Peter W. Lewis

Credentials: Mechanisms of chromatin assembly, gene silencing, and epigenetic inheritance

Position title: Associate Professor


Phone: (608) 263-6599

Room 6260B Biochemical Sciences Building
440 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706


B.S., University of Virginia
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (M. Botchan)
Postdoctoral Fellow, The Rockefeller University (C.D. Allis)

Honors & Awards

2013 New Investigator Award, Mary Terese Hartzheim Foundation
2015 Kimmel Scholar Award, Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research
2015 Shaw Scientist Award, Greater Milwaukee Foundation
2016 Pew Scholar Award, The Pew Charitable Trusts Program in the Biomedical Sciences
2017 Ride Scholar, The Ride Foundation for Cancer Research
2019 Vilas Faculty Early Career Investigator Award, University of Wisconsin
2021 Innovator Award, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
2023 Hanns Kuttner Professorship, University of Wisconsin
2023 H.I. Romnes Award, University of Wisconsin

Research Description

Our research seeks to define the biochemical mechanisms involved in the establishment and maintenance of silent chromatin, also known as heterochromatin. Our experimental approaches span the spectrum from highly purified biochemical assays to proteomic and genomic analyses, and genetic screens.

Covalent modifications to DNA and histone proteins allows chromatin to act as a dynamic information hub that integrates diverse biochemical stimuli to regulate genomic DNA access for transcription. To preserve cell identity, lineage-specific gene expression must be maintained, and failure to silence genes from other lineages has the potential to cause developmental defects or promote tumorigenesis.

The Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) is one component of the two main Polycomb group protein complexes that function in a collaborative crosstalk with K27 methylation on histone H3 (H3K27me3) to initiate and maintain transcriptional silencing. Misregulation of PRC2 and H3K27me3 can cause developmental defects and specific types of cancer. We seek to define the factors that impact PRC2 recruitment and activity by using a combination of biochemical and genomic approaches.

Heterochromatin containing H3K9me3 and methylated CpG nucleotides plays an important role in maintaining genome integrity by silencing transposable elements.  We found that H3K9me3, the histone variant H3.3 and its deposition factor ATRX-DAXX, and the Human Silencing Hub (HuSH) complex function together to silence retrotransposable elements in mammals. Our research seeks to define the pathways and factors involved in establishing heterochromatin at transposons and other highly repetitive genomic sequences.

Representative Publications:

Jain SU, Rashoff AQ, Krabbenhoft SD, Hoelper D, Do TJ, Gibson TJ, Lundgren SM, Bondra ER, Deshmukh S, Harutyunyan AS, Juretic N, Jabado N, Harrison MM, Lewis PW. H3 K27M and EZHIP impede H3K27-methylation spreading by inhibiting allosterically stimulated PRC2. Molecular Cell, 2020 Nov 19;80(4):726-735

Jain SU, Khazaei S, Marchione DM, Lundgren SM, Wang X, Weinberg DN, Deshmukh S, Juretic N, Lu C, Allis CD, Garcia BA, Jabado N, Lewis PW. Histone H3.3 G34 mutations promote aberrant PRC2 activity to drive tumor progression. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 2020 Nov 3;117(44):27354-27364


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