Oncology reports

The histone methyltransferase EZH2 promotes mammary stem and luminal progenitor cell expansion, metastasis and inhibits estrogen receptor-positive cellular differentiation in a model of basal breast cancer.

PMID 25998860


Mammary stem cells (MSCs) are the progenitor population for human breast epithelia. MSCs give rise during mammary gland development to estrogen receptor (ER)-negative basal cells and the ER- luminal progenitor (LP) population which maintains ER+ and ER- luminal cells. The MSC population is expanded and tumorigenic in some mouse mammary cancer models, and these tumor-initiating cells have been isolated from human breast cancers. MSC expansion is associated with aggressive biological behavior in human breast cancer. The LP population is tumorigenic in some mouse mammary cancer models, and is the progenitor population of basal breast cancer in humans. The enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) is a methyltransferase which catalyzes lysine 27 methylation in histone H3 resulting in suppression of target gene expression. The histone demethylase JMJD3 opposes the activity of EZH2 by demethylating histone H3 lysine 27. EZH2 is a member of the polycomb group of proteins which regulates cell type identity. EZH2 expression was found to be increased in histologically normal human breast tissue among women with high breast cancer risk, and was elevated in ductal hyperplasia and ductal carcinoma in situ. EZH2 overexpression is associated with poorly differentiated and aggressive breast cancer in humans. However, the mechanisms by which EZH2 results in increased breast cancer risk and aggressive tumors are not completely characterized. Using in vivo transplantation of mammary cancer stem cells transduced with EZH2 or JMJD3 shRNAs, we demonstrated that EZH2 promotes mammary stem and LP cell expansion, metastasis and inhibits ER-positive cellular differentiation.