Ewing sarcoma is an aggressive cancer with a defective response to DNA damage leading to an enhanced sensitivity to genotoxic agents. Mechanistically, Ewing sarcoma is driven by the fusion transcription factor EWS-FLI1, which reprograms the tumor cell epigenome. The nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase (NuRD) complex is an important regulator of chromatin function, controlling both gene expression and DNA damage repair, and has been associated with EWS-FLI1 activity. Here, a NuRD-focused CRISPR/Cas9 inactivation screen identified the helicase CHD4 as essential for Ewing sarcoma cell proliferation. CHD4 silencing induced tumor cell death by apoptosis and abolished colony formation. Although CHD4 and NuRD colocalized with EWS-FLI1 at enhancers and super-enhancers, CHD4 promoted Ewing sarcoma cell survival not by modulating EWS-FLI1 activity and its oncogenic gene expression program but by regulating chromatin structure. CHD4 depletion led to a global increase in DNA accessibility and induction of spontaneous DNA damage, resulting in an increased susceptibility to DNA-damaging agents. CHD4 loss delayed tumor growth in vivo, increased overall survival, and combination with PARP inhibition by olaparib treatment further suppressed tumor growth. Collectively, these findings highlight the NuRD subunit CHD4 as a therapeutic target in Ewing sarcoma that can potentiate the antitumor activity of genotoxic agents.

Significance:

CRISPR/Cas9 screening in Ewing sarcoma identifies a dependency on CHD4, which is crucial for the maintenance of chromatin architecture to suppress DNA damage and a promising therapeutic target for DNA damage repair-deficient malignancies.

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