Advances in the classification of acute leukaemias have led to improved outcomes for a substantial fraction of patients. However, chemotherapy resistance remains a major problem for specific subsets of acute leukaemias. Here, we propose that a molecularly distinct subtype of acute leukaemia with shared myeloid and T cell lymphoblastic features, which we term acute myeloid/T-lymphoblastic leukaemia (AMTL), is divided across 3 diagnostic categories owing to variable expression of markers deemed to be defining of myeloid and T-lymphoid lineages, such as myeloperoxidase and CD3. This proposed diagnostic group is supported by (i) retained myeloid differentiation potential during early T cell lymphoid development, (ii) recognition that some cases of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) harbour hallmarks of T cell development, such as T-cell receptor gene rearrangements and (iii) common gene mutations in subsets of AML and T cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), including WT1, PHF6, RUNX1 and BCL11B. This proposed diagnostic entity overlaps with early T cell precursor (ETP) T-ALL and T cell/myeloid mixed phenotype acute leukaemias (MPALs), and also includes a subset of leukaemias currently classified as AML with features of T-lymphoblastic development. The proposed classification of AMTL as a distinct entity would enable more precise prospective diagnosis and permit the development of improved therapies for patients whose treatment is inadequate with current approaches.
T cell malignancies represent a group of hematologic cancers with high rates of relapse and mortality in patients for whom no effective targeted therapies exist. The shared expression of target antigens between chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells and malignant T cells has limited the development of CAR-T because of unintended CAR-T fratricide and an inability to harvest sufficient autologous T cells. Here, we describe a fratricide-resistant "off-the-shelf" CAR-T (or UCART7) that targets CD7+ T cell malignancies and, through CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, lacks both CD7 and T cell receptor alpha chain (TRAC) expression. UCART7 demonstrates efficacy against human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) cell lines and primary T-ALL in vitro and in vivo without the induction of xenogeneic GvHD. Fratricide-resistant, allo-tolerant "off-the-shelf" CAR-T represents a strategy for treatment of relapsed and refractory T-ALL and non-Hodgkin's T cell lymphoma without a requirement for autologous T cells.
The role of Hedgehog signaling in normal and malignant T-cell development is controversial. Recently, Hedgehog pathway mutations have been described in T-ALL, but whether mutational activation of Hedgehog signaling drives T-cell transformation is unknown, hindering the rationale for therapeutic intervention. Here, we show that Hedgehog pathway mutations predict chemotherapy resistance in human T-ALL, and drive oncogenic transformation in a zebrafish model of the disease. We found Hedgehog pathway mutations in 16% of 109 childhood T-ALL cases, most commonly affecting its negative regulator PTCH1. Hedgehog mutations were associated with resistance to induction chemotherapy (P = 0.009). Transduction of wild-type PTCH1 into PTCH1-mutant T-ALL cells induced apoptosis (P = 0.005), a phenotype that was reversed by downstream Hedgehog pathway activation (P = 0.007). Transduction of most mutant PTCH1, SUFU, and GLI alleles into mammalian cells induced aberrant regulation of Hedgehog signaling, indicating that these mutations are pathogenic. Using a CRISPR/Cas9 system for lineage-restricted gene disruption in transgenic zebrafish, we found that ptch1 mutations accelerated the onset of notch1-induced T-ALL (P = 0.0001), and pharmacologic Hedgehog pathway inhibition had therapeutic activity. Thus, Hedgehog-activating mutations are driver oncogenic alterations in high-risk T-ALL, providing a molecular rationale for targeted therapy in this disease.
CIC (also known as Capicua) is a transcriptional repressor negatively regulated by RAS/MAPK signaling. Whereas the functions of Cic have been well characterized in, little is known about its role in mammals.is inactivated in a variety of human tumors and has been implicated recently in the promotion of lung metastases. Here, we describe a mouse model in which we inactivated Cic by selectively disabling its DNA-binding activity, a mutation that causes derepression of its target genes. Germlineinactivation causes perinatal lethality due to lung differentiation defects. However, its systemic inactivation in adult mice induces T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-ALL), a tumor type known to carrymutations, albeit with low incidence.inactivation in mice induces T-ALL by a mechanism involving derepression of its well-known target,Importantly, human T-ALL also relies on ETV4 expression for maintaining its oncogenic phenotype. Moreover,inactivation renders T-ALL insensitive to MEK inhibitors in both mouse and human cell lines. Finally, we show that Ras-induced mouse T-ALL as well as human T-ALL carrying mutations in the RAS/MAPK pathway display a genetic signature indicative of Cic inactivation. These observations illustrate that CIC inactivation plays a key role in this human malignancy.
