Relja Popovic

University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Publications (19)171.63 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Overexpression of the histone methyltransferase MMSET in t(4;14)+ multiple myeloma patients is believed to be the driving factor in the pathogenesis of this subtype of myeloma. MMSET catalyzes dimethylation of lysine 36 on histone H3 (H3K36me2), and its overexpression causes a global increase in H3K36me2, redistributing this mark in a broad, elevated level across the genome. Here, we demonstrate that an increased level of MMSET also induces a global reduction of lysine 27 trimethylation on histone H3 (H3K27me3). Despite the net decrease in H3K27 methylation, specific genomic loci exhibit enhanced recruitment of the EZH2 histone methyltransferase and become hypermethylated on this residue. These effects likely contribute to the myeloma phenotype since MMSET-overexpressing cells displayed increased sensitivity to EZH2 inhibition. Furthermore, we demonstrate that such MMSET-mediated epigenetic changes require a number of functional domains within the protein, including PHD domains that mediate MMSET recruitment to chromatin. In vivo, targeting of MMSET by an inducible shRNA reversed histone methylation changes and led to regression of established tumors in athymic mice. Together, our work elucidates previously unrecognized interplay between MMSET and EZH2 in myeloma oncogenesis and identifies domains to be considered when designing inhibitors of MMSET function.
    PLoS Genetics 09/2014; 10(9):e1004566. · 8.52 Impact Factor
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    Leukemia: official journal of the Leukemia Society of America, Leukemia Research Fund, U.K 07/2013; · 10.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The EZH2 histone methyltransferase is highly expressed in germinal center (GC) B cells and targeted by somatic mutations in B cell lymphomas. Here, we find that EZH2 deletion or pharmacologic inhibition suppresses GC formation and functions. EZH2 represses proliferation checkpoint genes and helps establish bivalent chromatin domains at key regulatory loci to transiently suppress GC B cell differentiation. Somatic mutations reinforce these physiological effects through enhanced silencing of EZH2 targets. Conditional expression of mutant EZH2 in mice induces GC hyperplasia and accelerated lymphomagenesis in cooperation with BCL2. GC B cell (GCB)-type diffuse large B cell lymphomas (DLBCLs) are mostly addicted to EZH2 but not the more differentiated activated B cell (ABC)-type DLBCLs, thus clarifying the therapeutic scope of EZH2 targeting.
    Cancer cell 05/2013; 23(5):677-92. · 25.29 Impact Factor
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    Epigenetics & Chromatin 04/2013; 6(1). · 4.19 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A growing amount of evidence points towards alterations in epigenetic machinery as a leading cause in disease initiation and progression. Like genetic alterations, misregulation of the epigenetic regulators can lead to abnormal gene expression. However, unlike genetic events, the epigenetic machinery may be targeted pharmacologically, potentially resulting in the reversal of a particular epigenetic state. The success of DNA methyltransferase and histone deacetylase inhibitors represents a proof of concept for the use of therapies intended to target the epigenome in the treatment of hematological malignancies. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms underlying the efficacy of these agents have not been completely elucidated. Recently, a large number of studies sequencing cancer cell genomes identified recurring mutations of epigenetic regulators, providing new insights into the molecular underpinnings of cancer. Consequently, the efforts to identify specific epigenetic inhibitors have been expanded in order to target particular subsets of patients. This review will summarize the progress made using the currently available epigenetic therapies and discuss some of the more recently identified targets whose inhibition may present potential avenues for the treatment of hematologic malignancies.
    Therapeutic advances in hematology. 04/2013; 4(2):81-91.
