The COMPASS family of H3K4 methylases in development and cancer

Project: Research project

Project Details


Studies from my laboratory during the past seventeen years have focused on the characterization of
the molecular functions and biochemical properties of the Set1/MLL family of proteins. Their chimeras
and mutations are associated with childhood leukemia and other forms of cancers. Our hope is that our
molecular studies will advance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of rearrangement and
mutation-based cancer through this family of proteins.
During the current funding cycle of this grant, my laboratory has employed genetics and biochemistry in
multiple model systems including Drosophila and mammalian cell cultures. We demonstrated that
Drosophila cells possess three Set1-related proteins: dSet1, Trithorax (Trx), and Trithorax-related (Trr),
all found within COMPASS-like compositions capable of methylating histone H3K4. Mammalian cells
possess two representatives for each of the three subclasses found in Drosophila for a total of six
COMPASS family members: SET1A/SET1B (related to dSet1); MLL1 and MLL2 (related to Trx); and
MLL3 and MLL4 (related to Trr). Furthermore, given that there is almost no sequence homology
between many of the MLL translocation partners, for many years, it was unclear why MLL
translocations into so many unrelated genes result in the pathogenesis of leukemia. Our biochemical
studies on the purification of the MLL-chimeras demonstrated that many of the MLL translocation
partners are part of the same macromolecular complex we named the Super Elongation Complex
(SEC). We demonstrated that the translocations of MLL within any of the subunits of SEC result in the
misrecruitment of SEC to the MLL target genes and in the perturbation of the transcriptional checkpoint
control of these genes, triggering leukemic growth.
Additionally, what we have learned is that recent cataloging of somatic mutations in cancer have
identified a large number of mutations in the components of the MLL1-4 and Set1A/B complexes in
both hematological malignancies and solid tumors. As a matter of fact, collectively MLL1-4 and Set1A/B
appear to bear more mutations in different forms of cancers than p53. However, we know very little
about the MLL1-4 and Set1A/B families in development and why their mutations are associated with
cancer. Given that we have developed a fantastic set of reagents and tools within the past seventeen
years towards these factors and their associated proteins in multiple model systems, my laboratory is in
a very unique position to define the molecular bases of these factors’ involvement in cancer
pathogenesis for the purpose of targeted therapeutics. Therefore, the goals of this renewal
application are the full molecular and biochemical characterization of MLL1-4 and Set1A-B and
their complexes in the regulation of gene expression and development and how their mutations
contribute to the pathogenesis of human cancer.
The goals of this renewal application will be aggressively pursued via three specific aims. Specific Aim
1 is focused on the characterization of the molecular properties of the Trx/COMPASS family members
(MLL1 and MLL2); identification of their molecular properties and specific recruitment to chromatin; and
how their translocations contribute to leukemic pathogenesis. Specific Aim 2 will be focused in
defining the role of the Trr/COMPASS family (MLL3 and MLL4) in enhancer monomethylation and how
enhancer malfunction through specific mutations of the components of this family result cancer in
pathogenesis. Specific Aim 3 is focused on the molecular characterizatio
Effective start/end date4/23/15 → 12/31/15


  • National Cancer Institute (7R01CA150265-07)


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