Background: The molecular mechanisms governing anti-PD-1 resistance in melanoma are not fully understood. Suboptimal transcriptional and molecular response to interferon-gamma (IFNγ) is commonly identified in tumors with intrinsic or acquired resistance to anti-PD-1. Epigenetic regulators have been shown to reprogram IFNγ responses in some cases, though the mechanism is not clear. The ability of melanoma cells to express MHC-II is a positive clinical predictor to anti-PD-1 therapy, and MHC-II is induced only on cells with robust IFNγ responses. Enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2), an epigenetic regulator with both methyltransferase-dependent and -independent function, can suppress IFNγ target genes and is frequently overexpressed in melanoma. However, the mechanisms whereby EZH2 interacts with the IFNγ pathway and its role in melanoma-specific MHC-II expression is not known.

Methods: HLA-DR (MHC-II)-proficient (A375, SKMEL28 and SKMEL5) and -deficient (CHL-1 and MEWO) melanoma cell lines were stimulated with IFNγ for up to 48h, and the modulation of EZH2 protein and function were studied temporally. To test the role of EZH2 in MHC-II (HLA-DR) expression in IFNγ responses, genetic (siRNA) and chemical (GSK343) EZH2 inhibition was utilized.

Results: EZH2 was highly expressed in all cell lines tested, regardless of HLA-DR-proficiency. In 2 out of 3 HLA-DR-inducible melanoma cell lines, EZH2 protein expression was downregulated (4-24 hrs) in response to IFNγ stimulation, without effects on EZH2 mRNA expression or downstream tri-methylated H3K27 expression. Blocking proteosomal degradation with MG-132 reversed the IFNγ-induced decrease in EZH2 expression in HLA-DR-proficient cell lines. After siRNA knockdown of EZH2, SKMEL28 cells increased constitutive HLA-DR expression, while A375 cells became more sensitive to IFNγ-induced HLA-DR upregulation. In addition, IFNγ-induced HLA-DR was increased in A375 cells with EZH2 inhibition using GSK343.

Conclusion: This work demonstrates a potential role for EZH2 in suppressing IFNγ responses, including the induction of MHC-II, in melanoma cells. EZH2 is subject to proteosomal degradation in MHC-II-inducible cell lines, which, in part, contributes to the expression of MHC-II.

Citation Format: Jamaal L. James, Susan R. Opalenik, Abigail Toren, Rebecca S. Cook, Justin M. Balko. IFNγ signaling drives EZH2 degradation to induce MHC-II expression in melanoma [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019; 2019 Mar 29-Apr 3; Atlanta, GA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2019;79(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 4728.