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive malignancy of thymocytes. Using a transgenic screen in zebrafish, thymocyte selection-associated high mobility group box protein (TOX) was uncovered as a collaborating oncogenic driver that accelerated T-ALL onset by expanding the initiating pool of transformed clones and elevating genomic instability. TOX is highly expressed in a majority of human T-ALL and is required for proliferation and continued xenograft growth in mice. Using a wide array of functional analyses, we uncovered that TOX binds directly to KU70/80 and suppresses recruitment of this complex to DNA breaks to inhibit nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) repair. Impaired NHEJ is well known to cause genomic instability, including development of T-cell malignancies in KU70- and KU80-deficient mice. Collectively, our work has uncovered important roles for TOX in regulating NHEJ by elevating genomic instability during leukemia initiation and sustaining leukemic cell proliferation following transformation.TOX is an HMG box-containing protein that has important roles in T-ALL initiation and maintenance. TOX inhibits the recruitment of KU70/KU80 to DNA breaks, thereby inhibiting NHEJ repair. Thus, TOX is likely a dominant oncogenic driver in a large fraction of human T-ALL and enhances genomic instability..
Notch pathway antagonists such as γ-secretase inhibitors (GSIs) are being tested in diverse cancers, but exceptional responses have yet to be reported. We describe the case of a patient with relapsed/refractory early T-cell progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP-ALL) who achieved a complete hematologic response following treatment with the GSI BMS-906024. Whole-exome sequencing of leukemic blasts revealed heterozygous gain-of-function driver mutations in NOTCH1, CSF3R, and PTPN11, and a homozygous/hemizygous loss-of-function mutation in DNMT3A. The three gain-of-function mutations were absent from remission marrow cells, but the DNMT3A mutation persisted in heterozygous form in remission marrow, consistent with an origin for the patient's ETP-ALL from clonal hematopoiesis. Ex vivo culture of ETP-ALL blasts confirmed high levels of activated NOTCH1 that were repressed by GSI treatment, and RNA-seq documented that GSIs downregulated multiple known Notch target genes. Surprisingly, one potential target gene that was unaffected by GSIs was MYC, a key Notch target in GSI-sensitive T-ALL of cortical T-cell type. H3K27ac super-enhancer landscapes near MYC showed a pattern previously reported in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that is sensitive to BRD4 inhibitors, and in line with this ETP-ALL blasts downregulated MYC in response to the BRD4 inhibitor JQ1. To our knowledge, this is the first example of complete response of a Notch-mutated ETP-ALL to a Notch antagonist and is also the first description of chromatin landscapes associated with ETP-ALL. Our experience suggests that additional attempts to target Notch in Notch-mutated ETP-ALL are merited.
More than 90% of drugs with preclinical activity fail in human trials, largely due to insufficient efficacy. We hypothesized that adequately powered trials of patient-derived xenografts (PDX) in mice could efficiently define therapeutic activity across heterogeneous tumors. To address this hypothesis, we established a large, publicly available repository of well-characterized leukemia and lymphoma PDXs that undergo orthotopic engraftment, called the Public Repository of Xenografts (PRoXe). PRoXe includes all de-identified information relevant to the primary specimens and the PDXs derived from them. Using this repository, we demonstrate that large studies of acute leukemia PDXs that mimic human randomized clinical trials can characterize drug efficacy and generate transcriptional, functional, and proteomic biomarkers in both treatment-naive and relapsed/refractory disease.
Treatment-related mortality and abandonment of therapy are major barriers to successful treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in the developing world.
In certain human cancers, the expression of critical oncogenes is driven from large regulatory elements, called super-enhancers, that recruit much of the cell's transcriptional apparatus and are defined by extensive acetylation of histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27ac). In a subset of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) cases, we found that heterozygous somatic mutations are acquired that introduce binding motifs for the MYB transcription factor in a precise noncoding site, which creates a super-enhancer upstream of the TAL1 oncogene. MYB binds to this new site and recruits its H3K27 acetylase-binding partner CBP, as well as core components of a major leukemogenic transcriptional complex that contains RUNX1, GATA-3, and TAL1 itself. Additionally, most endogenous super-enhancers found in T-ALL cells are occupied by MYB and CBP, which suggests a general role for MYB in super-enhancer initiation. Thus, this study identifies a genetic mechanism responsible for the generation of oncogenic super-enhancers in malignant cells.
Cyclin C was cloned as a growth-promoting G1 cyclin, and was also shown to regulate gene transcription. Here we report that in vivo cyclin C acts as a haploinsufficient tumour suppressor, by controlling Notch1 oncogene levels. Cyclin C activates an 'orphan' CDK19 kinase, as well as CDK8 and CDK3. These cyclin-C-CDK complexes phosphorylate the Notch1 intracellular domain (ICN1) and promote ICN1 degradation. Genetic ablation of cyclin C blocks ICN1 phosphorylation in vivo, thereby elevating ICN1 levels in cyclin-C-knockout mice. Cyclin C ablation or heterozygosity collaborates with other oncogenic lesions and accelerates development of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL). Furthermore, the cyclin C encoding gene CCNC is heterozygously deleted in a significant fraction of human T-ALLs, and these tumours express reduced cyclin C levels. We also describe point mutations in human T-ALL that render cyclin-C-CDK unable to phosphorylate ICN1. Hence, tumour cells may develop different strategies to evade inhibition by cyclin C.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a hematopoietic malignancy derived from immature B-lymphoid and T-lymphoid cells (T-ALL). In T-ALL, there is an early T-cell progenitor (ETP) subgroup that has a very high risk for relapse. In this study, we used mitochondrial BH3 profiling to determine antiapoptotic protein dependencies in T-ALL. We found that T-ALL cell lines and primary patient samples are dependent upon BCL-XL, except when the cancer bears an ETP phenotype, in which case it is BCL-2 dependent. These distinctions directly relate to differential sensitivity to the BH3 mimetics ABT-263 and ABT-199, both in vitro and in vivo. We thus describe for the first time a change of antiapoptotic protein dependence that is related to the differentiation stage of the leukemic clone. Our findings demonstrate that BCL-2 is a clinically relevant target for therapeutic intervention with ABT-199 in ETP-ALL.
Treatment resistance in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is associated with phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) deletions and resultant phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase (PI3K)-AKT pathway activation, as well as MYC overexpression, and these pathways repress mitochondrial apoptosis in established T-lymphoblasts through poorly defined mechanisms. Normal T-cell progenitors are hypersensitive to mitochondrial apoptosis, a phenotype that is dependent on the expression of proapoptotic BIM. In a conditional zebrafish model, MYC downregulation induced BIM expression in T-lymphoblasts, an effect that was blunted by expression of constitutively active AKT. In human T-ALL cell lines and treatment-resistant patient samples, treatment with MYC or PI3K-AKT pathway inhibitors each induced BIM upregulation and apoptosis, indicating that BIM is repressed downstream of MYC and PI3K-AKT in high-risk T-ALL. Restoring BIM function in human T-ALL cells using a stapled peptide mimetic of the BIM BH3 domain had therapeutic activity, indicating that BIM repression is required for T-ALL viability. In the zebrafish model, where MYC downregulation induces T-ALL regression via mitochondrial apoptosis, T-ALL persisted despite MYC downregulation in 10% of bim wild-type zebrafish, 18% of bim heterozygotes and in 33% of bim homozygous mutants (P=0.017). We conclude that downregulation of BIM represents a key survival signal downstream of oncogenic MYC and PI3K-AKT signaling in treatment-resistant T-ALL.
The TP53 tumour suppressor is activated in response to distinct stimuli, including an ARF-dependent response to oncogene stress and an ATM/ATR-dependent response to DNA damage. In human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), TP53-dependent tumour suppression is typically disabled via biallelic ARF deletions. In murine models, loss of Arf (Cdkn2a) or Tp53 markedly accelerates the onset of Myc-induced lymphoblastic malignancies. In zebrafish, no ARF ortholog has been identified, but the sequence of ARF is very poorly conserved evolutionarily, making it difficult to exclude the presence of a zebrafish ARF ortholog without functional studies. Here we show that tp53 mutations have no significant influence on the onset of myc-induced T-ALL in zebrafish, consistent with the lack of additional effects of Tp53 loss on lymphomagenesis in Arf-deficient mice. By contrast, irradiation leads to complete T-ALL regression in tp53 wild-type but not homozygous mutant zebrafish, indicating that the tp53-dependent DNA damage response is intact. We conclude that tp53 inactivation has no impact on the onset of myc-induced T-ALL in the zebrafish, consistent with the lack of a functional ARF ortholog linking myc-induced oncogene stress to tp53-dependent tumour suppression. Thus, the zebrafish model is well suited to the study of ARF-independent pathways in T-ALL pathobiology.
The identification of activating NOTCH1 mutations in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) led to clinical testing of γ-secretase inhibitors (GSIs) that prevent NOTCH1 activation. However, responses to these inhibitors have been transient, suggesting that resistance limits their clinical efficacy. Here we modeled T-ALL resistance, identifying GSI-tolerant 'persister' cells that expand in the absence of NOTCH1 signaling. Rare persisters are already present in naive T-ALL populations, and the reversibility of their phenotype suggests an epigenetic mechanism. Relative to GSI-sensitive cells, persister cells activate distinct signaling and transcriptional programs and exhibit chromatin compaction. A knockdown screen identified chromatin regulators essential for persister viability, including BRD4. BRD4 binds enhancers near critical T-ALL genes, including MYC and BCL2. The BRD4 inhibitor JQ1 downregulates expression of these targets and induces growth arrest and apoptosis in persister cells, at doses well tolerated by GSI-sensitive cells. Consistently, the GSI-JQ1 combination was found to be effective against primary human leukemias in vivo. Our findings establish a role for epigenetic heterogeneity in leukemia resistance that may be addressed by incorporating epigenetic modulators in combination therapy.
Individual cancer cells can exhibit striking differences in tumorigenic potential following experimental transplantation, but the molecular pathways that regulate this activity remain poorly understood. In this issue of Cancer Cell, Blackburn and colleagues report that Akt signaling regulates both leukemia-propagating potential and proliferation rate via distinct pathways in T-ALL.
Although prognosis has improved for children with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), 20% to 30% of patients undergo induction failure (IF) or relapse. Leukemia-initiating cells (LICs) are hypothesized to be resistant to chemotherapy and to mediate relapse. We and others have shown that Notch1 directly regulates c-Myc, a known regulator of quiescence in stem and progenitor populations, leading us to examine whether c-Myc inhibition results in efficient targeting of T-ALL-initiating cells. We demonstrate that c-Myc suppression by small hairpin RNA or pharmacologic approaches prevents leukemia initiation in mice by eliminating LIC activity. Consistent with its anti-LIC activity in mice, treatment with the BET bromodomain BRD4 inhibitor JQ1 reduces C-MYC expression and inhibits the growth of relapsed and IF pediatric T-ALL samples in vitro. These findings demonstrate a critical role for c-Myc in LIC maintenance and provide evidence that MYC inhibition may be an effective therapy for relapsed/IF T-ALL patients.
T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive cancer that is frequently associated with activating mutations in NOTCH1 and dysregulation of MYC. Here, we performed 2 complementary screens to identify FDA-approved drugs and drug-like small molecules with activity against T-ALL. We developed a zebrafish system to screen small molecules for toxic activity toward MYC-overexpressing thymocytes and used a human T-ALL cell line to screen for small molecules that synergize with Notch inhibitors. We identified the antipsychotic drug perphenazine in both screens due to its ability to induce apoptosis in fish, mouse, and human T-ALL cells. Using ligand-affinity chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry, we identified protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) as a perphenazine target. T-ALL cell lines treated with perphenazine exhibited rapid dephosphorylation of multiple PP2A substrates and subsequent apoptosis. Moreover, shRNA knockdown of specific PP2A subunits attenuated perphenazine activity, indicating that PP2A mediates the drug's antileukemic activity. Finally, human T-ALLs treated with perphenazine exhibited suppressed cell growth and dephosphorylation of PP2A targets in vitro and in vivo. Our findings provide a mechanistic explanation for the recurring identification of phenothiazines as a class of drugs with anticancer effects. Furthermore, these data suggest that pharmacologic PP2A activation in T-ALL and other cancers driven by hyperphosphorylated PP2A substrates has therapeutic potential.
Three distinct immature T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia entities have been described including cases that express an early T-cell precursor immunophenotype or expression profile, immature MEF2C-dysregulated T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia cluster cases based on gene expression analysis (immature cluster) and cases that retain non-rearranged TRG@ loci. Early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases exclusively overlap with immature cluster samples based on the expression of early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia signature genes, indicating that both are featuring a single disease entity. Patients lacking TRG@ rearrangements represent only 40% of immature cluster cases, but no further evidence was found to suggest that cases with absence of bi-allelic TRG@ deletions reflect a distinct and even more immature disease entity. Immature cluster/early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases are strongly enriched for genes expressed in hematopoietic stem cells as well as genes expressed in normal early thymocyte progenitor or double negative-2A T-cell subsets. Identification of early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia cases solely by defined immunophenotypic criteria strongly underestimates the number of cases that have a corresponding gene signature. However, early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia samples correlate best with a CD1 negative, CD4 and CD8 double negative immunophenotype with expression of CD34 and/or myeloid markers CD13 or CD33. Unlike various other studies, immature cluster/early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients treated on the COALL-97 protocol did not have an overall inferior outcome, and demonstrated equal sensitivity levels to most conventional therapeutic drugs compared to other pediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients.
The oncogenic transcription factor TAL1/SCL is aberrantly expressed in 60% of cases of human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and initiates T-ALL in mouse models. By performing global microRNA (miRNA) expression profiling after depletion of TAL1, together with genome-wide analysis of TAL1 occupancy by chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled to massively parallel DNA sequencing, we identified the miRNA genes directly controlled by TAL1 and its regulatory partners HEB, E2A, LMO1/2, GATA3, and RUNX1. The most dynamically regulated miRNA was miR-223, which is bound at its promoter and up-regulated by the TAL1 complex. miR-223 expression mirrors TAL1 levels during thymic development, with high expression in early thymocytes and marked down-regulation after the double-negative-2 stage of maturation. We demonstrate that aberrant miR-223 up-regulation by TAL1 is important for optimal growth of TAL1-positive T-ALL cells and that sustained expression of miR-223 partially rescues T-ALL cells after TAL1 knockdown. Overexpression of miR-223 also leads to marked down-regulation of FBXW7 protein expression, whereas knockdown of TAL1 leads to up-regulation of FBXW7 protein levels, with a marked reduction of its substrates MYC, MYB, NOTCH1, and CYCLIN E. We conclude that TAL1-mediated up-regulation of miR-223 promotes the malignant phenotype in T-ALL through repression of the FBXW7 tumor suppressor.
Targeted molecular therapy has yielded remarkable outcomes in certain cancers, but specific therapeutic targets remain elusive for many others. As a result of two independent RNA interference (RNAi) screens, we identified pathway dependence on a member of the Janus-activated kinase (JAK) tyrosine kinase family, TYK2, and its downstream effector STAT1, in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). Gene knockdown experiments consistently showed TYK2 dependence in both T-ALL primary specimens and cell lines, and a small-molecule inhibitor of JAK activity induced T-ALL cell death. Activation of this TYK2-STAT1 pathway in T-ALL cell lines occurs by gain-of-function TYK2 mutations or activation of interleukin (IL)-10 receptor signaling, and this pathway mediates T-ALL cell survival through upregulation of the antiapoptotic protein BCL2. These findings indicate that in many T-ALL cases, the leukemic cells are dependent upon the TYK2-STAT1-BCL2 pathway for continued survival, supporting the development of molecular therapies targeting TYK2 and other components of this pathway.
