Landmark discoveries made nearly two decades ago identified known transcriptional regulators as histone lysine methyltransferases. Since then, the field of lysine methylation signaling has been dominated by studies of how this small chemical posttranslational modification regulates gene expression and other chromatin-based processes. However, recent advances in mass-spectrometry-based proteomics have revealed that histones are just a subset of the thousands of eukaryotic proteins marked by lysine methylation. As the writers, erasers, and readers of histone lysine methylation are emerging as a promising therapeutic target class for cancer and other diseases, a key challenge for the field is to define the full spectrum of activities for these proteins. Here we summarize recent discoveries implicating non-histone lysine methylation as a major regulator of diverse cellular processes. We further discuss recent technological innovations that are enabling the expanded study of lysine methylation signaling. Collectively, these findings are shaping our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of non-histone protein regulation through this dynamic and multi-functional posttranslational modification.
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