While multiple post-translational modifications have been reported to regulate the function of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), the effect of protein methylation on its function has not been well characterized. In this study, we show that WHSC1L1 mono-methylates lysine 721 in the tyrosine kinase domain of EGFR, and that this methylation leads to enhanced activation of its downstream ERK cascade without EGF stimulation. We also show that EGFR K721 mono-methylation not only affects the function of cytoplasmic EGFR, but also that of nuclear EGFR. WHSC1L1-mediated methylation of EGFR in the nucleus enhanced its interaction with PCNA in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN) cells and resulted in enhanced DNA synthesis and cell cycle progression. Overall, our study demonstrates the multifaceted oncogenic function of the protein lysine methyltransferase WHSC1L1 in SCCHN, which is mediated through direct non-histone methylation of the EGFR protein with effects both in its cytoplasmic and nuclear functions.

Citation Format: Vassiliki Saloura, Theodore Vougiouklakis, Makda Zewde, Xiaolan Deng, Kazuma Kiyotani, Jae-Hyun Park, Yo Matsuo, Mark Lingen, Naoshi Dohmae, Takehiro Suzuki, Ryuji Hamamoto, Yusuke Nakamura. WHSC1L1-mediated EGFR mono-methylation enhances the cytoplasmic and nuclear oncogenic activity of EGFR in head and neck cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 342. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-342