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    Epigenetics & Chromatin 03/2013; 6(1). · 4.19 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Multiple myeloma (MM) represents the malignant proliferation of terminally differentiated B cells, which, in many cases, is associated with the maintenance of high levels of the oncoprotein c-MYC. Overexpression of the histone methyltransferase MMSET (WHSC1/NSD2), due to t(4;14) chromosomal translocation, promotes the proliferation of MM cells along with global changes in chromatin; nevertheless, the precise mechanisms by which MMSET stimulates neoplasia remain incompletely understood. We found that MMSET enhances the proliferation of MM cells by stimulating the expression of c-MYC at the post-transcriptional level. A microRNA (miRNA) profiling experiment in t(4;14) MM cells identified miR-126* as an MMSET-regulated miRNA predicted to target c-MYC mRNA. We show that miR-126* specifically targets the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR) of c-MYC, inhibiting its translation and leading to decreased c-MYC protein levels. Moreover, the expression of this miRNA was sufficient to decrease the proliferation rate of t(4;14) MM cells. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis showed that MMSET binds to the miR-126* promoter along with the KAP1 corepressor and histone deacetylases, and is associated with heterochromatic modifications, characterized by increased trimethylation of H3K9 and decreased H3 acetylation, leading to miR-126* repression. Collectively, this study shows a novel mechanism that leads to increased c-MYC levels and enhanced proliferation of t(4;14) MM, and potentially other cancers with high MMSET expression.Leukemia advance online publication, 12 October 2012; doi:10.1038/leu.2012.269.
    Leukemia: official journal of the Leukemia Society of America, Leukemia Research Fund, U.K 09/2012; · 10.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We have developed a targeted method to quantify all combinations of methylation on an H3 peptide containing lysines 27 and 36 (H3K27-K36). By using stable isotopes that separately label the histone backbone and its methylations, we tracked the rates of methylation and demethylation in myeloma cells expressing high vs. low levels of the methyltransferase MMSET/WHSC1/NSD2. Following quantification of 99 labeled H3K27-K36 methylation states across time, a kinetic model converged to yield 44 effective rate constants qualifying each methylation and demethylation step as a function of the methylation state on the neighboring lysine. We call this approach MS-based measurement and modeling of histone methylation kinetics (M4K). M4K revealed that, when dimethylation states are reached on H3K27 or H3K36, rates of further methylation on the other site are reduced as much as 100-fold. Overall, cells with high MMSET have as much as 33-fold increases in the effective rate constants for formation of H3K36 mono- and dimethylation. At H3K27, cells with high MMSET have elevated formation of K27me1, but even higher increases in the effective rate constants for its reversal by demethylation. These quantitative studies lay bare a bidirectional antagonism between H3K27 and H3K36 that controls the writing and erasing of these methylation marks. Additionally, the integrated kinetic model was used to correctly predict observed abundances of H3K27-K36 methylation states within 5% of that actually established in perturbed cells. Such predictive power for how histone methylations are established should have major value as this family of methyltransferases matures as drug targets.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 08/2012; 109(34):13549-13554. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Epigenetic deregulation of gene expression has a role in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer (PCa). The histone methyltransferase MMSET/WHSC1 (Multiple Myeloma SET domain) is overexpressed in a number of metastatic tumors, but its mechanism of action has not been defined. In this work, we found that PCa cell lines expressed significantly higher levels of MMSET compared with immortalized, non-transformed prostate cells. Knockdown experiments showed that, in metastatic PCa cell lines, dimethylation of lysine 36 and trimethylation of lysine 27 on histone H3 (H3K36me2 and H3K27me3, respectively) depended on MMSET expression, whereas depletion of MMSET in benign prostatic cells did not affect chromatin modifications. Knockdown of MMSET in DU145 and PC-3 tumor cells decreased cell proliferation, colony formation in soft agar and strikingly diminished cell migration and invasion. Conversely, overexpression of MMSET in immortalized, non-transformed RWPE-1 cells promoted cell migration and invasion, accompanied by an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Among a panel of EMT-promoting genes analyzed, TWIST1 expression was strongly activated in response to MMSET. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis demonstrated that MMSET binds to the TWIST1 locus and leads to an increase in H3K36me2, suggesting a direct role of MMSET in the regulation of this gene. Depletion of TWIST1 in MMSET-overexpressing RWPE-1 cells blocked cell invasion and EMT, indicating that TWIST1 was a critical target of MMSET, responsible for the acquisition of an invasive phenotype. Collectively, these data suggest that MMSET has a role in PCa pathogenesis and progression through epigenetic regulation of metastasis-related genes.Oncogene advance online publication, 16 July 2012; doi:10.1038/onc.2012.297.
