Only Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells from Cord Blood Are Susceptible to Malignant Transformation by MLL-AF4 Translocations.
ABSTRACT: Mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) (KMT2A) rearrangements (KMT2Ar) play a crucial role in leukemogenesis. Dependent on age, major differences exist regarding disease frequency, main fusion partners and prognosis. In infants, up to 80% of acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL) bear a MLL translocation and half of them are t(4;11), resulting in a poor prognosis. In contrast, in adults only 10% of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) bear t(9;11) with an intermediate prognosis. The reasons for these differences are poorly understood. Recently, we established an efficient CRISPR/Cas9-based KMT2Ar model in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) derived from human cord blood (huCB) and faithfully mimicked the underlying biology of the disease. Here, we applied this model to HSPCs from adult bone marrow (huBM) to investigate the impact of the cell of origin and fusion partner on disease development. Both genome-edited infant and adult KMT2Ar cells showed monoclonal outgrowth with an immature morphology, myelomonocytic phenotype and elevated KMT2Ar target gene expression comparable to patient cells. Strikingly, all KMT2Ar cells presented with indefinite growth potential except for MLL-AF4 huBM cells ceasing proliferation after 80 days. We uncovered FFAR2, an epigenetic tumor suppressor, as potentially responsible for the inability of MLL-AF4 to immortalize adult cells under myeloid conditions.
Project description:Chromosome rearrangements involving the mixed-lineage leukemia gene (MLL) create MLL-fusion proteins, which could drive both acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The lineage decision of MLL-fusion leukemia is influenced by the fusion partner and microenvironment. To investigate the interplay of fusion proteins and microenvironment in lineage choice, we transplanted human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) expressing MLL-AF9 or MLL-Af4 into immunodeficient NSGS mice, which strongly promote myeloid development. Cells expressing MLL-AF9 efficiently developed AML in NSGS mice. In contrast, MLL-Af4 cells, which were fully oncogenic under lymphoid conditions present in NSG mice, displayed compromised transformation capacity in a myeloid microenvironment. MLL-Af4 activated a self-renewal program in a lineage-dependent manner, showing the leukemogenic activity of MLL-Af4 was interlinked with lymphoid lineage commitment. The C-terminal homology domain (CHD) of Af4 was sufficient to confer this linkage. Although the MLL-CHD fusion protein failed to immortalize HSPCs in myeloid conditions in vitro, it could successfully induce ALL in NSG mice. Our data suggest that defective self-renewal ability and leukemogenesis of MLL-Af4 myeloid cells could contribute to the strong B-cell ALL association of MLL-AF4 leukemia observed in the clinic.
Project description:The translocation t(4;11)(q21;q23) is the hallmark genetic abnormality associated with infant pro-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) and has the highest frequency of rearrangement in Mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) leukemias. Unlike other MLL translocations, MLL-AF4-induced proB-ALL is exceptionally difficult to model in mice/humans. Previous work has investigated the relevance of the reciprocal translocation fusion protein AF4-MLL for t(4;11) leukemia, finding that AF4-MLL is capable of inducing proB-ALL without requirement for MLL-AF4 when expressed in murine hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPCs). Therefore, AF4-MLL might represent a key genetic lesion contributing to t(4;11)-driven leukemogenesis. Here, we aimed to establish a humanized mouse model by using AF4-MLL to analyze its transformation potential in human cord blood-derived CD34+ HSPCs. We show that AF4-MLL-expressing human CD34+ HSPCs provide enhanced long-term hematopoietic reconstitution in primary immunodeficient recipients but are not endowed with subsequent self-renewal ability upon serial transplantation. Importantly, expression of AF4-MLL in primary neonatal CD34+ HSPCs failed to render any phenotypic or hematological sign of disease, and was therefore not sufficient to initiate leukemia within a 36-week follow-up. Species-specific (epi)-genetic intrinsic determinants may underlie the different outcome observed when AF4-MLL is expressed in murine or human HSPCs.
