Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are responsible for tumor progression and recurrence. However, the mechanisms regulating hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) stemness remain unclear. Applying a genome-scale CRISPR knockout screen, we identified that the H3K4 methyltransferase SETD1A and other members of Trithorax group proteins drive cancer stemness in HCC. SET domain containing 1A (SETD1A) was positively correlated with poor clinical outcome in patients with HCC. Combination of SETD1A and serum alpha fetoprotein substantially improved the accuracy of predicting HCC relapse. Mechanistically, SETD1A mediates transcriptional activation of various histone-modifying enzymes, facilitates deposition of trimethylated H3K4 (H3K4me3) and H3K27me3, and activates oncogenic enhancers and super-enhancers, leading to activation of oncogenes and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes simultaneously in liver CSCs. In addition, SETD1A cooperates with polyadenylate-binding protein cytoplasmic 1 to regulate H3K4me3 modification on oncogenes. Our data pinpoint SETD1A as a key epigenetic regulator driving HCC stemness and progression, highlighting the potential of SETD1A as a candidate target for HCC intervention and therapy.
Jianxu Chen, Zhijie Xu, Hongbin Huang, Yao Tang, Hong Shan, Fei Xiao