Theranostics 2020; 10(10):4515-4529. doi:10.7150/thno.41453

Research Paper

G9a-mediated repression of CDH10 in hypoxia enhances breast tumour cell motility and associates with poor survival outcome

Francesco Casciello1,2, Fares Al-Ejeh1,4, Mariska Miranda1, Greg Kelly1,3, Eva Baxter1, Karolina Windloch1, Frank Gannon1, Jason S Lee1,2,3✉

1. QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Herston Rd, Herston, QLD 4006, Australia.
2. School of Biomedical Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, QLD 4059, Australia.
3. School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Herston, QLD 4006, Australia.
4. Currently at Cancer Research Center, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, Doha, Qatar.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Casciello F, Al-Ejeh F, Miranda M, Kelly G, Baxter E, Windloch K, Gannon F, Lee JS. G9a-mediated repression of CDH10 in hypoxia enhances breast tumour cell motility and associates with poor survival outcome. Theranostics 2020; 10(10):4515-4529. doi:10.7150/thno.41453. Available from

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Rationale: Epigenetic mechanisms are fundamental processes that can modulate gene expression, allowing cellular adaptation to environmental conditions. Hypoxia is an important factor known to initiate the metastatic cascade in cancer, activating cell motility and invasion by silencing cell adhesion genes. G9a is a histone methyltransferase previously shown to accumulate in hypoxic conditions. While its oncogenic activity has been previously reported, not much is known about the role G9a plays in the hypoxia-mediated metastatic cascade.

Methods: The role of G9a in cell motility in hypoxic condition was determined by inhibiting G9a either by short-hairpin mediated knock down or pharmacologically using a small molecule inhibitor. Through gene expression profiling, we identified CDH10 to be an important G9a target that regulates breast cancer cell motility. Lung metastasis assay in mice was used to determine the physiological significance of G9a.

Results: We demonstrate that, while hypoxia enhances breast cancer migratory capacity, blocking G9a severely reduces cellular motility under both normoxic and hypoxic conditions and prevents the hypoxia-mediated induction of cellular movement. Moreover, inhibition of G9a histone methyltransferase activity in mice using a specific small molecule inhibitor significantly reduced growth and colonisation of breast cancer cells in the lung. We identify the type-II cadherin CDH10 as being a novel hypoxia-dependent gene, directly repressed by G9a through histone methylation. CDH10 overexpression significantly reduces cellular movements in breast cancer cell lines and prevents the hypoxia-mediated increase in cell motility. In addition, we show that CDH10 expression is prognostic in breast cancer and that it is inversely correlated to EHMT2 (G9a) transcript levels in many tumor-types, including breast cancer.

Conclusion: We propose that G9a promotes cellular motility during hypoxic stress through the silencing of the cell adhesion molecule CDH10 and we describe CDH10 as a novel prognostic biomarker for breast cancer.

Keywords: G9a, hypoxia, CDH10, metastasis, breast cancer