Chromosomal rearrangements involving the H3K4 methyltransferase mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL) trigger aberrant gene expression in hematopoietic progenitors and give rise to an aggressive subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Insights into MLL fusion-mediated leukemogenesis have not yet translated into better therapies because MLL is difficult to target directly, and the identity of the genes downstream of MLL whose altered transcription mediates leukemic transformation are poorly annotated. We used a functional genetic approach to uncover that AML cells driven by MLL-AF9 are exceptionally reliant on the cell-cycle regulator CDK6, but not its functional homolog CDK4, and that the preferential growth inhibition induced by CDK6 depletion is mediated through enhanced myeloid differentiation. CDK6 essentiality is also evident in AML cells harboring alternate MLL fusions and a mouse model of MLL-AF9-driven leukemia and can be ascribed to transcriptional activation of CDK6 by mutant MLL. Importantly, the context-dependent effects of lowering CDK6 expression are closely phenocopied by a small-molecule CDK6 inhibitor currently in clinical development. These data identify CDK6 as critical effector of MLL fusions in leukemogenesis that might be targeted to overcome the differentiation block associated with MLL-rearranged AML, and underscore that cell-cycle regulators may have distinct, noncanonical, and nonredundant functions in different contexts.
Treatment of acute myeloid leukemia remains a therapeutic challenge. Even in younger patients with a low rate of co-morbidities less than 50% of patients can be cured. For older patients or patients with significant co-morbidities, the situation appears even worse. In patients not eligible for intensive treatment approaches - e.g. due to underlying medical conditions - therapeutic approaches remain almost exclusively palliative. However, even with less intense treatment approaches, temporary remission can be achieved and this contributes to prolonged survival and improved quality of life of the respective patient. Targeted therapies have been widely used as palliative treatment in- and outside clinical trials as single agents. Combination with low-dose cytarabine (LDAC) potentially improves remission rates and can be safely administered in an outpatient setting.Previous studies showed that additive hematologic toxicity of combinatory therapeutic approaches may arise from simultaneous treatment (e.g. chemotherapy plus targeted therapies). However, sequential therapies have already proven their feasibility in clinical trials. Here, we report two cases of rapid induction of complete molecular remission by sequential therapy with LDAC and sorafenib in patients unfit for intensive chemotherapy without significant long-term toxicity.
Interferon-? (IFN?) is an effective treatment of patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). In addition to inducing hematological responses in most MPN patients, IFN? reduces the JAK2V617F allelic burden and can render the JAK2V617F mutant clone undetectable in some patients. The precise mechanism underlying these responses is incompletely understood and whether the molecular responses that are seen occur due to the effects of IFN? on JAK2V617F mutant stem cells is debated. Using a murine model of Jak2V617F MPN, we investigated the effects of IFN? on Jak2V617F MPN-propagating stem cells in vivo. We report that IFN? treatment induces hematological responses in the model and causes depletion of Jak2V617F MPN-propagating cells over time, impairing disease transplantation. We demonstrate that IFN? treatment induces cell cycle activation of Jak2V617F mutant long-term hematopoietic stem cells and promotes a predetermined erythroid-lineage differentiation program. These findings provide insights into the differential effects of IFN? on Jak2V617F mutant and normal hematopoiesis and suggest that IFN? achieves molecular remissions in MPN patients through its effects on MPN stem cells. Furthermore, these results support combinatorial therapeutic approaches in MPN by concurrently depleting dormant JAK2V617F MPN-propagating stem cells with IFN? and targeting the proliferating downstream progeny with JAK2 inhibitors or cytotoxic chemotherapy.
A unique characteristic of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is the ability to self-renew. Several genes and signaling pathways control the fine balance between self-renewal and differentiation in HSCs and potentially also in leukemia stem cells. Recently, studies have shed light on developmental molecules and evolutionarily conserved signals as regulators of stem cells in hematopoiesis and leukemia. In this study, we provide evidence that the cell fate determinant Llgl1 (lethal giant larvae homolog 1) plays an important role in regulation of HSCs. Loss of Llgl1 leads to an increase in HSC numbers that show increased repopulation capacity and competitive advantage after transplantation. This advantage increases upon serial transplantation or when stress is applied to HSCs. Llgl1(-/-) HSCs show increased cycling but neither exhaust nor induce leukemia in recipient mice. Llgl1 inactivation is associated with transcriptional repression of transcription factors such as KLF4 (Krüppel-like factor 4) and EGR1 (early-growth-response 1) that are known inhibitors of HSC self-renewal. Decreased Llgl1 expression in human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells is associated with inferior patient survival. Thus, inactivation of Llgl1 enhances HSC self-renewal and fitness and is associated with unfavorable outcome in human AML.
A key characteristic of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) is the ability to self-renew. Several genes and signaling pathways control the fine balance between self-renewal and differentiation in HSC and potentially also in leukemic stem cells. Besides pathways such as Wnt signaling, Hedgehog signaling and Notch signaling, transcription factors (FoxOs) and cell fate determinants may also play a role in stem cells. While some of these pathways seem to be dispensable for maintenance of adult HSC, there may be a distinct requirement in leukemia stem cells for leukemic self-renewal. Here we will focus on self-renewal related signaling in myeloid leukemia stem cells and its therapeutic relevance.
FLT3 kinase has become an attractive drug target in AML with up to 30% of cases harboring internal-tandem-duplication (ITD) mutations. For these, conferring a worse prognosis and decreased overall survival, several FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are currently being tested in clinical trials. However, when using these drugs as monotherapy, the problem of short duration of remissions and high incidence of TKI resistance has emerged. Here, we investigated two members of a novel class of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, 3,4-diarylmaleimides, for their efficacy on mutated FLT3 kinase. These compounds inhibit FLT3 kinase in an ATP-competitive manner and effectively inhibit phosphorylation of downstream targets. 3,4-Diarylmaleimides (DHF125 and 150) induce apoptosis in FLT3-ITD-dependent cells lines and patient blasts at low micromolar concentrations. They are retained in the cytoplasm of exposed cells for more than 24 h and synergize with chemotherapy and midostaurin. Both 3,4-diarylmaleimides show inhbition of FLT3-ITD-related kinase autophosphorylation at distinct tyrosine residues when compared to midostaurin. In conclusion, this novel group of compounds shows differential inhibition patterns with regard to FLT3 kinase and displays a promising profile for further clinical development. Currently, experiments evaluating toxicity in murine models and unraveling the exact binding mechanism are under way to facilitate a potential clinical application.
Inhibition of the mutated fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) receptor tyrosine kinase is a promising therapeutic strategy in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). However, development of resistance to FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI), such as PKC412A, has been described recently. This observation may have an increasing impact on the duration of response and relapse rates in upcoming clinical trials employing FLT3-TKI. Herein we investigated two representatives of a novel class of FLT3-TKI: Bis(1H-indol-2-yl)methanones. Both compounds effectively induced apoptosis in FLT3-internal tandem duplicate (ITD)-transfected murine myeloid cells and in primary FLT3-ITD positive blasts. Combination of both compounds with chemotherapy revealed synergistic effects in apoptosis assays. The compounds did not show significant toxicity in human bone marrow cells derived from healthy donors. Compound102 overcame resistance to PKC412 within a non-myelotoxic dose-range. Western Blotting experiments of 32D-FLT3-ITD cells showed dose-dependent dephosphorylation of FLT3-ITD and of its downstream targets STAT5, AKT and ERK upon incubation with either compound. In conclusion, bis(1H-indol-2-yl)methanones overcome resistance mediated by FLT3-ITD mutations at position N676 and show strong efficacy in FLT3-ITD-positive cells alone as well as in combination with chemotherapy. We propose that further development of methanone compounds overcoming resistance to currently established FLT3-TKIs is an important step forward to an anticipated need within our future therapeutic algorithm in FLT3-ITD-positive AML.
Clinical development of imatinib in CML established continuous target inhibition as a paradigm for successful tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) therapy. However, recent reports suggested that transient potent target inhibition of BCR-ABL by high-dose TKI (HD-TKI) pulse-exposure is sufficient to irreversibly commit cells to apoptosis. Here, we report a novel mechanism of prolonged intracellular TKI activity upon HD-TKI pulse-exposure (imatinib, dasatinib) in BCR-ABL-positive cells. Comprehensive mechanistic exploration revealed dramatic intracellular accumulation of TKIs which closely correlated with induction of apoptosis. Cells were rescued from apoptosis upon HD-TKI pulse either by repetitive drug wash-out or by overexpression of ABC-family drug transporters. Inhibition of ABCB1 restored sensitivity to HD-TKI pulse-exposure. Thus, our data provide evidence that intracellular drug retention crucially determines biological activity of imatinib and dasatinib. These studies may refine our current thinking on critical requirements of TKI dose and duration of target inhibition for biological activity of TKIs.
