Hoxa9 and Meis1 are key targets for MLL-ENL-mediated cellular immortalization.
ABSTRACT: MLL fusion proteins are oncogenic transcription factors that are associated with aggressive lymphoid and myeloid leukemias. We constructed an inducible MLL fusion, MLL-ENL-ERtm, that rendered the transcriptional and transforming properties of MLL-ENL strictly dependent on the presence of 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen. MLL-ENL-ERtm-immortalized hematopoietic cells required 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen for continuous growth and differentiated terminally upon tamoxifen withdrawal. Microarray analysis performed on these conditionally transformed cells revealed Hoxa9 and Hoxa7 as well as the Hox coregulators Meis1 and Pbx3 among the targets upregulated by MLL-ENL-ERtm. Overexpression of the Hox repressor Bmi-1 inhibited the growth-transforming activity of MLL-ENL. Moreover, the enforced expression of Hoxa9 in combination with Meis1 was sufficient to substitute for MLL-ENL-ERtm function and to maintain a state of continuous proliferation and differentiation arrest. These results suggest that MLL fusion proteins impose a reversible block on myeloid differentiation through aberrant activation of a limited set of homeobox genes and Hox coregulators that are consistently expressed in MLL-associated leukemias.
Project description:Rearrangements of the mixed lineage leukemia gene MLL are associated with aggressive lymphoid and myeloid leukemias. The resulting MLL fusion proteins enforce high-level expression of HOX genes and the HOX cofactor MEIS1, which is pivotal for leukemogenesis. Both wild-type MLL and MLL fusion proteins interact with the tumor suppressor menin and with the Hoxa9 locus in vivo. Here, we show that MLL sequences between amino acids 5 and 44 are required for interaction with menin and for the transformation of hematopoietic progenitors. Blocking the MLL-menin interaction by the expression of a dominant negative inhibitor composed of amino terminal MLL sequences down-regulates Meis1 expression and inhibits cell proliferation, suggesting that targeting this interaction may be an effective therapeutic strategy for leukemias with MLL rearrangements.
Project description:Abdominal-type HoxA genes in combination with Meis1 are well-documented on-cogenes in various leukemias but it is unclear how they exert their transforming function. Here we used a system of conditional transformation by an inducible mixed lineage leukemia-eleven-nineteen leukemia (MLL-ENL) oncoprotein to overexpress Hoxa9 and Meis1 in primary hematopoietic cells. Arrays identified c-Myb and a c-Myb target (Gstm1) among the genes with the strongest response to Hoxa9/Meis1. c-Myb overexpression was verified by Northern blot and quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Also MLL-ENL activated c-Myb through up-regulation of Hoxa9 and Meis1. Consequently, short-term suppression of c-Myb by small inhibitory RNA (siRNA) efficiently inhibited transformation by MLL-ENL but did not impair transformation by transcription factor E2A-hepatic leukemia factor (E2A-HLF). The anti c-Myb siRNA effect was abrogated by coexpression of a c-Myb derivative with a mutated siRNA target site. The introduction of a dominant-negative c-Myb mutant had a similar but weaker effect on MLL-ENL-mediated transformation. Hematopoietic precursors from mice homozygous for a hypo-morphic c-Myb allele were more severely affected and could be transformed neither by MLL-ENL nor by E2A-HLF. Ectopic expression of c-Myb induced a differentiation block but c-Myb alone was not transforming in a replating assay similar to Hoxa9/Meis1. These results suggest that c-Myb is essential but not sufficient for Hoxa9/Meis1 mediated transformation.
Project description:Deregulated expression of Hox genes such as HoxA9 is associated with development of myeloproliferative disorders and leukemia and indicates a poor prognosis. To investigate the molecular mechanisms by which HoxA9 promotes immortalization of hematopoietic cells, we generated growth factor dependent myeloid cells in which HoxA9 expression is regulated by administration of 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen. Maintenance of HoxA9 overexpression is required for continued cell survival and proliferation, even in the presence of growth factors. We show for the first time that maintenance of Bcl-2 expression is critical for HoxA9-dependent immortalization and influences the latency of HoxA9-dependent leukemia. Hematopoietic cells lacking Bcl-2 were not immortalized by HoxA9 in vitro. Furthermore, deletion of Bcl-2 delayed the onset and reduced the severity of HoxA9/Meis1 and MLL-AF9 leukemias. This is the first description of a molecular link between HoxA9 and the regulation of Bcl-2 family members in acute myeloid leukemia.