Project description:The most frequent MLL-gene rearrangement found in leukemia is a reciprocal translocation with AF4 on chromosome 4 resulting in the formation of the MLL-AF4 and the AF4-MLL fusion genes. The oncogenic role of MLL-AF4 is documented but the significance of the reciprocal product - AF4-MLL in leukemia is less clear. In the human leukemia cell lines - RS4;11 and SEMK2-M1, both of which express MLL-AF4 and AF4-MLL, we knocked down the expression of AF4-MLL using siRNA. Loss of AF4-MLL had no effect on the growth of either RS4;11 or SEMK2-M1 cells. Furthermore, in SEMK2-M1 cells there were no changes in cell cycle or apoptosis with loss of AF4-MLL. In contrast, knockdown of MLL-AF4 significantly inhibited growth of both RS4;11 and SEMK2-M1. Additionally, in SEMK2-M1 cells, loss of MLL-AF4 led to G2/M cell cycle arrest and increased apoptosis. Overall, these results demonstrate that in t(4;11) leukemia, the MLL-AF4 fusion protein is critical for leukemia cell proliferation and survival while the AF4-MLL fusion product is dispensable.
Project description:MLL-AF4 acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) has a poor prognosis. MicroRNAs (miRNA) are small noncoding RNAs that posttranscriptionally regulate expression of target mRNAs. Our analysis of previously published data showed that expression of miR-128b and miR-221 is down-regulated in MLL-rearranged ALL relative to other types of ALL. Reexpression of these miRNAs cooperatively sensitizes 2 cultured lines of MLL-AF4 ALL cells to glucocorticoids. Target genes down-regulated by miR-128b include MLL, AF4, and both MLL-AF4 and AF4-MLL fusion genes; miR-221 down-regulates CDKN1B. These results demonstrate that down-regulation of miR-128b and miR-221 is implicated in glucocorticoid resistance and that restoration of their levels is a potentially promising therapeutic in MLL-AF4 ALL.
Project description:T(4;11) MLL-AF4 acute leukemia is one of the most aggressive malignancies in infant and pediatric populations. Epidemiological and functional studies have highlighted the influence of an overstimulation of the immune system on leukemia development. This study aimed at assessing if the cell-of-origin of t(4;11) MLL-AF4 acute leukemia is sensitive to a viral or bacterial mimic and if maternal immune activation can lead to a full-blown leukemia. To answer this, we used the Mll-AF4 pre-leukemia mouse model that initiates the expression of Mll-AF4 in the first definitive hematopoietic cells formed during embryonic development. We observed an increase in proliferation upon hematopoietic differentiation of fetal liver Mll-AF4+ Lineage-Sca1+ckit+ (LSK) cells exposed to the immune stimulants, poly(I:C) or LPS/lipopolysaccharide. This was accompanied by increased expression of a subset of MLL-AF4 signature genes and members of the Toll-like receptor signaling pathways in fetal liver Mll-AF4+ LSK exposed to poly(I:C), suggesting that the cell-of-origin responds to inflammatory stimuli. Maternal immune activation using a single dose of poly(I:C) did not lead to the development of leukemia in Mll-AF4+ and control offspring. Instead, aging MLL-AF4+ mice showed an increased proportion of T-lymphoid cells in the spleen, lost their B-lymphoid bias, and had decreased frequencies of hematopoietic stem and multipotent progenitor cells. Overall, this study suggests that the fetal liver Mll-AF4+ LSK cells are sensitive to direct exposure to inflammatory stimuli, especially poly(I:C); however, maternal immune activation induced by a single exposure to poly(I:C) is not sufficient to initiate MLL-AF4 leukemogenesis.
Project description:MLL, involved in many chromosomal translocations associated with acute myeloid and lymphoid leukemia, has >50 known partner genes with which it is able to form in-frame fusions. Characterizing important downstream target genes of MLL and of MLL fusion proteins may provide rational therapeutic strategies for the treatment of MLL-associated leukemia. We explored downstream target genes of the most prevalent MLL fusion protein, MLL-AF4. To this end, we developed inducible MLL-AF4 fusion cell lines in different backgrounds. Overexpression of MLL-AF4 does not lead to increased proliferation in either cell line, but rather, cell growth was slowed compared with similar cell lines inducibly expressing truncated MLL. We found that in the MLL-AF4-induced cell lines, the expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor gene CDKN1B was dramatically changed at both the RNA and protein (p27kip1) levels. In contrast, the expression levels of CDKN1A (p21) and CDKN2A (p16) were unchanged. To explore whether CDKN1B might be a direct target of MLL and of MLL-AF4, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays and luciferase reporter gene assays. MLL-AF4 binds to the CDKN1B promoter in vivo and regulates CDKN1B promoter activity. Further, we confirmed CDKN1B promoter binding by ChIP in MLL-AF4 as well as in MLL-AF9 leukemia cell lines. Our results suggest that CDKN1B is a downstream target of MLL and of MLL-AF4, and that, depending on the background cell type, MLL-AF4 inhibits or activates CDKN1B expression. This finding may have implications in terms of leukemia stem cell resistance to chemotherapy in MLL-AF4 leukemias.
Project description:Rearrangements of the mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) gene occur predominately in pediatric leukemia cases and are generally predictors of a poor prognosis. These chromosomal rearrangements result in fusion of the protein MLL to one of more than 60 protein partners. MLL fusions are potent inducers of leukemia through activation of oncogene expression; therefore, targeting this transcriptional activation function may arrest MLL-rearranged (MLL-R) leukemia. Leukemic cell lines harboring the most common fusion protein, MLL-AF4, require the direct interaction of AF4 with the transcription factor AF9 to survive and self-renew; disrupting this interaction with a cell-penetrating AF4-derived peptide results in cell death, suggesting that the AF4-AF9 interaction could be a viable target for a novel MLL-R leukemia therapy. Here we describe the use of AlphaScreen technology to develop a high-throughput screening (HTS) assay to detect nonpeptidic inhibitors of AF4-AF9 binding. The assay is economical, requiring only low nanomolar concentrations of biotinylated AF4-derived peptide and FLAG-tagged AF9 in low-volume 384-well plates. A Z'-factor of 0.71 and a signal-to-background ratio of 21.3 showed the assay to be robust, and sensitivity to inhibition was demonstrated with competing AF4-derived peptides. Two pilot screens comprising 5,680 compounds served as validation for HTS at Nemours and the Broad Institute. Assay artifacts were excluded using a counterscreen comprising a biotinylated FLAG peptide. This is the first reported HTS-compatible assay to identify compounds that inhibit a key binding interaction of an MLL fusion partner, and the results presented here demonstrate suitability for screening large chemical libraries in high-density, low-volume plate formats.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Circular RNAs (circRNAs) represent a type of endogenous noncoding RNAs that are generated by back-splicing events and favor repetitive sequences. Recent studies have reported that cancer-associated chromosomal translocations could juxtapose distant complementary repetitive intronic sequences, resulting in the aberrant formation of circRNAs. However, among the reported fusion genes, only a small number of circRNAs were found to originate from fusion regions during gene translocation. We question if circRNAs could also originate from fusion partners during gene translocation. METHODS:Firstly, we designed divergent primers for qRT-PCR to identify a circRNA circAF4 in AF4 gene and investigated the expression pattern in different types of leukemia samples. Secondly, we designed two small interfering RNAs specially targeting the back-spliced junction point of circAF4 for functional studies. CCK8 cell proliferation and cell cycle assay were performed, and a NOD-SCID mouse model was used to investigate the contribution of circAF4 in leukemogenesis. Finally, luciferase reporter assay, AGO2 RNA immunoprecipitation (RIP), and RNA Fluorescent in Situ Hybridization (FISH) were performed to confirm the relationship of miR-128-3p, circAF4, and MLL-AF4 expression. RESULTS:We discovered a circRNA, named circAF4, originating from the AF4 gene, a partner of the MLL fusion gene in MLL-AF4 leukemia. We showed that circAF4 plays an oncogenic role in MLL-AF4 leukemia and promotes leukemogenesis in vitro and in vivo. More importantly, knockdown of circAF4 increases the leukemic cell apoptosis rate in MLL-AF4 leukemia cells, while no effect was observed in leukemia cells that do not carry the MLL-AF4 translocation. Mechanically, circAF4 can act as a miR-128-3p sponge, thereby releasing its inhibition on MLL-AF4 expression. We finally analyzed most of the MLL fusion genes loci and found that a number of circRNAs could originate from these partners, suggesting the potential roles of fusion gene partner-originating circRNAs (named as FP-circRNAs) in leukemia with chromosomal translocations. CONCLUSION:Our findings demonstrate that the abnormal elevated expression of circAF4 regulates the cell growth via the circAF4/miR-128-3p/MLL-AF4 axis, which could contribute to leukemogenesis, suggesting that circAF4 may be a novel therapeutic target of MLL-AF4 leukemia.
Project description:The most frequent rearrangement of the human MLL gene fuses MLL to AF4 resulting in high-risk infant B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). MLL fusions are also hallmark oncogenic events in secondary acute myeloid leukemia. They are a direct consequence of mis-repaired DNA double strand breaks (DNA-DSBs) due to defects in the DNA damage response associated with exposure to topoisomerase-II poisons such as etoposide. It has been suggested that MLL fusions render cells susceptible to additional chromosomal damage upon exposure to etoposide. Conversely, the genome-wide mutational landscape in MLL-rearranged infant B-ALL has been reported silent. Thus, whether MLL fusions compromise the recognition and/or repair of DNA damage remains unanswered. Here, the fusion proteins MLL-AF4 (MA4) and AF4-MLL (A4M) were CRISPR/Cas9-genome edited in the AAVS1 locus of HEK293 cells as a model to study MLL fusion-mediated DNA-DSB formation/repair. Repair kinetics of etoposide- and ionizing radiation-induced DSBs was identical in WT, MA4- and A4M-expressing cells, as revealed by flow cytometry, by immunoblot for ?H2AX and by comet assay. Accordingly, no differences were observed between WT, MA4- and A4M-expressing cells in the presence of master proteins involved in non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ; i.e.KU86, KU70), alternative-NHEJ (Alt-NHEJ; i.e.LigIIIa, WRN and PARP1), and homologous recombination (HR, i.e.RAD51). Moreover, functional assays revealed identical NHEJ and HR efficiency irrespective of the genotype. Treatment with etoposide consistently induced cell cycle arrest in S/G2/M independent of MA4/A4M expression, revealing a proper activation of the DNA damage checkpoints. Collectively, expression of MA4 or A4M does neither influence DNA signaling nor DNA-DSB repair.
Project description:The MLL-AF4 fusion gene is a hallmark genomic aberration in high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia in infants. Although it is well established that MLL-AF4 arises prenatally during human development, its effects on hematopoietic development in utero remain unexplored. We have created a human-specific cellular system to study early hemato-endothelial development in MLL-AF4-expressing human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Functional studies, clonal analysis and gene expression profiling reveal that expression of MLL-AF4 in hESCs has a phenotypic, functional and gene expression impact. MLL-AF4 acts as a global transcriptional activator and a positive regulator of homeobox gene expression in hESCs. Functionally, MLL-AF4 enhances the specification of hemogenic precursors from hESCs but strongly impairs further hematopoietic commitment in favor of an endothelial cell fate. MLL-AF4 hESCs are transcriptionally primed to differentiate towards hemogenic precursors prone to endothelial maturation, as reflected by the marked upregulation of master genes associated to vascular-endothelial functions and early hematopoiesis. Furthermore, we report that MLL-AF4 expression is not sufficient to transform hESC-derived hematopoietic cells. This work illustrates how hESCs may provide unique insights into human development and further our understanding of how leukemic fusion genes, known to arise prenatally, regulate human embryonic hematopoietic specification.