SET domain-containing proteins belong to a group of enzymes named after a common domain that utilizes the cofactor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) to achieve methylation of its substrates. Many SET domain-containing proteins have been shown to display catalytic activity towards particular lysine residues on histones, but emerging evidence also indicates that various non-histone proteins are specifically targeted by this clade of enzymes. Here, we summarize the most recent findings on the biological functions of the major families of SET domain-containing proteins catalyzing the methylation of histones 3 on lysines 4, 9, 27, and 36 (H3K4, H3K9, H3K27, and H3K36) and histone 4 on lysine 20 (H4K20) as well as candidates that have been reported to regulate non-histone substrates.
SET domain-containing proteins; histone lysine methylation; non-histone substrates
The small nuclear RNA (snRNA) genes have been widely used as a model system for understanding transcriptional regulation due to the unique aspects of their promoter structure, selectivity for either RNA Polymerase (Pol) II or III, and because of their unique mechanism of termination that is tightly linked with the promoter. Recently, we identified the Little Elongation Complex (LEC) in Drosophila that is required for the expression of Pol II-transcribed snRNA genes. Here, using Drosophila and mammalian systems, we provide genetic and molecular evidence that LEC functions in at least two phases of snRNA transcription: an initiation step requiring the ICE1 subunit, and an elongation step requiring ELL.
Histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) can be mono-, di-, and trimethylated by members of the COMPASS (complex of proteins associated with Set1) family from Saccharomyces cerevisiae to humans, and these modifications can be found at distinct regions of the genome. Monomethylation of histone H3K4 (H3K4me1) is relatively more enriched at metazoan enhancer regions compared to trimethylated histone H3K4 (H3K4me3), which is enriched at transcription start sites in all eukaryotes. Our recent studies of Drosophila melanogaster demonstrated that the Trithorax-related (Trr) branch of the COMPASS family regulates enhancer activity and is responsible for the implementation of H3K4me1 at these regions. There are six COMPASS family members in mammals, two of which, MLL3 (GeneID 58508) and MLL4 (GeneID 8085), are most closely related to Drosophila Trr. Here, we use chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) of this class of COMPASS family members in both human HCT116 cells and mouse embryonic stem cells and find that MLL4 is preferentially found at enhancer regions. MLL3 and MLL4 are frequently mutated in cancer, and indeed, the widely used HCT116 cancer cell line contains inactivating mutations in the MLL3 gene. Using HCT116 cells in which MLL4 has also been knocked out, we demonstrate that MLL3 and MLL4 are major regulators of H3K4me1 in these cells, with the greatest loss of monomethylation at enhancer regions. Moreover, we find a redundant role between Mll3 (GeneID 231051) and Mll4 (GeneID 381022) in enhancer H3K4 monomethylation in mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells. These findings suggest that mammalian MLL3 and MLL4 function in the regulation of enhancer activity and that mutations of MLL3 and MLL4 that are found in cancers could exert their properties through malfunction of these Trr/MLL3/MLL4-specific (Trrific) enhancers.
The Saccharomyces cerevisiae Set1/COMPASS was the first histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) methylase identified over ten years ago. Since then, it has been demonstrated that Set1/COMPASS and its enzymatic product, H3K4 methylation, is highly conserved across the evolutionary tree. Although there is only one COMPASS in yeast, human cells bear at least six COMPASS family members each capable of methylating H3K4 with non-redundant functions. In yeast, the monoubiquitination of histone H2B by Rad6/Bre1 is required for proper H3K4 and H3K79 trimethylations. This histone crosstalk and its machinery are also highly conserved from yeast to human. In this review, the process of histone H2B monoubiquitination-dependent and independent histone H3K4 methylation as a mark of active transcription, enhancer signatures, and developmentally poised genes will be discussed. The misregulation of histone H2B monoubiquitination and H3K4 methylation results in the pathogenesis of human diseases including cancer. Recent findings in this regard will also be examined.
