The roles of Polycomb repressive complexes in mammalian development and cancer

Andrea Piunti, Ali Shilatifard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

187 Scopus citations


More than 80 years ago, the first Polycomb-related phenotype was identified in Drosophila melanogaster. Later, a group of diverse genes collectively called Polycomb group (PcG) genes were identified based on common mutant phenotypes. PcG proteins, which are well-conserved in animals, were originally characterized as negative regulators of gene transcription during development and subsequently shown to function in various biological processes; their deregulation is associated with diverse phenotypes in development and in disease, especially cancer. PcG proteins function on chromatin and can form two distinct complexes with different enzymatic activities: Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) is a histone ubiquitin ligase and PRC2 is a histone methyltransferase. Recent studies have revealed the existence of various mutually exclusive PRC1 and PRC2 variants. In this Review, we discuss new concepts concerning the biochemical and molecular functions of these new PcG complex variants, and how their epigenetic activities are involved in mammalian development and cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-345
Number of pages20
JournalNature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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