Inhibition of EZH2 primes the cardiac gene activation via removal of epigenetic repression during human direct cardiac reprogramming

Yawen Tang, Lianzhong Zhao, Xufen Yu, Jianyi Zhang, Li Qian, Jian Jin, Rui Lu, Yang Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Cardiovascular disease, until now, is still the leading cause of death in the United States. Due to the limited regenerative capacity of adult hearts, the damage caused by heart injury cannot be reversed and eventually progress into heart failure. In need of cardiovascular disease treatment, many therapies aimed at either cell transplantation or cell regeneration have been proposed. Direct reprogramming of somatic cells into induced cardiomyocytes (iCMs) is considered to be a promising strategy for regenerative medicine. The induction of cardiomyocytes from non-myocytes can be achieved efficiently via ectopic expression of reprogramming factors both in vitro and in vivo in the mouse model, however, the generation of human induced cardiomyocyte-like cells (hiCMs) remains challenging. The inefficiency of hiCMs production called for the identification of the additional epigenetic memories in non-myocytes which might be damping the hiCM reprogramming. Here, we conducted an unbiased loss-of-function screening focusing on epigenetic regulators and identified enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) as an important epigenetic barrier during hiCM reprogramming. We found that the removal of EZH2 via genetic knockdown or treatment of EZH2 selective degrader significantly increased the hiCM reprogramming efficiency and led to profound activation of cardiac genes and repression of collagen and extracellular matrix genes. Furthermore, EZH2 inhibitors targeting its catalytic activity also promotes hiCM reprogramming, suggesting that EZH2 may restrain cardiac conversion through H3K27me3-mediated gene repression. Indeed, genomic profiling of H3K27me3 revealed a subset of cardiac genes that remain repressed with high levels of H3K27me3 despite of the delivery of the reprogramming factors. Inhibition of EZH2, however, leads to reduced H3K27me3 occupancy and robust activation of these cardiac genes. Taken together, our data suggested that EZH2 inhibition facilitates the activation of cardiac genes in fibroblasts and eases the production of hiCMs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102365
JournalStem Cell Research
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Direct cardiac reprogramming
  • EZH2
  • Epigenetic regulation
  • H3K27me3


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