The Journal of cell biology

Silencing of retrotransposons by SETDB1 inhibits the interferon response in acute myeloid leukemia.

PMID 28887438


A propensity for rewiring genetic and epigenetic regulatory networks, thus enabling sustained cell proliferation, suppression of apoptosis, and the ability to evade the immune system, is vital to cancer cell propagation. An increased understanding of how this is achieved is critical for identifying or improving therapeutic interventions. In this study, using acute myeloid leukemia (AML) human cell lines and a custom CRISPR/Cas9 screening platform, we identify the H3K9 methyltransferase SETDB1 as a novel, negative regulator of innate immunity. SETDB1 is overexpressed in many cancers, and loss of this gene in AML cells triggers desilencing of retrotransposable elements that leads to the production of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). This is coincident with induction of a type I interferon response and apoptosis through the dsRNA-sensing pathway. Collectively, our findings establish a unique gene regulatory axis that cancer cells can exploit to circumvent the immune system.