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Oncotarget. 2015 Mar 30;6(9):6887-901.

G9a is essential for EMT-mediated metastasis and maintenance of cancer stem cell-like characters in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

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Department of Oral and Maxillofacial-Head and Neck Oncology, Ninth People's Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China.
Key Laboratory of Cell Differentiation and Apoptosis of Chinese Minister of Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China.
Shanghai Key Laboratory for Tumor Microenvironment and Inflammation, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China.
Translation Medicine Center, Shanghai Chest Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China.
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY, USA.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is a particularly aggressive cancer with poor prognosis, largely due to lymph node metastasis and local recurrence. Emerging evidence suggests that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is important for cancer metastasis, and correlated with increased cancer stem cells (CSCs) characteristics. However, the mechanisms underlying metastasis to lymph nodes in HNSCC is poorly defined. In this study, we show that E-cadherin repression correlates with cancer metastasis and poor prognosis in HNSCC. We found that G9a, a histone methyltransferase, interacts with Snail and mediates Snail-induced transcriptional repression of E-cadherin and EMT, through methylation of histone H3 lysine-9 (H3K9). Moreover, G9a is required for both lymph node-related metastasis and TGF-β-induced EMT in HNSCC cells since knockdown of G9a reversed EMT, inhibited cell migration and tumorsphere formation, and suppressed the expression of CSC markers. Our study demonstrates that the G9a protein is essential for the induction of EMT and CSC-like properties in HNSCC. Thus, targeting the G9a-Snail axis may represent a novel strategy for treatment of metastatic HNSCC.


EMT; G9a; HNSCC; cancer stem cell; lymph node metastasis

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