RNF40-dependent epigenetic regulation of actin cytoskeletal dynamics is required for HER2-driven mammary tumorigenesis

Florian Wegwitz, Evangelos Prokakis, Anastasija Pejkovska, Robyn Laura Kosinsky, Markus Glatzel, Klaus Pantel, Harriet Wikman, Steven A. Johnsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The HER2-driven breast cancer subtype displays a particularly aggressive behavior. Alterations of the epigenome are common in cancers and represent attractive novel molecular therapeutic targets. Monoubiquitination of histone 2B (H2Bub1) by its obligate heterodimeric E3 ubiquitin ligase complex RNF20/RNF40 has been described to have tumor suppressor functions and loss of H2Bub1 has been associated with cancer progression. In this study, we utilized human tumor samples, cell culture models, and a mammary carcinoma mouse model with tissue-specific Rnf40 deletion and identified an unexpected tumor-supportive role of RNF40 in HER2-positive breast cancer. We demonstrate that RNF40-driven H2B monoubiquitination is essential for transcriptional activation of RHO/ROCK/LIMK pathway components and proper actin cytoskeleton dynamics through a trans-histone crosstalk with histone 3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3). Collectively, this work demonstrates a previously unknown essential role of RNF40 in HER2-positive breast cancer, revealing the RNF20/RNF40/H2Bub1 axis as a possible tumor context-dependent therapeutic target in breast cancer. Statement of significance HER2-positive breast cancer patients frequently develop resistance to anti-HER2 therapies. Here we demonstrate that RNF20/RNF40-mediated H2B monoubiquitination supports the oncogenic properties of cancer cells of this subtype by regulating actin dynamics. The RNF20/RNF40/H2Bub1 axis may therefore represent an attractive drug target for novel therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Feb 25 2020


  • Actin
  • Cancer
  • H2Bub1
  • RNF40
  • ROCK1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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