Breaking boundaries: Pan BETi disrupt 3D chromatin structure, BD2-selective BETi are strictly epigenetic transcriptional regulators

Biomed Pharmacother. 2022 Aug;152:113230. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2022.113230. Epub 2022 Jun 7.


Background: Bromodomain and extraterminal proteins (BETs) are more than just epigenetic regulators of transcription. Here we highlight a new role for the BET protein BRD4 in the maintenance of higher order chromatin structure at Topologically Associating Domain Boundaries (TADBs). BD2-selective and pan (non-selective) BET inhibitors (BETi) differentially support chromatin structure, selectively affecting transcription and cell viability.

Methods: Using RNA-seq and BRD4 ChIP-seq, the differential effect of BETi treatment on the transcriptome and BRD4 chromatin occupancy of human aortic endothelial cells from diabetic patients (dHAECs) stimulated with TNFα was evaluated. Chromatin decondensation and DNA fragmentation was assessed by immunofluorescence imaging and quantification. Key dHAEC findings were verified in proliferating monocyte-like THP-1 cells using real time-PCR, BRD4 co-immunoprecipitation studies, western blots, proliferation and apoptosis assays.

Findings: We discovered that 1) BRD4 co-localizes with Ying-Yang 1 (YY1) at TADBs, critical chromatin structure complexes proximal to many DNA repair genes. 2) BD2-selective BETi enrich BRD4/YY1 associations, while pan-BETi do not. 3) Failure to support chromatin structures through BRD4/YY1 enrichment inhibits DNA repair gene transcription, which induces DNA damage responses, and causes widespread chromatin decondensation, DNA fragmentation, and apoptosis. 4) BD2-selective BETi maintain high order chromatin structure and cell viability, while reducing deleterious pro-inflammatory transcription.

Interpretation: BRD4 plays a previously unrecognized role at TADBs. BETi differentially impact TADB stability. Our results provide translational insight for the development of BETi as therapeutics for a range of diseases including CVD, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and COVID-19.

Keywords: BET inhibitors; BRD4; Chromatin structure; DNA repair; TAD boundaries; YY1.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Chromatin
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism


  • BRD4 protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromatin
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors