Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare cancer in which tissue-specific differentiation is paradoxically associated with dismal outcomes. The differentiated ACC subtype CIMP-high is prevalent, incurable, and routinely fatal. CIMP-high ACC possess abnormal DNA methylation and frequent β-catenin–activating mutations. Here, we demonstrated that ACC differentiation is maintained by a balance between nuclear, tissue-specific β-catenin–containing complexes, and the epigenome. On chromatin, β-catenin bound master adrenal transcription factor SF1 and hijacked the adrenocortical super-enhancer landscape to maintain differentiation in CIMP-high ACC; off chromatin, β-catenin bound histone methyltransferase EZH2. SF1/β-catenin and EZH2/β-catenin complexes present in normal adrenals persisted through all phases of ACC evolution. Pharmacologic EZH2 inhibition in CIMP-high ACC expelled SF1/β-catenin from chromatin and favored EZH2/β-catenin assembly, erasing differentiation and restraining cancer growth in vitro and in vivo. These studies illustrate how tissue-specific programs shape oncogene selection, surreptitiously encoding targetable therapeutic vulnerabilities.

Significance:

Oncogenic β-catenin can use tissue-specific partners to regulate cellular differentiation programs that can be reversed by epigenetic therapies, identifying epigenetic control of differentiation as a viable target for β-catenin–driven cancers.

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