Project description:Mixed lineage leukemias have a relatively poor prognosis and arise as a result of translocations between the MLL(KMT2A) gene and one of multiple partner genes. Downstream targets of MLL are aberrantly upregulated and include the developmentally important HOX genes and MEIS1, as well as multiple microRNAs (miRNAs), including the miR-17?92 cluster. Here we examined the contribution of specific miRNAs to MLL leukemias through knockdown studies utilizing custom anti-microRNA oligonucleotides. Combinatorial treatment against miR-17-5p and miR-19a-3p of the miR-17?92 cluster dramatically reduces colony forming ability of MLL-fusion containing cell lines relative to non-MLL acute myeloid leukemia (AML) controls. To determine the mechanism by which these miRNAs contribute to leukemia, we validated PKNOX1 as a target of both miR-17-5p and miR-19a-3p. MEIS1 and PKNOX1 are TALE domain proteins that participate in ternary complexes with HOX and PBX partners. Here we establish the competitive relationship between PKNOX1 and MEIS1 in PBX-containing complex formation and determine the antagonistic role of PKNOX1 to leukemia in a murine MLL-AF9 model. These data implicate the miR-17?92 cluster as part of a regulatory mechanism necessary to maintain MEIS1/HOXA9 -mediated transformation in MLL leukemia, indicating that targeting multiple non-homologous miRNAs may be utilized as a novel therapeutic regimen.
Project description:Overexpression of HOXA/MEIS1/PBX3 homeobox genes is the hallmark of mixed lineage leukemia (MLL)-rearranged acute myeloid leukemia (AML). HOXA9 and MEIS1 are considered to be the most critical targets of MLL fusions and their coexpression rapidly induces AML. MEIS1 and PBX3 are not individually able to transform cells and were therefore hypothesized to function as cofactors of HOXA9. However, in this study, we demonstrate that coexpression of PBX3 and MEIS1 (PBX3/MEIS1), without ectopic expression of a HOX gene, is sufficient for transformation of normal mouse hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells in vitro. Moreover, PBX3/MEIS1 overexpression also caused AML in vivo, with a leukemic latency similar to that caused by forced expression of MLL-AF9, the most common form of MLL fusions. Furthermore, gene expression profiling of hematopoietic cells demonstrated that PBX3/MEIS1 overexpression, but not HOXA9/MEIS1, HOXA9/PBX3, or HOXA9 overexpression, recapitulated the MLL-fusion-mediated core transcriptome, particularly upregulation of the endogenous Hoxa genes. Disruption of the binding between MEIS1 and PBX3 diminished PBX3/MEIS1-mediated cell transformation and HOX gene upregulation. Collectively, our studies strongly implicate the PBX3/MEIS1 interaction as a driver of cell transformation and leukemogenesis, and suggest that this axis may play a critical role in the regulation of the core transcriptional programs activated in MLL-rearranged and HOX-overexpressing AML. Therefore, targeting the MEIS1/PBX3 interaction may represent a promising therapeutic strategy to treat these AML subtypes.
Project description:The aim of this study was to better understand how mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) fusion proteins deregulate the expression of genes critical for leukemia.The transforming domain of one of the most common MLL fusion partners, AF9, was immunopurified after expression in myeloblastic M1 cells, and associating proteins were identified by mass spectrometric analysis. Chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction was used to determine how binding of associating proteins compare across Hoxa9 and Meis1 in cell lines with and without MLL fusion proteins and how binding is altered during gene down-regulation and differentiation.Consistent with earlier purifications of ENL and AF4 from 293 cells, the 90 amino acid C-terminal domain of AF9 associates with many other MLL translocation partners including Enl, Af4, Laf4, Af5q31, Ell, and Af10. This complex, termed elongation assisting proteins (EAPs), also contains the RNA polymerase II C-terminal domain kinase Cdk9/Cyclin T1/T2 (pTEFb) and the histone H3 lysine 79 methyltransferase Dot1L. Myeloid cells transformed by MLL fusions show higher levels and a broader distribution of EAP components at genes critical for leukemia. Inhibition of EAP components pTEFb and Dot1l show that both contribute significantly to activation of Hoxa9 and Meis1 expression. EAP is dynamically associated with the Hoxa9 and Meis1 loci in hematopoietic cells and rapidly dissociates during induction of differentiation. In the presence of MLL fusion proteins, its dissociation is prevented.The findings suggest that MLL fusion proteins deregulate genes critical for leukemia by excessive recruitment and impaired dissociation of EAP from target loci.
