The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) enables epithelial cancer cells to acquire mesenchymal features and contributes to metastasis and resistance to treatment. This process involves epigenetic reprogramming for gene expression. We explored global histone modifications during TGF-β1-induced EMT in two non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cell lines and tested different epigenetic treatment to modulate or partially reverse EMT.
Loss of classical epithelial markers and gain of mesenchymal markers were verified in A549 and H358 cell lines during TGF-β1-induced EMT. In addition, we noticed increased expression of the axonal guidance protein semaphorin 3C (SEMA3C) and PD-L1 (programmed death-ligand 1) involved in the inhibition of the immune system, suggesting that both SEMA3C and PD-L1 could be the new markers of TGF-β1-induced EMT. H3K79me3 and H2BK120me1 were decreased in A549 and H358 cell lines after a 48-h TGF-β1 treatment, as well as H2BK120ac in A549 cells. However, decreased H3K79me3 was not associated with expression of the histone methyltransferase DOT1L. Furthermore, H3K79me3 was decreased in tumors compared in normal tissues and not associated with cell proliferation. Associations of histone deacetylase inhibitor (SAHA) with DOT1L inhibitors (EPZ5676 or SGC0946) or BET bromodomain inhibitor (PFI-1) were efficient to partially reverse TGF-β1 effects by decreasing expression of PD-L1, SEMA3C, and its receptor neuropilin-2 (NRP2) and by increasing epithelial markers such as E-cadherin.
Histone methylation was modified during EMT, and combination of epigenetic compounds with conventional or targeted chemotherapy might contribute to reduce metastasis and to enhance clinical responses.