EZH2 inhibition decreases p38 signaling and suppresses breast cancer motility and metastasis

Heather M. Moore, Maria E. Gonzalez, Kathy A. Toy, Ashley Cimino-Mathews, Pedram Argani, Celina G. Kleer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


EZH2 is a Polycomb group protein that exerts oncogenic functions in breast cancer, where its overexpression is associated with metastatic disease. While it reportedly acts a transcriptional repressor through trimethylation of histone H3 at lysine 27, EZH2 may exhibit context-dependent activating functions. Despite associations with worse outcome and metastasis in breast cancer, a functional role of EZH2 in breast cancer metastasis in vivo has not been demonstrated. Furthermore, whether EZH2 regulates cancer cell phenotype and motility are unknown. In this study, we discovered that knockdown of EZH2 induces a phenotypic reprogramming from mesenchymal to epithelial, reduces motility, and blocks invasion in breast cancer cell lines. In vivo, EZH2 downregulation in MDA-MB-231 cells decreases spontaneous metastasis to the lungs. We uncover an unexpected role of EZH2 in inducing the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway, an important regulator of breast cancer invasion and metastasis. In breast cancer cells, EZH2 binds to phosphorylated p38 (p-p38) in association with other core members of the Polycomb repressive complex 2, EED, and SUZ12, and EZH2 overexpression leads to increased levels of p-p38 and of activated, downstream pathway proteins. The effect on p-p38 was confirmed in vivo, where it correlated with decreased spontaneous metastasis. In clinical specimens of matched primary and invasive breast carcinomas, we found that EZH2 expression was upregulated in 100 % of the metastases, and that EZH2 and p-p38 were coexpressed in 63 % of cases, consistent with the functional results. Together our findings reveal a new mechanism by which EZH2 functions in breast cancer, and provide direct evidence that EZH2 inhibition reduces breast cancer metastasis in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-752
Number of pages12
JournalBreast Cancer Research and Treatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Breast cancer
  • Cell motility
  • EZH2
  • Metastasis
  • Snail
  • p38

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'EZH2 inhibition decreases p38 signaling and suppresses breast cancer motility and metastasis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this