Growing evidence implicates histone H3 lysine 9 methylation in tumorigenesis. The SUV family of H3K9 methyltransferases, which include G9a, GLP, SETDB1, SETDB2, SUV39H1 and SUV39H2 deposit H3K9me1/2/3 marks at euchromatic and heterochromatic regions, catalyzed by their conserved SET domain. In cancer, this family of enzymes can be deregulated by genomic alterations and transcriptional mis-expression leading to alteration of transcriptional programs. In solid and hematological malignancies, studies have uncovered pro-oncogenic roles for several H3K9 methyltransferases and accordingly, small molecule inhibitors are being tested as potential therapies. However, emerging evidence demonstrate onco-suppressive roles for these enzymes in cancer development as well. Here, we review the role H3K9 methyltransferases play in tumorigenesis focusing on gene targets and biological pathways affected due to misregulation of these enzymes. We also discuss molecular mechanisms regulating H3K9 methyltransferases and their influence on cancer. Finally, we describe the impact of H3K9 methylation on therapy induced resistance in carcinoma. Converging evidence point to multi-faceted roles for H3K9 methyltransferases in development and cancer that encourages a deeper understanding of these enzymes to inform novel therapy.
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