Cancer-Specific Retargeting of BAF Complexes by a Prion-like Domain

Alterations in transcriptional regulators can orchestrate oncogenic gene expression programs in cancer. Here, we show that the BRG1/BRM-associated factor (BAF) chromatin remodeling complex, which is mutated in over 20% of human tumors, interacts with EWSR1, a member of a family of proteins with prion-like domains (PrLD) that are frequent partners in oncogenic fusions with transcription factors. In Ewing sarcoma, we find that the BAF complex is recruited by the EWS-FLI1 fusion protein to tumor-specific enhancers and contributes to target gene activation. This process is a neomorphic property of EWS-FLI1 compared to wild-type FLI1 and depends on tyrosine residues that are necessary for phase transitions of the EWSR1 prion-like domain. Furthermore, fusion of short fragments of EWSR1 to FLI1 is sufficient to recapitulate BAF complex retargeting and EWS-FLI1 activities. Our studies thus demonstrate that the physical properties of prion-like domains can retarget critical chromatin regulatory complexes to establish and maintain oncogenic gene expression programs.

Cell (2017), Volume 171, Issue 1