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It is well understood that epigenetic dysregulation can contribute to the formation of tumors and that gene expression variations impact how well tumors respond to treatment and how tumors can progress. However, despite advancements in profiling techniques, it is unclear how epigenetic alterations contribute to cancer cellular properties, such as heterogeneity, stemness, and chemoresistance.

To better understand how epigenetic patterning influences cancer formation and tumor progression, a group of researchers systematically profiled histone modifications of 60 cancer cells from the National Cancer Institute-60 (NCI-60) human pan-cancer cell line panel by integrating study datasets.

Their findings–published in Nature this year–reveal the variation in combinatorial patterning of chromatin states across 60 cancer cell lines representing 9 types of cancer. They also provide a catalog of activating (H3K4me3 and H3K27ac) and repressive histone modifications (H3K9me3 and H4K20me3) across these cell lines.

In conclusion, this study is important because it furthers our understanding of cancer type and cell-type-specific epigenomes, allowing for the development of new cancer diagnostic methods and personalized epigenetic therapies. Moreover, the study’s findings provide a resource for mining epigenomic maps of human cancer cells and identifying epigenetic therapeutic targets.

These efforts may help us better understand cancer-specific and cell type-specific sensitivity to epigenetic drugs, equipping us to confront cancer disparities in diverse populations [1]. 


[1] Gopi, L. K., & Kidder, B. L. (2021). Integrative pan cancer analysis reveals epigenomic variation in cancer type and cell specific chromatin domains. Nature Communications, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21707-1

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