Chromatin readers decipher the functional readouts of histone modifications by recruiting specific effector complexes for subsequent epigenetic reprogramming. The LSD1 (also known as KDM1A) histone demethylase complex modifies chromatin and represses transcription in part by catalyzing demethylation of dimethylated histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me2), a mark for active transcription. However, none of its currently known subunits recognizes methylated histones. The Snai1 family transcription factors are central drivers of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) by which epithelial cells acquire enhanced invasiveness. Snai1-mediated transcriptional repression of epithelial genes depends on its recruitment of the LSD1 complex and ensuing demethylation of H3K4me2 at its target genes. Through biochemical purification, we identified the MBT domain-containing protein SFMBT1 as a novel component of the LSD1 complex associated with Snai1. Unlike other mammalian MBT domain proteins characterized to date that selectively recognize mono- and dimethylated lysines, SFMBT1 binds diand trimethyl H3K4, both of which are enriched at active promoters. We show that SFMBT1 is essential for Snai1-dependent recruitment of LSD1 to chromatin, demethylation of H3K4me2, transcriptional repression of epithelial markers, and induction of EMT by TGFb. Carcinogenic metal nickel is a widespread environmental and occupational pollutant. Nickel alters gene expression and induces EMT. We demonstrate the nickel-initiated effects are dependent on LSD1-SFMBT1-mediated chromatin modification. Furthermore, in human cancer, expression of SFMBT1 is associated with mesenchymal markers and unfavorable prognosis. These results highlight a critical role of SFMBT1 in epigenetic regulation, EMT, and cancer.
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