Ribosomal protein (RP) mutations in diseases such as 5q- syndrome both disrupt hematopoiesis and increase the risk of developing hematologic malignancy. However, the mechanism by which RP mutations increase cancer risk has remained an important unanswered question. We show here that monoallelic, germline inactivation of the ribosomal protein L22 (Rpl22) predisposes T-lineage progenitors to transformation. Indeed, RPL22 was found to be inactivated in ∼ 10% of human T-acute lymphoblastic leukemias. Moreover, monoallelic loss of Rpl22 accelerates development of thymic lymphoma in both a mouse model of T-cell malignancy and in acute transformation assays in vitro. We show that Rpl22 inactivation enhances transformation potential through induction of the stemness factor, Lin28B. Our finding that Rpl22 inactivation promotes transformation by inducing expression of Lin28B provides the first insight into the mechanistic basis by which mutations in Rpl22, and perhaps some other RP genes, increases cancer risk.
The oncogenic transcription factor TAL1/SCL is aberrantly expressed in over 40% of cases of human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), emphasizing its importance in the molecular pathogenesis of T-ALL. Here we identify the core transcriptional regulatory circuit controlled by TAL1 and its regulatory partners HEB, E2A, LMO1/2, GATA3, and RUNX1. We show that TAL1 forms a positive interconnected autoregulatory loop with GATA3 and RUNX1 and that the TAL1 complex directly activates the MYB oncogene, forming a positive feed-forward regulatory loop that reinforces and stabilizes the TAL1-regulated oncogenic program. One of the critical downstream targets in this circuitry is the TRIB2 gene, which is oppositely regulated by TAL1 and E2A/HEB and is essential for the survival of T-ALL cells.
Leukemia initiating cells (LIC) contribute to therapeutic resistance through acquisition of mutations in signaling pathways, such as NOTCH1, that promote self-renewal and survival within supportive niches. Activating mutations in NOTCH1 occur commonly in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and have been implicated in therapeutic resistance. However, the cell type and context specific consequences of NOTCH1 activation, its role in human LIC regeneration, and sensitivity to NOTCH1 inhibition in hematopoietic microenvironments had not been elucidated.
The BCL11B transcription factor is required for normal T-cell development, and has recently been implicated in the pathogenesis of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) induced by TLX overexpression or Atm deficiency. To comprehensively assess the contribution of BCL11B inactivation to human T-ALL, we performed DNA copy number and sequencing analyses of T-ALL diagnostic specimens, revealing monoallelic BCL11B deletions or missense mutations in 9% (n = 10 of 117) of cases. Structural homology modeling revealed that several of the BCL11B mutations disrupted the structure of zinc finger domains required for this transcription factor to bind DNA. BCL11B haploinsufficiency occurred across each of the major molecular subtypes of T-ALL, including early T-cell precursor, HOXA-positive, LEF1-inactivated, and TAL1-positive subtypes, which have differentiation arrest at diverse stages of thymocyte development. Our findings provide compelling evidence that BCL11B is a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor that collaborates with all major T-ALL oncogenic lesions in human thymocyte transformation.
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is a challenging clinical entity with high rates of induction failure and relapse. To discover the genetic changes occurring in T-ALL, and those contributing to relapse, we studied zebrafish (Danio rerio) T-ALL samples using array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH). We performed aCGH on 17 T-ALLs from four zebrafish T-ALL models, and evaluated similarities between fish and humans by comparing all D. rerio genes with copy number aberrations (CNAs) with a cohort of 75 published human T-ALLs analyzed by aCGH. Within all D. rerio CNAs, we identified 893 genes with human homologues and found significant overlap (67%) with the human CNA dataset. In addition, when we restricted our analysis to primary T-ALLs (14 zebrafish and 61 human samples), 10 genes were recurrently altered in > 3 zebrafish cancers and ≥ 4 human cases, suggesting a conserved role for these loci in T-ALL transformation across species. We also conducted iterative allo-transplantation with three zebrafish malignancies. This technique selects for aggressive disease, resulting in shorter survival times in successive transplant rounds and modeling refractory and relapsed human T-ALL. Fifty-five percent of original CNAs were preserved after serial transplantation, demonstrating clonality between each primary and passaged leukemia. Cancers acquired an average of 34 new CNAs during passaging. Genes in these loci may underlie the enhanced malignant behavior of these neoplasias. We also compared genes from CNAs of passaged zebrafish malignancies with aCGH results from 50 human T-ALL patients who failed induction, relapsed or would eventually relapse. Again, many genes (88/164) were shared by both datasets. Further, nine recurrently altered genes in passaged D. rerio T-ALL were also found in multiple human T-ALL cases. These results suggest that zebrafish and human T-ALLs are similar at the genomic level, and are governed by factors that have persisted throughout evolution.