Histone methylation; chromatin; MLL; Set1; COMPASS; Rad6; Bre1; histone monoubiquitination; chromosomal translocations and leukemia
Promoters of many developmentally regulated genes have a bivalent mark of H3K27me3 and H3K4me3 in embryonic stem cells state, which is proposed to confer precise temporal activation upon differentiation. Although Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is known to implement H3K27me3, the COMPASS family member responsible for H3K4me3 at bivalently-marked promoters was previously unknown. Here, we identify Mll2 (KMT2b) as the enzyme responsible for H3K4me3 on bivalently-marked promoters in embryonic stem cells. Although H3K4me3 at bivalent genes is proposed to prime future activation, we did not detect a substantial defect in rapid transcriptional induction after retinoic acid treatment in Mll2 depleted cells. Our identification of the Mll2 complex as the COMPASS family member responsible for implementing H3K4me3 at bivalent promoters provides an opportunity to reevaluate and experimentally test models for the function of bivalency in the embryonic stem cell state and in differentiation.
High level MYC expression is associated with almost all human cancers. JQ1, a chemical compound that inhibits MYC expression is therapeutically effective in preclinical animal models in midline carcinoma, and Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL). Here we show that JQ1 does not inhibit MYC expression to a similar extent in all tumor cells. The BL cells showed a ∼90% decrease in MYC transcription upon treatment with JQ1, however, no corresponding reduction was seen in several non-BL cells. Molecularly, these differences appear due to requirements of Brd4, the most active version of the Positive Transcription Elongation Factor B (P-TEFb) within the Super Elongation Complex (SEC), and transcription factors such as Gdown1, and MED26 and also other unknown cell specific factors. Our study demonstrates that the regulation of high levels of MYC expression in different cancer cells is driven by unique regulatory mechanisms and that such exclusive regulatory signatures in each cancer cells could be employed for targeted therapeutics.
Enhancers play a central role in precisely regulating the expression of developmentally regulated genes. However, the machineries required for enhancer-promoter communication have remained largely unknown. We have found that Ell3, a member of the Ell (Eleven-nineteen Lysine-rich Leukemia gene) family of RNA Pol II elongation factors, occupies enhancers in embryonic stem cells. Ell3's association with enhancers is required for setting up proper Pol II occupancy at the promoter proximal regions of developmentally regulated genes and for the recruitment of the Super Elongation Complex (SEC) to these loci following differentiation signals. Furthermore, Ell3 binding to inactive or poised enhancers is essential for stem cell specification. We have also detected the presence of Pol II and Ell3 in germ cell nuclei. These findings raise the possibility that transcription factors could prime gene expression by marking enhancers in ES cells or even as early as in the germ cell state.
Covalent modification of histones on chromatin is a dynamic mechanism by which various nuclear processes are regulated. Methylation of histone H3 on lysine 4 (H3K4) implemented by the macromolecular complex COMPASS and its related complexes is associated with transcriptionally active regions of chromatin. Enzymes that catalyze H3K4 methylation were initially characterized genetically as regulators of Hox loci, long before their catalytic functions were recognized. Since their discovery, genetic and biochemical studies of H3K4 methylases and demethylases have provided important mechanistic insight into the role of H3K4 methylation in HOX gene regulation during development.
histone methylation; trithorax; SET domain; Compass Complex; MLL; HOX genes
It has been suggested that a specific pattern of histone posttranslational modifications and their crosstalk may constitute a code that determines transcriptional outcomes. However, recent studies indicate that histone modifications have context-dependent effects, making their interplay more like a language within the chromatin signaling pathway than a code.
The elongation stage of transcription is highly regulated in metazoans. We previously purified the AFF1- and AFF4-containing super elongation complex (SEC) as a major regulator of development and cancer pathogenesis. Here, we report the biochemical isolation of SEC-like 2 (SEC-L2) and SEC-like 3 (SEC-L3) containing AFF2 and AFF3 in association with P-TEFb, ENL/MLLT1, and AF9/MLLT3. The SEC family members demonstrate high levels of polymerase II (Pol II) C-terminal domain kinase activity; however, only SEC is required for the proper induction of the HSP70 gene upon stress. Genome-wide mRNA-Seq analyses demonstrated that SEC-L2 and SEC-L3 control the expression of different subsets of genes, while AFF4/SEC plays a more dominant role in rapid transcriptional induction in cells. MYC is one of the direct targets of AFF4/SEC, and SEC recruitment to the MYC gene regulates its expression in different cancer cells, including those in acute myeloid or lymphoid leukemia. These findings suggest that AFF4/SEC could be a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of leukemia or other cancers associated with MYC overexpression.
