Charles W M Roberts

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, United States

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Publications (51)686.96 Total impact

  • Kimberly H Kim · Charles W M Roberts
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    ABSTRACT: Recent genomic studies have resulted in an emerging understanding of the role of chromatin regulators in the development of cancer. EZH2, a histone methyl transferase subunit of a Polycomb repressor complex, is recurrently mutated in several forms of cancer and is highly expressed in numerous others. Notably, both gain-of-function and loss-of-function mutations occur in cancers but are associated with distinct cancer types. Here we review the spectrum of EZH2-associated mutations, discuss the mechanisms underlying EZH2 function, and synthesize a unifying perspective that the promotion of cancer arises from disruption of the role of EZH2 as a master regulator of transcription. We further discuss EZH2 inhibitors that are now showing early signs of promise in clinical trials and also additional strategies to combat roles of EZH2 in cancer.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2016 · Nature medicine
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    ABSTRACT: Importance Pediatric cancers represent a unique case with respect to cancer genomics and precision medicine, as the mutation frequency is low, and targeted therapies are less available. Consequently, it is unknown whether clinical sequencing can be of benefit.Objective To assess the feasibility of identifying actionable alterations and making individualized cancer therapy (iCat) recommendations in pediatric patients with extracranial solid tumors.Design, Setting, and Participants Clinical sequencing study at 4 academic medical centers enrolling patients between September 5, 2012, and November 19, 2013, with 1 year of clinical follow-up. Participants were 30 years or younger with high-risk, recurrent, or refractory extracranial solid tumors. The data analysis was performed October 28, 2014.Interventions Tumor profiling performed on archived clinically acquired specimens consisted of mutation detection by a Sequenom assay or targeted next-generation sequencing and copy number assessment by array comparative genomic hybridization. Results were reviewed by a multidisciplinary expert panel, and iCat recommendations were made if an actionable alteration was present, and an appropriate drug was available.Main Outcomes and Measures Feasibility was assessed using a 2-stage design based on the proportion of patients with recommendations.Results Of 100 participants (60 male; median [range] age, 13.4 [0.8-29.8] years), profiling was technically successful in 89 (89% [95% CI, 83%-95%]). Median (range) follow-up was 6.8 (2.0-23.6) months. Overall, 31 (31% [95% CI, 23%-41%]) patients received an iCat recommendation and 3 received matched therapy. The most common actionable alterations leading to an iCat recommendation were cancer-associated signaling pathway gene mutations (n = 10) and copy number alterations in MYC/MYCN (n = 6) and cell cycle genes (n = 11). Additional alterations with implications for clinical care but not resulting in iCat recommendations were identified, including mutations indicating the possible presence of a cancer predisposition syndrome and translocations suggesting a change in diagnosis. In total, 43 (43% [95% CI, 33%-53%]) participants had results with potential clinical significance.Conclusions and Relevance A multi-institution clinical genomics study in pediatric oncology is feasible and a substantial proportion of relapsed or refractory pediatric solid tumors have actionable alterations.Trial Registration Identifier: NCT01853345
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016
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    ABSTRACT: Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT) is the most common malignant CNS tumor of children below 6 months of age. The majority of AT/RTs demonstrate genomic alterations in SMARCB1 (INI1, SNF5, BAF47) or, to a lesser extent, SMARCA4 (BRG1) of the SWItch/sucrose nonfermentable chromatin remodeling complex. Recent transcription and methylation profiling studies suggest the existence of molecular subgroups. Thus, at the root of these seemingly enigmatic tumors lies a network of factors related to epigenetic regulation, which is not yet completely understood. While conventional-type chemotherapy may have significant survival benefit for certain patients, it remains to be determined which patients will eventually prove resistant to chemotherapy and thus need novel therapeutic strategies. Elucidation of the molecular consequences of a disturbed epigenome has led to the identification of a series of transduction cascades, which may be targeted for therapy. Among these are the pathways of cyclin D1/cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6, Hedgehog/GLI1, Wnt/ß-catenin, enhancer of zeste homolog 2, and aurora kinase A, among others. Compounds specifically targeting these pathways or agents that alter the epigenetic state of the cell are currently being evaluated in preclinical settings and in experimental clinical trials for AT/RT.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Neuro-Oncology
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    ABSTRACT: Changes of histone modification status at critical lineage-specifying gene loci in multipotent precursors can influence cell fate commitment. The contribution of these epigenetic mechanisms to natural killer (NK) cell lineage determination from common lymphoid precursors is not understood. Here we investigate the impact of histone methylation repressive marks (H3 Lys27 trimethylation; H3K27(me3)) on early NK cell differentiation. We demonstrate that selective loss of the histone-lysine N-methyltransferase Ezh2 (enhancer of zeste homolog 2) or inhibition of its enzymatic activity with small molecules unexpectedly increased generation of the IL-15 receptor (IL-15R) CD122(+) NK precursors and mature NK progeny from both mouse and human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Mechanistic studies revealed that enhanced NK cell expansion and cytotoxicity against tumor cells were associated with up-regulation of CD122 and the C-type lectin receptor NKG2D. Moreover, NKG2D deficiency diminished the positive effects of Ezh2 inhibitors on NK cell commitment. Identification of the contribution of Ezh2 to NK lineage specification and function reveals an epigenetic-based mechanism that regulates NK cell development and provides insight into the clinical application of Ezh2 inhibitors in NK-based cancer immunotherapies.