The Snail repressor recruits EZH2 to specific genomic sites through the enrollment of the lncRNA HOTAIR in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition

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Abstract

The transcription factor Snail is a master regulator of cellular identity and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) directly repressing a broad repertoire of epithelial genes. How chromatin modifiers instrumental to its activity are recruited to Snail-specific binding sites is unclear. Here we report that the long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) HOTAIR (for HOX Transcript Antisense Intergenic RNA) mediates a physical interaction between Snail and enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2), an enzymatic subunit of the polycomb-repressive complex 2 and the main writer of chromatin-repressive marks. The Snail-repressive activity, here monitored on genes with a pivotal function in epithelial and hepatic morphogenesis, differentiation and cell-type identity, depends on the formation of a tripartite Snail/HOTAIR/EZH2 complex. These results demonstrate an lncRNA-mediated mechanism by which a transcriptional factor conveys a general chromatin modifier to specific genes, thereby allowing the execution of hepatocyte transdifferentiation; moreover, they highlight HOTAIR as a crucial player in the Snail-mediated EMT.

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