Well-differentiated liposarcoma (WDLPS), one of the most common human sarcomas, is poorly responsive to radiation and chemotherapy, and the lack of animal models suitable for experimental analysis has seriously impeded functional investigation of its pathobiology and development of effective targeted therapies. Here, we show that zebrafish expressing constitutively active Akt2 in mesenchymal progenitors develop WDLPS that closely resembles the human disease. Tumor incidence rates were 8% in p53 wild-type zebrafish, 6% in p53 heterozygotes, and 29% in p53-homozygous mutant zebrafish (P = 0.013), indicating that aberrant Akt activation collaborates with p53 mutation in WDLPS pathogenesis. Analysis of primary clinical specimens of WDLPS, and of the closely related dedifferentiated liposarcoma (DDLPS) subtype, revealed immunohistochemical evidence of AKT activation in 27% of cases. Western blot analysis of a panel of cell lines derived from patients with WDLPS or DDLPS revealed robust AKT phosphorylation in all cell lines examined, even when these cells were cultured in serum-free media. Moreover, BEZ235, a small molecule inhibitor of PI3K and mammalian target of rapamycin that effectively inhibits AKT activation in these cells, impaired viability at nanomolar concentrations. Our findings are unique in providing an animal model to decipher the molecular pathogenesis of WDLPS, and implicate AKT as a previously unexplored therapeutic target in this chemoresistant sarcoma.
The MYC oncogenic transcription factor is overexpressed in most human cases of T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), often downstream of mutational NOTCH1 activation. Genetic alterations in the PTEN-PI3K-AKT pathway are also common in T-ALL. We generated a conditional zebrafish model of T-ALL in which 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4HT) treatment induces MYC activation and disease, and withdrawal of 4HT results in T-ALL apoptosis and tumor regression. However, we found that loss-of-function mutations in zebrafish pten genes, or expression of a constitutively active Akt2 transgene, rendered tumors independent of the MYC oncogene and promoted disease progression after 4HT withdrawal. Moreover, MYC suppresses pten mRNA levels, suggesting that Akt pathway activation downstream of MYC promotes tumor progression. Our findings indicate that Akt pathway activation is sufficient for tumor maintenance in this model, even after loss of survival signals driven by the MYC oncogene.
The effective use of targeted therapy is highly dependent on the identification of responder patient populations. Loss of FBW7, which encodes a tumour-suppressor protein, is frequently found in various types of human cancer, including breast cancer, colon cancer and T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL). In line with these genomic data, engineered deletion of Fbw7 in mouse T cells results in T-ALL, validating FBW7 as a T-ALL tumour suppressor. Determining the precise molecular mechanisms by which FBW7 exerts antitumour activity is an area of intensive investigation. These mechanisms are thought to relate in part to FBW7-mediated destruction of key proteins relevant to cancer, including Jun, Myc, cyclin E and notch 1 (ref. 9), all of which have oncoprotein activity and are overexpressed in various human cancers, including leukaemia. In addition to accelerating cell growth, overexpression of Jun, Myc or notch 1 can also induce programmed cell death. Thus, considerable uncertainty surrounds how FBW7-deficient cells evade cell death in the setting of upregulated Jun, Myc and/or notch 1. Here we show that the E3 ubiquitin ligase SCF(FBW7) (a SKP1-cullin-1-F-box complex that contains FBW7 as the F-box protein) governs cellular apoptosis by targeting MCL1, a pro-survival BCL2 family member, for ubiquitylation and destruction in a manner that depends on phosphorylation by glycogen synthase kinase 3. Human T-ALL cell lines showed a close relationship between FBW7 loss and MCL1 overexpression. Correspondingly, T-ALL cell lines with defective FBW7 are particularly sensitive to the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib but resistant to the BCL2 antagonist ABT-737. On the genetic level, FBW7 reconstitution or MCL1 depletion restores sensitivity to ABT-737, establishing MCL1 as a therapeutically relevant bypass survival mechanism that enables FBW7-deficient cells to evade apoptosis. Therefore, our work provides insight into the molecular mechanism of direct tumour suppression by FBW7 and has implications for the targeted treatment of patients with FBW7-deficient T-ALL.
The molecular events underlying the progression of T-lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-LBL) to acute T-lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) remain elusive. In our zebrafish model, concomitant overexpression of bcl-2 with Myc accelerated T-LBL onset while inhibiting progression to T-ALL. The T-LBL cells failed to invade the vasculature and showed evidence of increased homotypic cell-cell adhesion and autophagy. Further analysis using clinical biopsy specimens revealed autophagy and increased levels of BCL2, S1P1, and ICAM1 in human T-LBL compared with T-ALL. Inhibition of S1P1 signaling in T-LBL cells led to decreased homotypic adhesion in vitro and increased tumor cell intravasation in vivo. Thus, blockade of intravasation and hematologic dissemination in T-LBL is due to elevated S1P1 signaling, increased expression of ICAM1, and augmented homotypic cell-cell adhesion.
To identify children with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) at high risk of induction chemotherapy failure by using DNA copy number analysis of leukemic cells collected at diagnosis.