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2015 · Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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    ABSTRACT: Small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT) is the most common undifferentiated ovarian malignancy diagnosed in women under age 40. We and others recently determined that germline and/or somatic deleterious mutations in SMARCA4 characterize SCCOHT. Alterations in this gene, or the related SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling gene SMARCB1, have been previously reported in atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors (ATRTs) and malignant rhabdoid tumors (MRTs). To further describe the somatic landscape of SCCOHT, we performed whole exome sequencing on 14 tumors and their matched normal tissues and compared their genomic alterations with those in ATRT and ovarian high grade serous carcinoma (HGSC). We confirmed that SMARCA4 is the only recurrently mutated gene in SCCOHT, and show that recurrent allelic imbalance is observed exclusively on chromosome 19p, where SMARCA4 resides. By comparing genomic alterations between SCCOHT, ATRT and HGSC, we demonstrate that SCCOHTs, like ATRTs, have a remarkably simple genome and harbor significantly fewer somatic protein-coding mutations and chromosomal alterations than HGSC. Furthermore, a comparison of global DNA methylation profiles of 45 SCCOHTs, 65 ATRTs, and 92 HGSCs demonstrates a strong epigenetic correlation between SCCOHT and ATRT. Our results further confirm that the genomic and epigenomic signatures of SCCOHT are more similar to those of ATRT than HGSC, supporting our previous hypothesis that SCCOHT is a rhabdoid tumor and should be renamed MRT of the ovary. Furthermore, we conclude that SMARCA4 inactivation is the main cause of SCCOHT, and that new distinct therapeutic approaches should be developed to specifically target this devastating tumor.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2015 · Oncotarget
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    ABSTRACT: Precise nucleosome positioning is an increasingly recognized feature of promoters and enhancers, reflecting complex contributions of DNA sequence, nucleosome positioning, histone modification and transcription factor binding to enhancer activity and regulation of gene expression. Changes in nucleosome position and occupancy, histone variants and modifications, and chromatin remodeling are also critical elements of dynamic transcriptional regulation, but poorly understood at enhancers. We investigated glucocorticoid receptor-associated (GR) nucleosome dynamics at enhancers in acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For the first time, we demonstrate functionally distinct modes of nucleosome remodeling upon chromatin binding by GR, which we term central, non-central, phased, and minimal. Central and non-central remodeling reflect nucleosome eviction by GR and cofactors, respectively. Phased remodeling involves nucleosome repositioning and is associated with rapidly activated enhancers and induction of gene expression. Minimal remodeling sites initially have low levels of enhancer-associated histone modification, but the majority of these regions gain H3K4me2 or H3K27Ac to become de novo enhancers. Minimal remodeling regions are associated with gene ontologies specific to decreased B cell number and mTOR inhibition and may make unique contributions to glucocorticoid-induced leukemia cell death. Our findings form a novel framework for understanding the dynamic interplay between transcription factor binding, nucleosome remodeling, enhancer function, and gene expression in the leukemia response to glucocorticoids.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Epigenetics & Chromatin
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    ABSTRACT: Human cancer genome sequencing has recently revealed that genes that encode subunits of SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complexes are frequently mutated across a wide variety of cancers, and several subunits of the complex have been shown to have bona fide tumor suppressor activity. However, whether mutations in SWI/SNF subunits result in shared dependencies is unknown. Here we show that EZH2, a catalytic subunit of the polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), is essential in all tested cancer cell lines and xenografts harboring mutations of the SWI/SNF subunits ARID1A, PBRM1, and SMARCA4, which are several of the most frequently mutated SWI/SNF subunits in human cancer, but that co-occurrence of a Ras pathway mutation is correlated with abrogation of this dependence. Notably, we demonstrate that SWI/SNF-mutant cancer cells are primarily dependent on a non-catalytic role of EZH2 in the stabilization of the PRC2 complex, and that they are only partially dependent on EZH2 histone methyltransferase activity. These results not only reveal a shared dependency of cancers with genetic alterations in SWI/SNF subunits, but also suggest that EZH2 enzymatic inhibitors now in clinical development may not fully suppress the oncogenic activity of EZH2.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2015 · Nature medicine
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    ABSTRACT: The extent of tumor heterogeneity is an emerging theme that researchers are only beginning to understand. How genetic and epigenetic heterogeneity affects tumor evolution and clinical progression is unknown. The precise nature of the environmental factors that influence this heterogeneity is also yet to be characterized. Nature Medicine, Nature Biotechnology and the Volkswagen Foundation organized a meeting focused on identifying the obstacles that need to be overcome to advance translational research in and tumor heterogeneity. Once these key questions were established, the attendees devised potential solutions. Their ideas are presented here.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Nature medicine

