GRWD1-WDR5-MLL2 Epigenetic Complex Mediates H3K4me3 Mark and Is Essential for Kaposi’s Sarcoma-Associated Herpesvirus-Induced Cellular Transformation

Shan Wei, Songjian Lu, Lifan Liang, Xian Wang, Wan Li, Tingting Li, Luping Chen, Enguo Ju, Xinquan Zhang, Zhao Lai, Yufei Huang, Xinghua Lu, Shou Jiang Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Infection by Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is causally associated with numerous cancers. The mechanism of KSHV-induced oncogenesis remains unclear. By performing a CRISPR-Cas9 screening in a model of KSHV-induced cellular transformation of primary cells, we identified epigenetic regulators that were essential for KSHV-induced cellular transformation. Examination of TCGA data sets of the top 9 genes, including glutamate-rich WD repeat containing 1 (GRWD1), a WD40 family protein upregulated by KSHV, that had positive effects on cell proliferation and survival of KSHV-transformed cells (KMM) but not the matched primary cells (MM), uncovered the predictive values of their expressions for patient survival in numerous types of cancer. We revealed global epigenetic remodeling including H3K4me3 epigenetic active mark in KMM cells compared to MM cells. Knockdown of GRWD1 inhibited cell proliferation, cellular transformation, and tumor formation and caused downregulation of global H3K4me3 mark in KMM cells. GRWD1 interacted with WD repeat domain 5 (WDR5), the core protein of H3K4 methyltransferase complex, and several H3K4me3 methyltransferases, including myeloid leukemia 2 (MLL2). Knockdown of WDR5 and MLL2 phenocopied GRWD1 knockdown, caused global reduction of H3K4me3 mark, and altered the expression of similar sets of genes. Transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) and chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) analyses further identified common and distinct cellular genes and pathways that were regulated by GRWD1, WDR5, and MLL2. These results indicate that KSHV hijacks the GRWD1-WDR5-MLL2 epigenetic complex to regulate H3K4me3 methylation of specific genes, which is essential for KSHV-induced cellular transformation. Our work has identified an epigenetic complex as a novel therapeutic target for KSHV-induced cancers. IMPORTANCE By performing a genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screening, we have identified cellular epigenetic regulators that are essential for KSHV-induced cellular transformation. Among them, GRWD1 regulates epigenetic active mark H3K4me3 by interacting with WDR5 and MLL2 and recruiting them to chromatin loci of specific genes in KSHV-transformed cells. Hence, KSHV hijacks the GRWD1-WDR5-MLL2 complex to remodel cellular epigenome and induce cellular transformation. Since the dysregulation of GRWD1 is associated with poor prognosis in several types of cancer, GRWD1 might also be a critical driver in other viral or nonviral cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03431-21
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Epigenetic regulators
  • GRWD1
  • Glutamate-rich WD repeat containing 1
  • H3 lysine 4 trimethylation
  • H3K4me3
  • KS
  • KSHV
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus
  • MLL2
  • Myeloid/lymphoid or mixed-lineage leukemia 2
  • WD repeat domain 5
  • WDR5

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Microbiology


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