Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by enhanced chronic inflammation in the airways, lung parenchyma, and circulation. We investigated whether SUV39H1, a histone methyltransferase, is causatively implicated in the abnormal inflammation observed in COPD. The SUV39H1 and H3K9me3 levels were reduced in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), primary human small airway epithelial cells (HSAEpCs) and lung tissues from COPD patients, which were correlated with poor lung function and the serum IL-8 and IL-6 levels. A specific SUV39H1 inhibitor, chaetocin, induced a distinct COPD panel of inflammatory cytokines in normal PBMCs. Mechanistically, chaetocin reduced the SUV39H1 and H3K9me3 levels in the native IL-8 promoter in normal HSAEpCs, which mimicked unstimulated COPD HSAEpCs and led to decreased HP-1α levels and increased RNA polymerase II levels. SUV39H1 knockdown reproduced the pattern of COPD inflammation, whereas SUV39H1 overexpression in COPD HSAEpCs rescued the H3K9me3 levels and suppressed inflammation. In COPD mice, chaetocin further repressed the SUV39H1/H3K9me3 levels and enhanced inflammation. SUV39H1 epigenetically controls a distinct panel of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Its reduction in COPD leads to a loss of the repressive chromatin mark H3K9me3 and confers an abnormal inflammatory response to stimulators. SUV39H1 and its regulatory pathways are potential therapeutic targets for COPD.
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