Introduction: Epigenetic dysregulation drives or supports numerous human cancers. The chromatin landscape in cancer cells is often marked by abnormal histone post-translational modification (PTM) patterns and by aberrant assembly and recruitment of protein complexes to specific genomic loci. Mass spectrometry-based proteomic analyses can support the discovery and characterization of both phenomena. Areas covered: We broadly divide this literature into two parts: ‘modification-centric’ analyses that link histone PTMs to cancer biology; and ‘complex-centric’ analyses that examine protein–protein interactions that occur de novo as a result of oncogenic mutations. We also discuss proteomic studies of oncohistones. We highlight relevant examples, discuss limitations, and speculate about forthcoming innovations regarding each application. Expert commentary: ‘Modification-centric’ analyses have been used to further understanding of cancer’s histone code and to identify associated therapeutic vulnerabilities. ‘Complex-centric’ analyses have likewise revealed insights into mechanisms of oncogenesis and suggested potential therapeutic targets, particularly in MLL-associated leukemia. Proteomic experiments have also supported some of the pioneering studies of oncohistone-mediated tumorigenesis. Additional applications of proteomics that may benefit cancer epigenetics research include middle-down and top-down histone PTM analysis, chromatin reader profiling, and genomic locus-specific protein identification. In the coming years, proteomic approaches will remain powerful ways to interrogate the biology of cancer.
- Affinity proteomics