Eleven-nineteen Lysine-rich Leukemia (ELL) participates in the Super Elongation Complex (SEC) with the Pol II CTD kinase P-TEFb. SEC is a key regulator in the expression of HOX genes in Mixed Lineage Leukemia (MLL) -based hematological malignancies, in the control of induced gene expression early in development, and in immediate early gene transcription. Here, we identify an SEC-like complex in Drosophila, as well as a distinct ELL-containing complex that lacks P-TEFb and other components of SEC named the “little elongation complex” (LEC). LEC subunits are highly enriched at RNA Polymerase II (Pol II) -transcribed small nuclear RNA (snRNA) genes, and the loss of LEC results in decreased snRNA expression in both flies and mammals. The specialization of the SEC and LEC complexes for mRNA and snRNA-containing genes, respectively, suggests the presence of specific classes of elongation factors for each class of genes transcribed by RNA polymerase II.
Jarid2 was recently identified as an important component of the mammalian Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), where it has a major effect on PRC2 recruitment in mouse embryonic stem cells. Although Jarid2 is conserved in Drosophila, it has not previously been implicated in Polycomb (Pc) regulation. Therefore, we purified Drosophila Jarid2 and its associated proteins and found that Jarid2 associates with all of the known canonical PRC2 components, demonstrating a conserved physical interaction with PRC2 in flies and mammals. Furthermore, in vivo studies with Jarid2 mutants in flies demonstrate that among several histone modifications tested, only methylation of histone 3 at K27 (H3K27), the mark implemented by PRC2, was affected. Genome-wide profiling of Jarid2, Su(z)12 (Suppressor of zeste 12), and H3K27me3 occupancy by chromatin immunoprecipitation with sequencing (ChIP-seq) indicates that Jarid2 and Su(z)12 have very similar distribution patterns on chromatin. However, Jarid2 and Su(z)12 occupancy levels at some genes are significantly different, with Jarid2 being present at relatively low levels at many Pc response elements (PREs) of certain Homeobox (Hox) genes, providing a rationale for why Jarid2 was never identified in Pc screens. Gene expression analyses show that Jarid2 and E(z) (Enhancer of zeste, a canonical PRC2 component) are not only required for transcriptional repression but might also function in active transcription. Identification of Jarid2 as a conserved PRC2 interactor in flies provides an opportunity to begin to probe some of its novel functions in Drosophila development.
Promoter proximal pausing by initiated RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and regulated release of paused polymerase into productive elongation has emerged as a major mechanism of transcription activation. Reactivation of paused Pol II correlates with recruitment of SuperElongationComplexes (SECs) containing ELL/EAF family members, P-TEFb, and other proteins, but the mechanism of their recruitment is currently a major unanswered question. Here, we present evidence for a role of human Mediator subunit Med26 in this process. We identify in the conserved N-terminal domain of Med26 overlapping docking sites for SEC and a second ELL/EAF-containing complex, as well as general initiation factor TFIID. In addition, we present evidence consistent with the model that Med26 can function as a molecular switch that interacts first with TFIID in the Pol II initiation complex and then exchanges TFIID for complexes containing ELL/EAF and P-TEFb to facilitate transition of Pol II into the elongation stage of transcription.
Methylation of histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is implemented by Set1/COMPASS, which was originally purified based on the similarity of yeast Set1 to human MLL1 and Drosophila melanogaster Trithorax (Trx). While humans have six COMPASS family members, Drosophila possesses a representative of the three subclasses within COMPASS-like complexes: dSet1 (human SET1A/SET1B), Trx (human MLL1/2), and Trr (human MLL3/4). Here, we report the biochemical purification and molecular characterization of the Drosophila COMPASS family. We observed a one-to-one similarity in subunit composition with their mammalian counterparts, with the exception of LPT (lost plant homeodomains [PHDs] of Trr), which copurifies with the Trr complex. LPT is a previously uncharacterized protein that is homologous to the multiple PHD fingers found in the N-terminal regions of mammalian MLL3/4 but not Drosophila Trr, indicating that Trr and LPT constitute a split gene of an MLL3/4 ancestor. Our study demonstrates that all three complexes in Drosophila are H3K4 methyltransferases; however, dSet1/COMPASS is the major monoubiquitination-dependent H3K4 di- and trimethylase in Drosophila. Taken together, this study provides a springboard for the functional dissection of the COMPASS family members and their role in the regulation of histone H3K4 methylation throughout development in Drosophila.