Protein-tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs) are important regulators of cellular signaling and changes in PTP activity can contribute to cell transformation. Little is known about the role of PTPs in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The aim of this study was therefore to establish a PTP expression profile in AML cells and to explore the possible role of FLT3 ITD (Fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 with internal tandem duplication), an important oncoprotein in AML for PTP gene expression. PTP mRNA expression was analyzed in AML cells from patients and in cell lines using a RT-qPCR platform for detection of transcripts of 92 PTP genes. PTP mRNA expression was also analyzed based on a public microarray data set for AML patients. Highly expressed PTPs in AML belong to all PTP subfamilies. Very abundantly expressed PTP genes include PTPRC, PTPN2, PTPN6, PTPN22, DUSP1, DUSP6, DUSP10, PTP4A1, PTP4A2, PTEN, and ACP1. PTP expression was further correlated with the presence of FLT3 ITD, focusing on a set of highly expressed dual-specificity phosphatases (DUSPs). Elevated expression of DUSP6 in patients harboring FLT3 ITD was detected in this analysis. The mechanism and functional role of FLT3 ITD-mediated upregulation of DUSP6 was then explored using pharmacological inhibitors of FLT3 ITD signal transduction and si/shRNA technology in human and murine cell lines. High DUSP6 expression was causally associated with the presence of FLT3 ITD and dependent on FLT3 ITD kinase activity and ERK signaling. DUSP6 depletion moderately increased ERK1/2 activity but attenuated FLT3 ITD-dependent cell proliferation of 32D cells. In conclusion, DUSP6 may play a contributing role to FLT3 ITD-mediated cell transformation.
A key characteristic of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is the ability to self-renew. Genetic deletion of ?-catenin during fetal HSC development leads to impairment of self-renewal while ?-catenin is dispensable in fully developed adult HSCs. Whether ?-catenin is required for maintenance of fully developed CML leukemia stem cells (LSCs) is unknown. Here, we use a conditional mouse model to show that deletion of ?-catenin after CML initiation does not lead to a significant increase in survival. However, deletion of ?-catenin synergizes with imatinib (IM) to delay disease recurrence after imatinib discontinuation and to abrogate CML stem cells. These effects can be mimicked by pharmacologic inhibition of ?-catenin via modulation of prostaglandin signaling. Treatment with the cyclooxygenase inhibitor indomethacin reduces ?-catenin levels and leads to a reduction in LSCs. In conclusion, inhibiting ?-catenin by genetic inactivation or pharmacologic modulation is an effective combination therapy with imatinib and targets CML stem cells.
Fms-like tyrosine kinase (FLT3) mutations are the most frequent mutations in patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) that confer a poor prognosis. Constitutively active FLT3-ITD (internal tandem duplications) mutations define a promising target for therapeutic approaches using small molecule inhibitors. However, several point mutations of the FLT3 tyrosine kinase domain (FLT3-TKD) have been identified to mediate resistance towards FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (FLT3-TKI), including secondary mutations of FLT3. We investigated the cellular effects of the recently characterised FLT3-TKI ponatinib (AP24534) on murine myeloid cells transfected with FLT3-ITD with or without additional point mutations of the FLT3-TKD including the (so far) multi-resistant F691I mutation. Ponatinib effectively induced apoptosis not only in the parental FLT3-ITD cell line but also in all stably transfected subclones harbouring additional FLT3-TKD point mutations (N676D, F691I or G697R). These observations correlated with a strong inhibition of FLT3-ITD and its downstream targets STAT5, AKT and ERK1/2 upon ponatinib incubation, as determined by Western blotting. We conclude that ponatinib represents a promising FLT3-TKI that should be further investigated in clinical trials. The targeted therapy of FLT3-ITD-positive AML with ponatinib might be associated with a lower frequency of secondary resistance caused by acquired FLT3-TKD mutations.
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