Bromodomain and extra-terminal domain (BET) proteins regulate melanocyte differentiation

Epigenetics Chromatin. 2020 Mar 10;13(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s13072-020-00333-z.


Background: Pharmacologic inhibition of bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) proteins is currently being explored as a new therapeutic approach in cancer. Some studies have also implicated BET proteins as regulators of cell identity and differentiation through their interactions with lineage-specific factors. However, the role of BET proteins has not yet been investigated in melanocyte differentiation. Melanocyte inducing transcription factor (MITF) is the master regulator of melanocyte differentiation, essential for pigmentation and melanocyte survival. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that BET proteins regulate melanocyte differentiation through interactions with MITF.

Results: Here we show that chemical inhibition of BET proteins prevents differentiation of unpigmented melanoblasts into pigmented melanocytes and results in de-pigmentation of differentiated melanocytes. BET inhibition also slowed cell growth, without causing cell death, increasing the number of cells in G1. Transcriptional profiling revealed that BET inhibition resulted in decreased expression of pigment-specific genes, including many MITF targets. The expression of pigment-specific genes was also down-regulated in melanoma cells, but to a lesser extent. We found that RNAi depletion of the BET family members, bromodomain-containing protein 4 (BRD4) and bromodomain-containing protein 2 (BRD2) inhibited expression of two melanin synthesis enzymes, TYR and TYRP1. Both BRD4 and BRD2 were detected on melanocyte promoters surrounding MITF-binding sites, were associated with open chromatin structure, and promoted MITF binding to these sites. Furthermore, BRD4 and BRD2 physically interacted with MITF.

Conclusion: These findings indicate a requirement for BET proteins in the regulation of pigmentation and melanocyte differentiation. We identified changes in pigmentation specific gene expression that occur upon BET inhibition in melanoblasts, melanocytes, and melanoma cells.

Keywords: BET; BRD4; Bromodomain and extra-terminal domain; ChIP-Seq; Epigenomics; JQ1; MITF; Melanocyte differentiation; Melanoma; Pigmentation; Systems biology; Transcriptional networks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Melanins / biosynthesis
  • Melanins / genetics
  • Melanocytes / cytology
  • Melanocytes / metabolism*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / genetics
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Binding
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • BRD2 protein, human
  • BRD4 protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • MITF protein, human
  • Melanins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • Transcription Factors
  • Oxidoreductases
  • TYRP1 protein, human
  • Monophenol Monooxygenase