    Oncogene 07/2012; · 8.56 Impact Factor
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    Relja Popovic, Jonathan D Licht
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    ABSTRACT: Abnormalities in the epigenetic regulation of chromatin structure and function can lead to aberrant gene expression and cancer development. Consequently, epigenetic therapies aim to restore normal chromatin modification patterns through the inhibition of various components of the epigenetic machinery. Histone deacetylase and DNA methyltransferase inhibitors represent the first putative epigenetic therapies; however, these agents have pleiotropic effects and it remains unclear how they lead to therapeutic responses. More recently, drugs that inhibit histone methyltransferases were developed, perhaps representing more specific agents. We review emerging epigenetic targets in cancer and present recent models of promising epigenetic therapies. SIGNIFICANCE: The use of DNA methyltransferase and histone deacetylase inhibitors in patients has validated the use of drugs targeted to epigenetic enzymes and strengthened the need for development of additional therapies. In this review, we summarize recently discovered epigenetic abnormalities, their implications for cancer, and the approaches taken for discovering small-molecule inhibitors targeting various properties of the epigenetic machinery.
    Cancer Discovery 05/2012; 2(5):405-13. · 15.93 Impact Factor
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    Relja Popovic, Jonathan D Licht
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    ABSTRACT: Despite increased understanding of molecular pathogenesis of multiple myeloma and implementation of therapies such as bortezomib and thalidomide, only 10% of patients survive more than 10 years after diagnosis. Until recently, new therapies for myeloma have not been developed based on a detailed understanding of the molecular pathology of the disease. In this issue of Blood, Annunziata et al report a rationale for the use of mitogen-activated or extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase (MEK) inhibitors in the subset of myeloma patients expressing high levels of the MAF oncogene.
    Blood 02/2011; 117(8):2300-2. · 9.78 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The multiple myeloma SET domain (MMSET) protein is overexpressed in multiple myeloma (MM) patients with the translocation t(4;14). Although studies have shown the involvement of MMSET/Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome candidate 1 in development, its mode of action in the pathogenesis of MM is largely unknown. We found that MMSET is a major regulator of chromatin structure and transcription in t(4;14) MM cells. High levels of MMSET correlate with an increase in lysine 36 methylation of histone H3 and a decrease in lysine 27 methylation across the genome, leading to a more open structural state of the chromatin. Loss of MMSET expression alters adhesion properties, suppresses growth, and induces apoptosis in MM cells. Consequently, genes affected by high levels of MMSET are implicated in the p53 pathway, cell cycle regulation, and integrin signaling. Regulation of many of these genes required functional histone methyl-transferase activity of MMSET. These results implicate MMSET as a major epigenetic regulator in t(4;14)+ MM.
    Blood 10/2010; 117(1):211-20. · 9.78 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The gene MLL (encoding the protein mixed-lineage leukemia) is the target of chromosomal translocations that cause leukemias with poor prognosis. All leukemogenic MLL fusion proteins retain the CXXC domain, which binds to nonmethylated CpG DNA sites. We present the solution structure of the MLL CXXC domain in complex with DNA, showing how the CXXC domain distinguishes nonmethylated from methylated CpG DNA. On the basis of the structure, we generated point mutations that disrupt DNA binding. Introduction of these mutations into the MLL-AF9 fusion protein resulted in increased DNA methylation of specific CpG nucleotides in Hoxa9, increased H3K9 methylation, decreased expression of Hoxa9-locus transcripts, loss of immortalization potential, and inability to induce leukemia in mice. These results establish that DNA binding by the CXXC domain and protection against DNA methylation is essential for MLL fusion leukemia. They also provide support for viewing this interaction as a potential target for therapeutic intervention.
