Arginine methylation is a post-translational modification that is implicated in multiple biological functions including transcriptional regulation. The expression of protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMT) has been shown to be upregulated in various cancers. PRMTs have emerged as attractive targets for the development of new cancer therapies. Here, we describe the identification of a natural compound, licochalcone A, as a novel, reversible and selective inhibitor of PRMT6. Since expression of PRMT6 is upregulated in human breast cancers and is associated with oncogenesis, we used the human breast cancer cell line system to study the effect of licochalcone A treatment on PRMT6 activity, cell viability, cell cycle, and apoptosis. We demonstrated that licochalcone A is a non-S-adenosyl L-methionine (SAM) binding site competitive inhibitor of PRMT6. In MCF-7 cells, it inhibited PRMT6-dependent methylation of histone H3 at arginine 2 (H3R2), which resulted in a significant repression of estrogen receptor activity. Licochalcone A exhibited cytotoxicity towards human MCF-7 breast cancer cells, but not MCF-10A human breast epithelial cells, by upregulating p53 expression and blocking cell cycle progression at G2/M, followed by apoptosis. Thus, licochalcone A has potential for further development as a therapeutic agent against breast cancer.

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