Suh, J. L. et al.
Canonical targeting of Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 (PRC1) to repress developmental genes is mediated by cell type-specific, paralogous chromobox (CBX) proteins (CBX2, 4, 6, 7 and 8). Based on their central role in silencing and their misregulation associated with human disease including cancer, CBX proteins are attractive targets for small molecule chemical probe development. Here, we have used a quantitative and target-specific cellular assay to discover a potent positive allosteric modulator (PAM) of CBX8. The PAM activity of UNC7040 antagonizes H3K27me3 binding by CBX8 while increasing interactions with nucleic acids and participation in variant PRC1. We show that treatment with UNC7040 leads to efficient PRC1 chromatin eviction, loss of silencing and reduced proliferation across different cancer cell lines. Our discovery and characterization of UNC7040 not only revealed the most cellularly potent CBX8-specific chemical probe to date, but also corroborates a mechanism of polycomb regulation by non-histone lysine methylated interaction partners.