  • No preview · Article · Aug 2015 · Cancer Research
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    ABSTRACT: Osteosarcoma is the most common primary bone tumor, yet there have been no substantial advances in treatment or survival in three decades. We examined 59 tumor/normal pairs by whole-exome, whole-genome, and RNA-sequencing. Only the TP53 gene was mutated at significant frequency across all samples. The mean nonsilent somatic mutation rate was 1.2 mutations per megabase, and there was a median of 230 somatic rearrangements per tumor. Complex chains of rearrangements and localized hypermutation were detected in almost all cases. Given the intertumor heterogeneity, the extent of genomic instability, and the difficulty in acquiring a large sample size in a rare tumor, we used several methods to identify genomic events contributing to osteosarcoma survival. Pathway analysis, a heuristic analytic algorithm, a comparative oncology approach, and an shRNA screen converged on the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/mammalian target of rapamycin (PI3K/mTOR) pathway as a central vulnerability for therapeutic exploitation in osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma cell lines are responsive to pharmacologic and genetic inhibition of the PI3K/mTOR pathway both in vitro and in vivo.
    Preview · Article · Dec 2014 · Cancer Research

  • No preview · Conference Paper · Dec 2014
  • Charles W. M. Roberts

    No preview · Article · Oct 2014 · Cancer Research
  • Katherine C Helming · Xiaofeng Wang · Charles W M Roberts
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    ABSTRACT: Cancer genome sequencing efforts have revealed the novel theme that chromatin modifiers are frequently mutated across a wide spectrum of cancers. Mutations in genes encoding subunits of SWI/SNF (BAF) chromatin remodeling complexes are particularly prevalent, occurring in 20% of all human cancers. As these are typically loss-of-function mutations and not directly therapeutically targetable, central goals have been to elucidate mechanism and identify vulnerabilities created by these mutations. Here, we discuss emerging data that these mutations lead to the formation of aberrant residual SWI/SNF complexes that constitute a specific vulnerability and discuss the potential for exploiting these dependencies in SWI/SNF mutant cancers.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2014 · Cancer Cell
  • Kimberly H. Kim · Charles W.M. Roberts
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    ABSTRACT: SMARCB1 (INI1/SNF5/BAF47), a core subunit of the SWI/SNF (BAF) chromatin-remodeling complex, is inactivated in the large majority of rhabdoid tumors and germline heterozygous SMARCB1 mutations form the basis for rhabdoid predisposition syndrome. Mouse models validated Smarcb1 as a bona fide tumor suppressor as Smarcb1 inactivation in mice results in 100% of the animals rapidly developing cancer. SMARCB1 was the first subunit of the SWI/SNF complex found mutated in cancer. More recently, at least seven other genes encoding SWI/SNF subunits have been identified as recurrently mutated in cancer. Collectively, 20% of all human cancers contain a SWI/SNF mutation. Consequently, investigation of the mechanisms by which SMARCB1 mutation causes cancer has relevance not only for rhabdoid tumors, but also potentially for the wide variety of SWI/NSNF mutant cancers. Here we discuss normal functions of SMARCB1 and the SWI/SNF complex as well as mechanistic and potentially therapeutic insights that have emerged.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2014 · Cancer Genetics
  • Charles W. M. Roberts

