Development of secondary mutations in wild-type and mutant EZH2 alleles cooperates to confer resistance to EZH2 inhibitors

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The histone methyltransferase Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2) is frequently dysregulated in cancers, and gain-of-function (GOF) EZH2 mutations have been identified in non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Small-molecule inhibitors against EZH2 demonstrated anti-tumor activity in EZH2-mutated lymphomas and entered clinical trials. Here, we developed models of acquired resistance to EZH2 inhibitor EI1 with EZH2-mutated lymphoma cells. Resistance was generated by secondary mutations in both wild-type (WT) and GOF Y641N EZH2 alleles. These EZH2 mutants retained the substrate specificity of their predecessor complexes but became refractory to biochemical inhibition by EZH2 inhibitors. Resistant cells were able to maintain a high level of H3K27Me3 in the presence of inhibitors. Interestingly, mutation of EZH2 WT alone generated an intermediate resistance phenotype, which is consistent with a previously proposed model of cooperation between EZH2 WT and Y641N mutants to promote tumorigenesis. In addition, the findings presented here have implications for the clinical translation of EZH2 inhibitors and underscore the need to develop novel EZH2 inhibitors to target potential resistance emerging in clinical settings.

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