Project description:Mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) is a proto-oncogene frequently involved in chromosomal translocations associated with acute leukemia. These chromosomal translocations commonly result in MLL fusion proteins that dysregulate transcription. Recent data suggest that the MYB proto-oncogene, which is an important regulator of hematopoietic cell development, has a role in leukemogenesis driven by the MLL-ENL fusion protein, but exactly how is unclear. Here we have demonstrated that c-Myb is recruited to the MLL histone methyl transferase complex by menin, a protein important for MLL-associated leukemic transformation, and that it contributes substantially to MLL-mediated methylation of histone H3 at lysine 4 (H3K4). Silencing MYB in human leukemic cell lines and primary patient material evoked a global decrease in H3K4 methylation, an unexpected decrease in HOXA9 and MEIS1 gene expression, and decreased MLL and menin occupancy in the HOXA9 gene locus. This decreased occupancy was associated with a diminished ability of an MLL-ENL fusion protein to transform normal mouse hematopoietic cells. Previous studies have shown that MYB expression is regulated by Hoxa9 and Meis1, indicating the existence of an autoregulatory feedback loop. The finding that c-Myb has the ability to direct epigenetic marks, along with its participation in an autoregulatory feedback loop with genes known to transform hematopoietic cells, lends mechanistic and translationally relevant insight into its role in MLL-associated leukemogenesis.
Project description:Leukemia stem cells (LSC) are resistant to conventional chemotherapy and persistent LSC after chemotherapy are supposed to be a major cause of relapse. However, information on genetic or epigenetic regulation of stem cell properties is still limited and LSC-targeted drugs have scarcely been identified. Epigenetic regulators are associated with many cellular processes including maintenance of stem cells. Of note are polycomb group proteins, because they potentially control stemness, and can be pharmacologically targeted by a selective inhibitor (DZNep). Therefore, we investigated the therapeutic potential of EZH2 inhibition in mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) fusion leukemia. Intriguingly, EZH2 inhibition by DZNep or shRNA not only suppressed MLL fusion leukemia proliferation but also reduced leukemia initiating cells (LIC) frequency. Expression analysis suggested that p16 upregulation was responsible for LICs reduction. Knockdown of p16 canceled the survival advantage of mice treated with DZNep. Chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrated that EZH2 was highly enriched around the transcription-start-site of p16, together with H3K27 methylation marks in MLL/ENL and Hoxa9/Meis1 transduced cells but not in E2A/HLF transduced cells. Although high expression of Hoxa9 in MLL fusion leukemia is supposed to be responsible for the recruitment of EZH2, our data also suggest that there may be some other mechanisms independent of Hoxa9 activation to suppress p16 expression, because expression levels of Hoxa9 and p16 were not inversely related between MLL/ENL and Hoxa9/Meis1 transduced cells. In summary, our findings show that EZH2 is a potential therapeutic target of MLL fusion leukemia stem cells.
Project description:Leukemias that harbor translocations involving the mixed lineage leukemia gene (MLL) possess unique biologic characteristics and often have an unfavorable prognosis. Gene expression analyses demonstrate a distinct profile for MLL-rearranged leukemias with consistent high-level expression of select Homeobox genes, including HOXA9. Here, we investigated the effects of HOXA9 suppression in MLL-rearranged and MLL-germline leukemias using RNA interference. Gene expression profiling after HOXA9 suppression demonstrated co-down-regulation of a program highly expressed in human MLL-AML and murine MLL-leukemia stem cells, including HOXA10, MEIS1, PBX3, and MEF2C. We demonstrate that HOXA9 depletion in 17 human AML/ALL cell lines (7 MLL-rearranged, 10 MLL-germline) induces proliferation arrest and apoptosis specifically in MLL-rearranged cells (P = .007). Similarly, assessment of primary AMLs demonstrated that HOXA9 suppression induces apoptosis to a greater extent in MLL-rearranged samples (P = .01). Moreover, mice transplanted with HOXA9-depleted t(4;11) SEMK2 cells revealed a significantly lower leukemia burden, thus identifying a role for HOXA9 in leukemia survival in vivo. Our data indicate an important role for HOXA9 in human MLL-rearranged leukemias and suggest that targeting HOXA9 or downstream programs may be a novel therapeutic option.
Project description:Mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) fusion proteins directly activate the expression of key downstream genes such as MEIS1, HOXA9 to drive an aggressive form of human leukemia. However, it is still poorly understood what additional transcriptional regulators, independent of the MLL fusion pathway, contribute to the development of MLL leukemia. Here we show that the transcription factor PU.1 is essential for MLL leukemia and is required for the growth of MLL leukemic cells via the promotion of cell-cycle progression and inhibition of apoptosis. Importantly, PU.1 expression is not under the control of MLL fusion proteins. We further identified a PU.1-governed 15-gene signature, which contains key regulators in the MEIS-HOX program (MEIS1, PBX3, FLT3, and c-KIT). PU.1 directly binds to the genomic loci of its target genes in vivo, and is required to maintain active expression of those genes in both normal hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and in MLL leukemia. Finally, the clinical significance of the identified PU.1 signature was indicated by its ability to predict survival in acute myelogenous leukemia patients. Together, our findings demonstrate that PU.1 contributes to the development of MLL leukemia, partially via crosstalk with the MEIS/HOX pathway.