Molecular and cellular biology

The MLL3/MLL4 branches of the COMPASS family function as major histone H3K4 monomethylases at enhancers.

PMID 24081332


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.