In melanoma metastasis, the role of the AP-2α transcription factor, which is encoded by TFAP2A, is controversial as some findings have suggested tumor suppressor activity while other studies have shown high TFAP2A expression in node-positive melanoma associated with poor prognosis. Here we demonstrate that AP-2α facilitates melanoma metastasis through transcriptional activation of genes within the E2F pathway including EZH2. A BioID screen found that AP-2α interacts with members of the nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase (NuRD) complex. Loss of AP-2α removed activating chromatin marks in the promoters of EZH2 and other E2F target genes through activation of the NuRD repression complex. In melanoma cells, treatment with tazemetostat, an FDA-approved and highly specific EZH2 inhibitor, substantially reduced anchorage-independent colony formation and demonstrated heritable antimetastatic effects, which were dependent on AP-2α. Single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of a metastatic melanoma mouse model revealed hyperexpansion of Tfap2aHigh/E2F-activated cell populations in transformed melanoma relative to progenitor melanocyte stem cells. These findings demonstrate that melanoma metastasis is driven by the AP-2α/EZH2 pathway and suggest that AP-2α expression can be used as a biomarker to predict responsiveness to EZH2 inhibitors for the treatment of advanced melanomas.

Significance:

AP-2α drives melanoma metastasis by upregulating E2F pathway genes including EZH2 through inhibition of the NuRD repression complex, serving as a biomarker to predict responsiveness to EZH2 inhibitors.

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