Advances in liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) can be used to measure steroid hormone metabolites in vitro and in vivo. We find that LC-electrospray ionization (ESI)-MS using a LCQ ion trap mass spectrometer in the negative ion mode can be used to monitor the product profile that results from 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone (DHT)-17beta-glucuronide, DHT-17beta-sulfate, and tibolone-17beta-sulfate reduction catalyzed by human members of the aldo-keto reductase (AKR) 1C subfamily and assign kinetic constants to these reactions. We also developed a stable isotope dilution LC-electron capture atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (ECAPCI)-MS method for the quantitative analysis of estrone (E1) and its metabolites as pentafluorobenzyl (PFB) derivatives in human plasma in the attomole range. The limit of detection for E1-PFB was 740attomole on column. Separations can be performed using normal-phase LC because ionization takes place in the gas phase rather than in solution. This permits efficient separation of the regioisomeric 2- and 4-methoxy-E1. The method was validated for the simultaneous analysis of plasma E2 and its metabolites: 2-methoxy-E2, 4-methoxy-E2, 16alpha-hydroxy-E2, estrone (E1), 2-methoxy-E1, 4-methoxy-EI, and 16alpha-hydroxy-E1 from 5pg/mL to 2000pg/mL. Our LC-MS methods have sufficient sensitivity to detect steroid hormone levels in prostate and breast tumors and should aid their molecular diagnosis and treatment.
To further unravel the molecular pathogenesis of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), we performed high-resolution array comparative genomic hybridization on diagnostic specimens from 47 children with T-ALL and identified monoallelic or biallelic LEF1 microdeletions in 11% (5 of 47) of these primary samples. An additional 7% (3 of 44) of the cases harbored nonsynonymous sequence alterations of LEF1, 2 of which produced premature stop codons. Gene expression microarrays showed increased expression of MYC and MYC targets in cases with LEF1 inactivation, as well as differentiation arrest at an early cortical stage of thymocyte development characterized by expression of CD1B, CD1E, and CD8, with absent CD34 expression. LEF1 inactivation was associated with a younger age at the time of T-ALL diagnosis, as well as activating NOTCH1 mutations, biallelic INK4a/ARF deletions, and PTEN loss-of-function mutations or activating mutations of PI3K or AKT genes. These cases generally lacked overexpression of the TAL1, HOX11, HOX11L2, or the HOXA cluster genes, which have been used to define separate molecular pathways leading to T-ALL. Our findings suggest that LEF1 inactivation is an important step in the molecular pathogenesis of T-ALL in a subset of young children.
To identify dysregulated pathways in distinct phases of NOTCH1-mediated T-cell leukemogenesis, as well as small-molecule inhibitors that could synergize with or substitute for gamma-secretase inhibitors (GSIs) in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) therapy, we compared gene expression profiles in a Notch1-induced mouse model of T-ALL with those in human T-ALL. The overall patterns of NOTCH1-mediated gene expression in human and mouse T-ALLs were remarkably similar, as defined early in transformation in the mouse by the regulation of MYC and its target genes and activation of nuclear factor-kappaB and PI3K/AKT pathways. Later events in murine Notch1-mediated leukemogenesis included down-regulation of genes encoding tumor suppressors and negative cell cycle regulators. Gene set enrichment analysis and connectivity map algorithm predicted that small-molecule inhibitors, including heat-shock protein 90, histone deacetylase, PI3K/AKT, and proteasome inhibitors, could reverse the gene expression changes induced by NOTCH1. When tested in vitro, histone deacetylase, PI3K and proteasome inhibitors synergized with GSI in suppressing T-ALL cell growth in GSI-sensitive cells. Interestingly, alvespimycin, a potent inhibitor of the heat-shock protein 90 molecular chaperone, markedly inhibited the growth of both GSI-sensitive and -resistant T-ALL cells, suggesting that its loss disrupts signal transduction pathways crucial for the growth and survival of T-ALL cells.
A growing body of evidence indicates that early mitotic inhibitor 1 (Emi1) is essential for genomic stability, but how this function relates to embryonic development and cancer pathogenesis remains unclear. We have identified a zebrafish mutant line in which deficient emi1 gene expression results in multilineage hematopoietic defects and widespread developmental defects that are p53 independent. Cell cycle analyses of Emi1-depleted zebrafish or human cells showed chromosomal rereplication, and metaphase preparations from mutant zebrafish embryos revealed rereplicated, unsegregated chromosomes and polyploidy. Furthermore, EMI1-depleted mammalian cells relied on topoisomerase II alpha-dependent mitotic decatenation to progress through metaphase. Interestingly, the loss of a single emi1 allele in the absence of p53 enhanced the susceptibility of adult fish to neural sheath tumorigenesis. Our results cast Emi1 as a critical regulator of genomic fidelity during embryogenesis and suggest that the factor may act as a tumor suppressor.
