Enzymes, such as histone methyltransferases and demethylases, histone acetyltransferases and deacetylases, and DNA methyltransferases are known as epigenetic modifiers that are often implicated in tumorigenesis and disease. One of the best-studied chromatin-based mechanism is X chromosome inactivation (XCI), a process that establishes facultative heterochromatin on only one X chromosome in females and establishes the right dosage of gene expression. The specificity factor for this process is the long non-coding RNA Xinactivespecifictranscript (Xist), which is upregulated from one X chromosome in female cells. Subsequently, Xist is bound by the corepressor SHARP/SPEN, recruiting and/or activating histone deacetylases (HDACs), leading to the loss of active chromatin marks such as H3K27ac. In addition, polycomb complexes PRC1 and PRC2 establish wide-spread accumulation of H3K27me3 and H2AK119ub1 chromatin marks. The lack of active marks and establishment of repressive marks set the stage for DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) to stably silence the X chromosome. Here, we will review the recent advances in understanding the molecular mechanisms of how heterochromatin formation is established and put this into the context of carcinogenesis and disease.
Keywords: DNA methylation; HDAC; NCoR; SHARP; Spen; XCI; polycomb; repression; silencing; transcription.