    Nature Structural & Molecular Biology 12/2009; 17(1):62-8. · 11.90 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Chromosomal translocations involving the Mixed Lineage Leukemia (MLL) gene produce chimeric proteins that cause abnormal expression of a subset of HOX genes and leukemia development. Here, we show that MLL normally regulates expression of mir-196b, a hematopoietic microRNA located within the HoxA cluster, in a pattern similar to that of the surrounding 5' Hox genes, Hoxa9 and Hoxa10, during embryonic stem (ES) cell differentiation. Within the hematopoietic lineage, mir-196b is most abundant in short-term hematopoietic stem cells and is down-regulated in more differentiated hematopoietic cells. Leukemogenic MLL fusion proteins cause overexpression of mir-196b, while treatment of MLL-AF9 transformed bone marrow cells with mir-196-specific antagomir abrogates their replating potential in methylcellulose. This demonstrates that mir-196b function is necessary for MLL fusion-mediated immortalization. Furthermore, overexpression of mir-196b was found specifically in patients with MLL associated leukemias as determined from analysis of 55 primary leukemia samples. Overexpression of mir-196b in bone marrow progenitor cells leads to increased proliferative capacity and survival, as well as a partial block in differentiation. Our results suggest a mechanism whereby increased expression of mir-196b by MLL fusion proteins significantly contributes to leukemia development.
    Blood 03/2009; 113(14):3314-22. · 9.78 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Homeobox (HOX) genes play a definitive role in determination of cell fate during embryogenesis and hematopoiesis. MLL-related leukemia is coincident with increased expression of a subset of HOX genes, including HOXA9. MLL functions to maintain, rather than initiate, expression of its target genes. However, the mechanism of MLL maintenance of target gene expression is not understood. Here, we demonstrate that Mll binds to specific clusters of CpG residues within the Hoxa9 locus and regulates expression of multiple transcripts. The presence of Mll at these clusters provides protection from DNA methylation. shRNA knock-down of Mll reverses the methylation protection status at the previously protected CpG clusters; methylation at these CpG residues is similar to that observed in Mll null cells. Furthermore, reconstituting MLL expression in Mll null cells can reverse DNA methylation of the same CpG residues, demonstrating a dominant effect of MLL in protecting this specific region from DNA methylation. Intriguingly, an oncogenic MLL-AF4 fusion can also reverse DNA methylation, but only for a subset of these CpGs. This method of transcriptional regulation suggests a mechanism that explains the role of Mll in transcriptional maintenance, but it may extend to other CpG DNA binding proteins. Protection from methylation may be an important mechanism of epigenetic inheritance by regulating the function of both de novo and maintenance DNA methyltransferases.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 06/2008; 105(21):7517-22. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Evolutionarily conserved HOX genes play an important role during development and hematopoiesis. HOX protein products are transcription factors whose precise mechanism of action is still poorly understood. Regulation of HOX gene expression has been the topic of various studies. While alternative splicing and alternative promoter usage have been known to increase the number of transcripts across the HOX clusters, more recently high-throughput analyses have identified a number of new coding and noncoding RNA molecules whose function is not known. Here we review the transcriptome of the most studied HOX locus, HOXA9. Strict control of HOXA9 expression has been shown to play a critical role in hematopoiesis while aberrant expression has been shown to be important to the development of leukemia. However, it is still unclear how various transcripts from this locus are regulated and what specific role(s) each one of them plays.
    Blood Cells Molecules and Diseases 01/2008; 40(2):156-9. · 2.26 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A critical unanswered question about mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) is how specific MLL fusion partners control leukemia phenotype. The MLL-cyclic AMP-responsive element binding protein-binding protein (CBP) fusion requires both the CBP bromodomain and histone acetyltransferase (HAT) domain for transformation and causes acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), often preceded by a myelodysplastic phase. We did domain-swapping experiments to define whether unique specificities of these CBP domains drive this specific MLL phenotype. Within MLL-CBP, we replaced the CBP bromodomain or HAT domain with P300/CBP-associated factor (P/CAF) or TAF(II)250 bromodomains or the P/CAF or GCN5 HAT domains. HAT, but not bromodomain, substitutions conferred enhanced proliferative capacity in vitro but lacked expression of myeloid cell surface markers normally seen with MLL-CBP. Mice reconstituted with domain-swapped hematopoietic progenitors developed different disease from those with MLL-CBP. This included development of lymphoid disease and lower frequency of the myelodysplastic phase in those mice developing AML. We conclude that both the CBP bromodomain and HAT domain play different but critical roles in determining the phenotype of MLL-CBP leukemia. Our results support an important role for MLL partner genes in determining the leukemia phenotype besides their necessity in leukemogenesis. Here, we find that subtleties in MLL fusion protein domain specificity direct cells toward a specific disease phenotype.
