Chromatin remodeling by the histone methyltransferase EZH2 drives lung pre-malignancy and is a target for cancer prevention

Carmen S. Tellez, Maria A. Picchi, Daniel Juri, Kieu Do, Dhimant H. Desai, Shantu G. Amin, Julie A. Hutt, Piotr T. Filipczak, Steven A. Belinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Trimethylation of lysine 27 and dimethylation of lysine 9 of histone-H3 catalyzed by the histone methyltransferases EZH2 and G9a impede gene transcription in cancer. Our human bronchial epithelial (HBEC) pre-malignancy model studied the role of these histone modifications in transformation. Tobacco carcinogen transformed HBEC lines were characterized for cytosine DNA methylation, transcriptome reprogramming, and the effect of inhibiting EZH2 and G9a on the transformed phenotype. The effects of targeting EZH2 and G9a on lung cancer prevention was assessed in the A/J mouse lung tumor model. Results: Carcinogen exposure induced transformation and DNA methylation of 12–96 genes in the four HBEC transformed (T) lines that was perpetuated in malignant tumors. In contrast, 506 unmethylated genes showed reduced expression in one or more HBECTs with many becoming methylated in tumors. ChIP-on-chip for HBEC2T identified 327 and 143 genes enriched for H3K27me3 and H3K9me2. Treatment of HBEC2T and HBEC13T with DZNep, a lysine methyltransferase inhibitor depleted EZH2, reversed transformation, and induced transcriptional reprogramming. The EZH2 small molecule inhibitor EPZ6438 also affected transformation and expression in HBEC2T, while a G9a inhibitor, UNC0642 was ineffective. Genetic knock down of EZH2 dramatically reduced carcinogen-induced transformation of HBEC2. Only DZNep treatment prevented progression of hyperplasia to adenomas in the NNK mouse lung tumor model through reducing EZH2 and affecting the expression of genes regulating cell growth and invasion. Conclusion: These studies demonstrate a critical role for EZH2 catalyzed histone modifications for premalignancy and its potential as a target for chemoprevention of lung carcinogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalClinical Epigenetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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