Lawrence Lab Publications


Heterochromatin instability in cancer: From the Barr body to satellites and the nuclear periphery

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology

Publication Date


Document Type



Heterochromatin; Neoplasms; DNA, Satellite; Epigenesis, Genetic; RNA, Untranslated; Genes, BRCA1


Cancer Biology | Cell and Developmental Biology | Cell Biology


In recent years it has been recognized that the development of cancer involves a series of not only genetic but epigenetic changes across the genome. At the same time, connections between epigenetic regulation, chromatin packaging, and overall nuclear architecture are increasingly appreciated. The cell-type specific organization of heterochromatin, established upon cell differentiation, is responsible for maintaining much of the genome in a repressed state, within a highly compartmentalized nucleus. This review focuses on recent evidence that in cancer the normal packaging and higher organization of heterochromatin is often compromised. Gross changes in nuclear morphology have long been a criterion for pathologic diagnosis of many cancers, but the specific nuclear components impacted, the mechanisms involved, and the implications for cancer progression have barely begun to emerge. We discuss recent findings regarding distinct heterochromatin types, including the inactive X chromosome, constitutive heterochromatin of peri/centric satellites, and the peripheral heterochromatic compartment (PHC). A theme developed here is that the higher-order organization of satellites and the peripheral heterochromatic compartment may be tightly linked, and that compromise of this organization may promote broad epigenomic imbalance in cancer. Recent studies into the potential role(s) of the breast cancer tumor suppressor, BRCA1, in maintaining heterochromatin will be highlighted. Many questions remain about this new area of cancer epigenetics, which is likely more important in cancer development and progression than widely appreciated. We propose that broad, stochastic compromise in heterochromatin maintenance would create a diversity of expression profiles, and thus a rich opportunity for one or more cells to emerge with a selective growth advantage and potential for neoplasia.

DOI of Published Version



Carone DM, Lawrence JB. Heterochromatin instability in cancer: From the Barr body to satellites and the nuclear periphery. Semin Cancer Biol (2012), Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Seminars in cancer biology

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID