Gain-of-function mutation of chromatin regulators as a tumorigenic mechanism and an opportunity for therapeutic intervention

Curr Opin Oncol. 2015 Jan;27(1):57-63. doi: 10.1097/CCO.0000000000000151.


Purpose of review: Somatic gain-of-function mutations that drive cancer pathogenesis are well established opportunities for therapeutic intervention, as demonstrated by the clinical efficacy of kinase inhibitors in kinase-mutant malignancies. Here, we discuss the recently discovered gain-of-function mutations in chromatin-regulatory machineries that promote the pathogenesis of cancer. The current understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms and the therapeutic potential for direct chemical inhibition will be reviewed.

Recent findings: Point mutations that increase the catalytic activity of EZH2 and NSD2 histone methyltransferases are found in distinct subsets of B-cell neoplasms, which promote cell transformation by elevating the global level of H3K27 tri-methylation or H3K36 di-methylation, respectively. In addition, mutations in histone H3 have been identified in certain pediatric cancers which cause reprogramming of H3K27 and H3K36 methylation by interfering with the histone methyltransferase activity. Finally, chromosomal translocations involving chromatin regulator genes can lead to the formation of fusion oncoproteins that directly modify chromatin as their mechanism of action.

Summary: Although relatively rare in aggregate, gain-of-function mutations in chromatin regulators represent compelling therapeutic targets in genetically defined subsets of cancer patients. However, a broader clinical impact for epigenetic therapies in oncology will require an increased understanding of how nonmutated chromatin regulators function as cancer-specific dependencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genes, Regulator*
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / metabolism
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Histone Methyltransferases
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase