Expression and functionality of histone H2A variants in cancer

Oncotarget. 2014 Jun 15;5(11):3428-43. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.2007.


Regulation of gene expression includes the replacement of canonical histones for non-allelic histone variants, as well as their multiple targeting by postranslational modifications. H2A variants are highly conserved between species suggesting they execute important functions that cannot be accomplished by canonical histones. Altered expression of many H2A variants is associated to cancer. MacroH2A variants are enriched in heterocromatic foci and necessary for chromatin condensation. MacroH2A1.1 and macroH2A1.2 are two mutually exclusive isoforms. MacroH2A1.1 and macroH2A2 inhibit proliferation and are associated with better cancer prognosis; while macroH2A1.2 is associated to cancer progression. H2AX variant functions as a sensor of DNA damage and defines the cellular response towards DNA repair or apoptosis; therefore, screening approaches and therapeutic options targeting H2AX have been proposed. H2A.Z is enriched in euchromatin, acting as a proto-oncogene with established roles in hormone responsive cancers and overexpressed in endocrine-resistant disease. Other H2A family members have also been found altered in cancer, but their function remains unknown. Substantial progress has been made to understand histone H2A variants, their contribution to normal cellular function and to cancer development and progression. Yet, implementation of high resolution mass spectrometry is needed to further our knowledge on highly homologous H2A variants expression and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression
  • Histones / biosynthesis
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas


  • Histones
  • MAS1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • macroH2A histone