The expression of genes that reside near telomeres is attenuated through telomere position-effect variegation (TPEV). Using a URA3 reporter located at TEL-VIIL of S. cerevisiae, it was demonstrated that the disruptor of telomeric silencing-1 (Dot1) regulates TPEV by catalyzing the methylation of H3K79. URA3 was also used as a reporter to demonstrate that H3K79 methylation is required for HM silencing. Surprisingly, a genome-wide expression analysis of mutants defective in H3K79 methylation patterns indicated that only a few telomeric genes, such as the COS12 located at TEL-VIIL, are subject to H3K79 methylation-dependent natural silencing. Consistently, loss of Dot1 did not globally alter Sir2/3 occupancy in subtelomeric regions, but did lead to some telomere-specific changes. Furthermore, we demonstrated that H3K79 methylation by Dot1 does not play a role in the maintenance of natural HML silencing. Our results show that the commonly used URA3 reporter located at TEL-VIIL or at the mating loci may not report on natural PEV and that studies concerning the epigenetic mechanism of silencing in yeast should employ assays that report on the natural pattern of gene expression.
Posttranslational modifications of histones are coupled in the regulation of the cellular processes involving chromatin such as transcription, replication, repair, and genome stability. Recent biochemical and genetic studies have clearly demonstrated that many aspects of chromatin, and not just posttranslational modifications of histones, provide surfaces that can interact with effectors and the modifying machineries in a context-dependent manner, all as a part of the “chromatin signaling pathway”. Here, we have reviewed recent findings on the molecular basis for the recruitment of the chromatin-modifying machineries and their diverse and varied biological outcomes.
A screen of Saccharomyces cerevisiae histone alanine substitution mutants revealed that mutations in any of three adjacent residues, L97, Y98, or G99, near the C terminus of H4 led to a unique phenotype. The mutants grew slowly, became polyploid or aneuploid rapidly, and also lost chromosomes at a high rate, most likely because their kinetochores were not assembled properly. There was lower histone occupancy, not only in the centromeric region, but also throughout the genome for the H4 mutants. The mutants displayed genetic interactions with the genes encoding two different histone chaperones, Rtt106 and CAF-I. Affinity purification of Rtt106 and CAF-I from yeast showed that much more H4 and H3 were bound to these histone chaperones in the case of the H4 mutants than in the wild type. However, in vitro binding experiments showed that the H4 mutant proteins bound somewhat more weakly to Rtt106 than did wild-type H4. These data suggest that the H4 mutant proteins, along with H3, accumulate on Rtt106 and CAF-I in vivo because they cannot be deposited efficiently on DNA or passed on to the next step in the histone deposition pathway, and this contributes to the observed genome instability and growth defects.
To define the molecular regulators required for differential pattern of H3K79 methylation by Dot1, we performed a GPS screen and discovered that the components of the cell cycle-regulated SBF complex were required for normal levels of H3K79 di- but not trimethylation. Genome-wide mapping revealed that H3K79 di- and trimethylation to present a mutually exclusive pattern on chromatin with M/G1 cell-cycle-regulated genes significantly enriched for H3K79 dimethylation. Since H3K79 trimethylation requires prior monoubiquitination of H2B, we performed genome-wide profiling of H2BK123 monoubiquitination and showed that H2BK123 monoubiquitination is excluded from cell cycle regulated genes and sites containing H3K79me2 but not from H3K79me3 containing regions. A genome-wide screen for factors responsible for the establishment/removal of H3K79 dimethylation resulted in the identification of several genes including NRM1 and WHI3, which both impact the transcription by the SBF, and MBF complexes, further linking the regulation of H3K79’s methylation status to the cell cycle.
