Histone post-translational modifications (PTMs) generate a complex combinatorial code that regulates gene expression and nuclear functions, and whose deregulation has been documented in different types of cancers. Therefore, the availability of relevant culture models that can be manipulated and that retain the epigenetic features of the tissue of origin is absolutely crucial for studying the epigenetic mechanisms underlying cancer and testing epigenetic drugs. In this study, we took advantage of quantitative mass spectrometry to comprehensively profile histone PTMs in patient tumor tissues, primary cultures and cell lines from three representative tumor models, breast cancer, glioblastoma and ovarian cancer, revealing an extensive and systematic rewiring of histone marks in cell culture conditions, which includes a decrease of H3K27me2/me3, H3K79me1/me2 and H3K9ac/K14ac, and an increase of H3K36me1/me2. While some changes occur in short-term primary cultures, most of them are instead time-dependent and appear only in long-term cultures. Remarkably, such changes mostly revert in cell line- and primary cell-derived in vivo xenograft models. Taken together, these results support the use of xenografts as the most representative models of in vivo epigenetic processes, suggesting caution when using cultured cells, in particular cell lines and long-term primary cultures, for epigenetic investigations.
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