21 protein levels, implicating EZH2 in cell death and cell-cycle control in SCLC.
Conclusion: Our findings present evidence for the role of EZH2 in the regulation of cell cycle and apoptosis, providing a biological mechanism to explain the tumorigenicity of EZH2 in SCLC. Our work points to the great potential of EZH2 as a therapeutic target in SCLC.