Target gene-independent functions of MYC oncoproteins

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2020 May;21(5):255-267. doi: 10.1038/s41580-020-0215-2. Epub 2020 Feb 18.


Oncoproteins of the MYC family are major drivers of human tumorigenesis. Since a large body of evidence indicates that MYC proteins are transcription factors, studying their function has focused on the biology of their target genes. Detailed studies of MYC-dependent changes in RNA levels have provided contrasting models of the oncogenic activity of MYC proteins through either enhancing or repressing the expression of specific target genes, or as global amplifiers of transcription. In this Review, we first summarize the biochemistry of MYC proteins and what is known (or is unclear) about the MYC target genes. We then discuss recent progress in defining the interactomes of MYC and MYCN and how this information affects central concepts of MYC biology, focusing on mechanisms by which MYC proteins modulate transcription. MYC proteins promote transcription termination upon stalling of RNA polymerase II, and we propose that this mechanism enhances the stress resilience of basal transcription. Furthermore, MYC proteins coordinate transcription elongation with DNA replication and cell cycle progression. Finally, we argue that the mechanism by which MYC proteins regulate the transcription machinery is likely to promote tumorigenesis independently of global or relative changes in the expression of their target genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • Humans
  • N-Myc Proto-Oncogene Protein / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • MYC protein, human
  • MYCN protein, human
  • N-Myc Proto-Oncogene Protein
  • Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Transcription Factors