Chromosomal translocations involving the MLL gene are associated with infant acute lymphoblastic and mixed lineage leukemia. There are a large number of translocation partners of MLL that share very little sequence or seemingly functional similarities, however, their translocations into MLL result in the pathogenesis of leukemia. To define the molecular reason why these translocations result in the pathogenesis of leukemia, we purified several of the commonly occurring MLL chimeras. We have identified a novel super elongation complex (SEC) associated with all chimeras purified. SEC includes ELL, P-TEFb, AFF4 and several other factors. AFF4 is required for SEC stability and proper transcription by poised RNA polymerase II in metazoans. Knockdown of AFF4 within SEC in leukemic cells shows reduction in MLL chimera target gene expression suggesting that AFF4/SEC could be a key regulator in the pathogenesis of leukemia through many of the MLL partners.
Histone methylation on lysine 4 of histone H3 (H3K4) is a hallmark of activity of the transcribed regions on eukaryotic chromatin. H3K4 can be mono-, di- and trimethylated by Set1/COMPASS. In this review, we will discuss recent findings regarding the role of the Y/F switch by the catalytic domain of Set1 in the regulation of H3K4 methylation by Set1/COMPASS.
Trimethylated lysine 27 of histone H3 (H3K27me3) is an epigenetic mark for gene silencing and can be demethylated by the JmjC domain of UTX. Excessive H3K27me3 levels can cause tumorigenesis, but little is known about the mechanisms leading to those cancers. Mutants of the Drosophila H3K27me3 demethylase dUTX display some characteristics of Trithorax group mutants and have increased H3K27me3 levels in vivo. Surprisingly, dUTX mutations also affect H3K4me1 levels in a JmjC-independent manner. We show that a disruption of the JmjC domain of dUTX results in a growth advantage for mutant cells over adjacent wild-type tissue due to increased proliferation. The growth advantage of dUTX mutant tissue is caused, at least in part, by increased Notch activity, demonstrating that dUTX is a Notch antagonist. Furthermore, the inactivation of Retinoblastoma (Rbf in Drosophila) contributes to the growth advantage of dUTX mutant tissue. The excessive activation of Notch in dUTX mutant cells leads to tumor-like growth in an Rbf-dependent manner. In summary, these data suggest that dUTX is a suppressor of Notch- and Rbf-dependent tumors in Drosophila melanogaster and may provide a model for UTX-dependent tumorigenesis in humans.
The budding yeast CenH3 histone variant Cse4 localizes to centromeric nucleosomes and is required for kinetochore assembly and chromosome segregation. The exact composition of centromeric Cse4–containing nucleosomes is a subject of debate. ChIP-chip experiments and high resolution quantitative PCR confirm that there is a single Cse4 nucleosome at each centromere, and additional regions of the genome contain Cse4 nucleosomes at low levels. Using unbiased biochemical, cell biological, and genetic approaches we have tested the composition of Cse4-containing nucleosomes. Using micrococcal nuclease-treated chromatin, we find that Cse4 is associated with the histones H2A, H2B, and H4, but not H3 or the non-histone protein Scm3. Overexpression of Cse4 rescues the lethality of a scm3 deletion, indicating Scm3 is not essential for the formation of functional centromeric chromatin. Additionally, octameric Cse4 nucleosomes can be reconstituted in vitro. The Cse4-Cse4 interaction domain appears to be essential and interaction occurs in vivo in the centromeric nucleosome. Taken together, our experimental evidence supports the model that the Cse4-nucleosome is an octamer, containing two copies each of Cse4, H2A, H2B, and H4.
Cse4/CENP-A; centromere; yeast; Scm3; chromatin-immunoprecipitation; nucleosome
H2B ubiquitylation has been implicated in active transcription but is not well understood in mammalian cells. Beyond earlier identification of hBRE1 as the E3 ligase for H2B ubiquitylation in human cells, we now show (i) that hRAD6 serves as the cognate E2 conjugating enzyme, (ii) that hRAD6, through direct interaction with hPAF-bound hBRE1, is recruited to transcribed genes and ubiquitylates chromatinized H2B at lysine 120, (iii) that hPAF-mediated transcription is required for efficient H2B ubiquitylation as a result of hPAF-dependent recruitment of hBRE1-hRAD6 to the Pol II transcription machinery, (iv) that H2B ubiquitylation per se does not affect the level of hPAF-, SII- and p300-dependent transcription and likely functions downstream and (v) that H2B ubiquitylation directly stimulates hSET1-dependent H3K4 di- and tri-methylation. These studies establish the natural H2B ubiquitylation factors in human cells and also detail the mechanistic basis for H2B ubiquitylation and function during transcription.