Merkel Cell Carcinoma Sensitivity to EZH2 Inhibition Is Mediated by SIX1 Derepression

J Invest Dermatol. 2022 Oct;142(10):2783-2792.e15. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2022.03.008. Epub 2022 Mar 22.


Polycomb repressive complex 2 has a critical role in the maintenance of bivalent promoters and is often perturbed in cancer, including neuroendocrine tumors. In this study, we investigated the susceptibility of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, to inhibitors of the Polycomb repressive complex 2 catalytic subunit EZH2. We show that a subset of MCC cell lines is sensitive to EZH2 inhibitor-induced cell viability loss. We find that inhibitor treatment of susceptible cells derepresses the Polycomb repressive complex 2 target SIX1, a transcription factor in the PAX-SIX-EYA-DACH network normally involved in inner ear hair cell development, and that PAX-SIX-EYA-DACH network transcription factors are critical contributors to EZH2 inhibitor-induced MCC cell viability loss. Furthermore, we show the EZH2 inhibitor tazemetostat slows the growth of MCC xenografts and derepresses SIX1 and its downstream inner ear transcriptional target MYO6 in vivo. We propose that EZH2 inhibition in MCC leads to SIX1 derepression with dysregulation of hearing-related transcriptional programs and growth inhibition. This study provides evidence that MCC tumors may be specifically susceptible to EZH2 inhibitors, while giving mechanistic insight into the transcriptional programs these inhibitors perturb in MCC, and potentially in other neuroendocrine cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / genetics
  • Cyclohexylamines
  • Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 Protein / genetics
  • Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 Protein / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms* / pathology


  • Cyclohexylamines
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • SIX1 protein, human
  • 1,2-cyclohexanediamine
  • EZH2 protein, human
  • Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 Protein
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2