Wolf-Hisrchhorn Syndrome Candidate 1-Like 1 (WHSC1L1) is a protein lysine methyltransferase that is recurrently amplified (8p11.23) in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). In this study, we investigated the oncogenic role of WHSC1L1 in SCCHN. Using immunohistochemistry on tissue microarrays of patients with locoregionally advanced SCCHN, we found that WHSC1L1 is significantly overexpressed in patients with SCCHN, and is associated with poor grade and heavy smoking history. Knockdown of WHSC1L1 expression resulted in significant growth suppression and reduction of H3K36 dimethylation (H3K36me2) in SCCHN cells. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis showed that WHSC1L1 and H3K36me2 are enriched in the gene bodies of the cell cycle-related genes CDC6 and CDK2, implying that WHSC1L1 directly regulates the transcription of these genes. According to the importance of CDC6 and CDK2 for G1 to S transition, WHSC1L1 knockdown induced strong G0/G1 arrest which was rescued by introduction of wild-type WHSC1L1 but not by that of enzyme-inactive WHSC1L1. Our results imply that WHSC1L1 and its product H3K36me2 are essential for the transition from G1 to S phase in SCCHN cells and that WHSC1L1 could serve as a rational target for anticancer drug development for patients with head and neck cancer.
Keywords: CDC6; CDK2; H3K36me2; WHSC1L1; squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.