    No preview · Article · May 2014 · Cancer Research
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies have revealed that ARID1A, encoding AT-rich interactive domain 1A (SWI-like), is frequently mutated across a variety of human cancers and also has bona fide tumor suppressor properties. Consequently, identification of vulnerabilities conferred by ARID1A mutation would have major relevance for human cancer. Here, using a broad screening approach, we identify ARID1B, an ARID1A homolog whose gene product is mutually exclusive with ARID1A in SWI/SNF complexes, as the number 1 gene preferentially required for the survival of ARID1A-mutant cancer cell lines. We show that loss of ARID1B in ARID1A-deficient backgrounds destabilizes SWI/SNF and impairs proliferation in both cancer cells and primary cells. We also find that ARID1A and ARID1B are frequently co-mutated in cancer but that ARID1A-deficient cancers retain at least one functional ARID1B allele. These results suggest that loss of ARID1A and ARID1B alleles cooperatively promotes cancer formation but also results in a unique functional dependence. The results further identify ARID1B as a potential therapeutic target for ARID1A-mutant cancers.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2014 · Nature medicine
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    ABSTRACT: Defects in epigenetic regulation play a fundamental role in the development of cancer, and epigenetic regulators have recently emerged as promising therapeutic candidates. We therefore set out to systematically interrogate epigenetic cancer dependencies by screening an epigenome-focused deep-coverage design shRNA (DECODER) library across 58 cancer cell lines. This screen identified BRM/SMARCA2, a DNA-dependent ATPase of the mammalian SWI/SNF (mSWI/SNF) chromatin remodeling complex, as being essential for the growth of tumor cells that harbor loss of function mutations in BRG1/SMARCA4. Depletion of BRM in BRG1-deficient cancer cells leads to a cell cycle arrest, induction of senescence, and increased levels of global H3K9me3. We further demonstrate the selective dependency of BRG1-mutant tumors on BRM in vivo. Genetic alterations of the mSWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complexes are the most frequent among chromatin regulators in cancers, with BRG1/SMARCA4 mutations occurring in ∼10-15% of lung adenocarcinomas. Our findings position BRM as an attractive therapeutic target for BRG1 mutated cancers. Because BRG1 and BRM function as mutually exclusive catalytic subunits of the mSWI/SNF complex, we propose that such synthetic lethality may be explained by paralog insufficiency, in which loss of one family member unveils critical dependence on paralogous subunits. This concept of "cancer-selective paralog dependency" may provide a more general strategy for targeting other tumor suppressor lesions/complexes with paralogous subunits.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2014 · Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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    ABSTRACT: Collectively, genes encoding subunits of the SWI/SNF (BAF) chromatin remodeling complex are mutated in 20% of all human cancers, with the SMARCA4 (BRG1) subunit being one of the most frequently mutated. The SWI/SNF complex modulates chromatin remodeling through the activity of two mutually exclusive catalytic subunits, SMARCA4 and SMARCA2 (BRM). Here, we show that a SMARCA2-containing residual SWI/SNF complex underlies the oncogenic activity of SMARCA4 mutant cancers. We demonstrate that a residual SWI/SNF complex exists in SMARCA4 mutant cell lines and plays essential roles in cellular proliferation. Further, using data from loss-of-function screening of 165 cancer cell lines, we identify SMARCA2 as an essential gene in SMARCA4 mutant cancer cell lines. Mechanistically, we reveal that Smarca4 inactivation leads to greater incorporation of the nonessential SMARCA2 subunit into the SWI/SNF complex. Collectively, these results reveal a role for SMARCA2 in oncogenesis caused by SMARCA4 loss and identify the ATPase and bromodomain-containing SMARCA2 as a potential therapeutic target in these cancers.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2014 · Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Xiaofeng Wang · Charles W M Roberts
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    ABSTRACT: In this issue of Cancer Cell, Wang and colleagues report that CARM1, a protein arginine methyltransferase, specifically methylates BAF155/SMARCC1, a core subunit of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling/tumor suppressor complex. This modification facilitates the targeting of BAF155 to genes of the c-Myc pathway and enhances breast cancer progression and metastasis.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2014 · Cancer cell
  • Ryan S Lee · Charles W M Roberts
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    ABSTRACT: Genes encoding subunits of the SWI/SNF chromatin-remodeling complex constitute, collectively, one of the most frequently mutated targets in cancer. Although mutations in SWI/SNF genes are uncommon in prostate cancer, a new study shows that SChLAP1, a long noncoding RNA frequently expressed in aggressive prostate tumors, drives cancer by directly disrupting SNF5, a core subunit of the SWI/SNF complex.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2013 · Nature Genetics

Publication Stats

3k Citations
686.96 Total Impact Points


  • 2015
    • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
      • Department of Oncology
      Memphis, Tennessee, United States
  • 2006-2015
    • Harvard University
      Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2002-2014
    • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
      • Department of Pediatric Oncology
      Boston, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2007-2013
    • Boston Children's Hospital
      • • Department of Pediatrics
      • • Department of Neurology
      Boston, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2004
    • Harvard Medical School
      • Department of Pediatrics
      Boston, Massachusetts, United States