To more comprehensively assess the pathogenic contribution of the PTEN-PI3K-AKT pathway to T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), we examined diagnostic DNA samples from children with T-ALL using array comparative genomic hybridization and sequence analysis. Alterations of PTEN, PI3K, or AKT were identified in 47.7% of 44 cases. There was a striking clustering of PTEN mutations in exon 7 in 12 cases, all of which were predicted to truncate the C2 domain without disrupting the phosphatase domain of PTEN. Induction chemotherapy failed to induce remission in 3 of the 4 patients whose lymphoblasts harbored PTEN deletions at the time of diagnosis, compared with none of the 12 patients with mutations of PTEN exon 7 (P = .007), suggesting that PTEN deletion has more adverse therapeutic consequences than mutational disruptions that preserve the phosphatase domain. These findings add significant support to the rationale for the development of therapies targeting the PTEN-PI3K-AKT pathway in T-ALL.
Recent studies have demonstrated that the MYB oncogene is frequently duplicated in human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). We find that the human MYB locus is flanked by 257-bp Alu repeats and that the duplication is mediated somatically by homologous recombination between the flanking Alu elements on sister chromatids. Nested long-range PCR analysis indicated a low frequency of homologous recombination leading to MYB tandem duplication in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of approximately 50% of healthy individuals, none of whom had a MYB duplication in the germline. We conclude that Alu-mediated MYB tandem duplication occurs at low frequency during normal thymocyte development and is clonally selected during the molecular pathogenesis of human T-ALL.
Constitutive signaling by the NOTCH1 receptor contributes to more than half of all cases of T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). However, blocking the proteolytic activation of NOTCH1 with gamma-secretase inhibitors (GSIs) fails to alter the growth of some T-ALL cell lines carrying the mutated receptor. A recent report by Palomero et al. in Nature Medicine identifies loss of PTEN as a critical event leading to resistance to NOTCH inhibition, which causes the transfer of "oncogene addiction" from the NOTCH1 to the PI3K/AKT pathway. This novel observation suggests the need to simultaneously inhibit both pathways as a means to improve therapeutic efficacy in human T-ALL.
The zebrafish is an ideal vertebrate model system to investigate the complex genetic basis of cancer because it has the capacity for in vivo tumour-cell imaging and forward genetic screens, and the molecular mechanisms regulating malignancy are remarkably conserved when compared with human. Our laboratory has previously generated transgenic zebrafish models that overexpress the mouse c-Myc gene fused to enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and develop T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) that recapitulates the human disease both molecularly and pathologically. Our previous models have been limited by disease onset prior to sexual maturity and by the low disease penetrance when conditional transgenic embryos are injected with Cre RNA. Here, we report a novel system in which compound transgenic fish expressed both Cre controlled by the heat-shock promoter and a rag2-promoter-regulated lox-dsRED2-lox-EGFP-mMyc cassette rag2-LDL-EMyc in developing T cells. After heat-shock treatment at 3 d postfertilisation (dpf) for 45 min at 37 degrees C, 81% of compound transgenic fish developed T-lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-LBL, mean latency 120 +/- 43 (standard deviation) days of life), which rapidly progressed to T-ALL. Heat-shock-regulated transgenic technology in zebrafish provides the missing link necessary to exploit the powerful genetic capacity of this organism to probe the multi-step molecular pathogenesis of leukaemia.
Highly rearranged and mutated cancer genomes present major challenges in the identification of pathogenetic events driving the neoplastic transformation process. Here we engineered lymphoma-prone mice with chromosomal instability to assess the usefulness of mouse models in cancer gene discovery and the extent of cross-species overlap in cancer-associated copy number aberrations. Along with targeted re-sequencing, our comparative oncogenomic studies identified FBXW7 and PTEN to be commonly deleted both in murine lymphomas and in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia/lymphoma (T-ALL). The murine cancers acquire widespread recurrent amplifications and deletions targeting loci syntenic to those not only in human T-ALL but also in diverse human haematopoietic, mesenchymal and epithelial tumours. These results indicate that murine and human tumours experience common biological processes driven by orthologous genetic events in their malignant evolution. The highly concordant nature of genomic events encourages the use of genomically unstable murine cancer models in the discovery of biological driver events in the human oncogenome.
The corona discharge used to generate positive and negative ions under conventional atmospheric pressure chemical ionization conditions also provides a source of gas-phase electrons. This is thought to occur by displacement of electrons from the nitrogen sheath gas. Therefore, suitable analytes can undergo electron capture in the gas phase in a manner similar to that observed for gas chromatography/electron capture negative chemical ionization/mass spectrometry. This technique, which has been named electron capture atmospheric pressure chemical ionization/mass spectrometry, provided an increase in sensitivity of 2 orders of magnitude when compared with conventional atmospheric pressure chemical ionization methodology. It is a simple procedure to tag many biomolecules and drugs with an electron-capturing group such as the pentafluorobenzyl moiety before analysis. Pentafluorobenzyl derivatives have previously been used as electron capturing derivatives because they undergo dissociative electron capture in the gas phase to generate negative ions through the loss of a pentafluorobenzyl radical. A similar process was found to occur under electron capture atmospheric pressure chemical ionization conditions. By monitoring the negative ions that were formed, it was possible to obtain attomole sensitivity for pentafluorobenzyl derivatives of a representative steroid, steroid metabolite, prostaglandin, thromboxane, amino acid, and DNA-adduct.