Polycomb repressive complexes (PRCs) are a heterogenous collection of dozens, if not hundreds, of protein complexes composed of various combinations of subunits. PRCs are transcriptional repressors important for cell-type specificity during development, and as such, are commonly mis-regulated in cancer. PRCs are broadly characterized as PRC1 with histone ubiquitin ligase activity, or PRC2 with histone methyltransferase activity; however, the mechanism by which individual PRCs, particularly the highly diverse set of PRC1s, alter gene expression has not always been clear. Here we review the current understanding of how PRCs act, both individually and together, to establish and maintain gene repression, the biochemical contribution of individual PRC subunits, the mis-regulation of PRC function in different cancers, and the current strategies for modulating PRC activity. Increased mechanistic understanding of PRC function, as well as cancer-specific roles for individual PRC subunits, will uncover better targets and strategies for cancer therapies.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of NAR Cancer.