    Cancer Research 11/2006; 66(20):10032-9. · 8.65 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: MLL, involved in many chromosomal translocations associated with acute myeloid and lymphoid leukemia, has >50 known partner genes with which it is able to form in-frame fusions. Characterizing important downstream target genes of MLL and of MLL fusion proteins may provide rational therapeutic strategies for the treatment of MLL-associated leukemia. We explored downstream target genes of the most prevalent MLL fusion protein, MLL-AF4. To this end, we developed inducible MLL-AF4 fusion cell lines in different backgrounds. Overexpression of MLL-AF4 does not lead to increased proliferation in either cell line, but rather, cell growth was slowed compared with similar cell lines inducibly expressing truncated MLL. We found that in the MLL-AF4-induced cell lines, the expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor gene CDKN1B was dramatically changed at both the RNA and protein (p27kip1) levels. In contrast, the expression levels of CDKN1A (p21) and CDKN2A (p16) were unchanged. To explore whether CDKN1B might be a direct target of MLL and of MLL-AF4, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays and luciferase reporter gene assays. MLL-AF4 binds to the CDKN1B promoter in vivo and regulates CDKN1B promoter activity. Further, we confirmed CDKN1B promoter binding by ChIP in MLL-AF4 as well as in MLL-AF9 leukemia cell lines. Our results suggest that CDKN1B is a downstream target of MLL and of MLL-AF4, and that, depending on the background cell type, MLL-AF4 inhibits or activates CDKN1B expression. This finding may have implications in terms of leukemia stem cell resistance to chemotherapy in MLL-AF4 leukemias.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 09/2005; 102(39):14028-33. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    Relja Popovic, Nancy J Zeleznik-Le
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    ABSTRACT: The mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene encodes a very large nuclear protein homologous to Drosophila trithorax (trx). MLL is required for the proper maintenance of HOX gene expression during development and hematopoiesis. The exact regulatory mechanism of HOX gene expression by MLL is poorly understood, but it is believed that MLL functions at the level of chromatin organization. MLL was identified as a common target of chromosomal translocations associated with human acute leukemias. About 50 different MLL fusion partners have been isolated to date, and while similarities exist between groups of partners, there exists no unifying property shared by all the partners. MLL gene rearrangements are found in leukemias with both lymphoid and myeloid phenotypes and are often associated with infant and secondary leukemias. The immature phenotype of the leukemic blasts suggests an important role for MLL in the early stages of hematopoietic development. Mll homozygous mutant mice are embryonic lethal and exhibit deficiencies in yolk sac hematopoiesis. Recently, two different MLL-containing protein complexes have been isolated. These and other gain- and loss-of-function experiments have provided insight into normal MLL function and altered functions of MLL fusion proteins. This article reviews the progress made toward understanding the function of the wild-type MLL protein. While many advances in understanding this multifaceted protein have been made since its discovery, many challenging questions remain to be answered.
    Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 06/2005; 95(2):234-42. · 3.06 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

461 Citations
171.63 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2013
    • University of Illinois at Chicago
      • Section of Hematology and Oncology
      Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • 2012–2013
    • Northwestern University
      • Division of Hematology/Oncology
      Evanston, IL, United States
  • 2010
    • Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
      Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • 2009
    • Loyola University
      New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
  • 2005–2009
    • Loyola University Medical Center
      • Department of Medicine
      Maywood, Illinois, United States
  • 2008
    • Loyola University Chicago
      • Oncology Institute
      Chicago, IL, United States
    • Molecular and Cellular Biology Program
      Seattle, Washington, United States