Pax9 determines epigenetic state transition and cell fate in cancer

Zibo Zhao, Aileen P. Szczepanski, Natsumi Tsuboyama, Hiam Abdala-Valencia, Young Ah Goo, Benjamin D. Singer, Elizabeth T. Bartom, Feng Yue, Lu Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Abnormalities in genetic and epigenetic modifications can lead to drastic changes in gene expression profiles that are associated with various cancer types. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive and deadly form of lung cancer with limited effective therapies currently available. By utilizing a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 dropout screen in SCLC cells, we identified paired box protein 9 (PAX9) as an essential factor that is overexpressed in human malignant SCLC tumor samples and is transcriptionally driven by the BAP1/ASXL3/BRD4 epigenetic axis. Genome-wide studies revealed that PAX9 occupies distal enhancer elements and represses gene expression by restricting enhancer activity. In multiple SCLC cell lines, genetic depletion of PAX9 led to significant induction of a primed-active enhancer transition, resulting in increased expression of a large number of neural differentiation and tumor-suppressive genes. Mechanistically, PAX9 interacted and cofunctioned with the nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase (NuRD) complex at enhancers to repress nearby gene expression, which was reversed by pharmacologic HDAC inhibition. Overall, this study provides mechanistic insight into the oncogenic function of the PAX9/NuRD complex epigenetic axis in human SCLC and suggests that reactivation of primed enhancers may have potential therapeutic efficacy in treating SCLC expressing high levels of PAX9.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4696-4708
Number of pages13
JournalCancer Research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 15 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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