In the area of Epigenetics and Gene Regulation

Nat Genet 51:151-162 (2019). Assi SA, et al. Subtype-specific regulatory network rewiring in acute myeloid leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a heterogeneous disease caused by a variety of alterations in transcription factors, epigenetic regulators and signaling molecules. To determine how different mutant regulators establish AML subtype-specific transcriptional networks, we performed a comprehensive global analysis of cis-regulatory element activity and interaction, transcription factor occupancy and gene expression patterns in purified leukemic blast cells. Here, we focused on specific subgroups of subjects carrying mutations in genes encoding transcription factors (RUNX1, CEBPalpha), signaling molecules (FTL3-ITD, RAS) and the nuclear protein NPM1). Integrated analysis of these data demonstrates that each mutant regulator establishes a specific transcriptional and signaling network unrelated to that seen in normal cells, sustaining the expression of unique sets of genes required for AML growth and maintenance.

Cell Rep 35:109010 (2021). Potluri S, et al. Isoform-specific and signaling-dependent propagation of acute myeloid leukemia by Wilms tumor 1.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is caused by recurrent mutations in members of the gene regulatory and signaling machinery that control hematopoietic progenitor cell growth and differentiation. Here, we show that the transcription factor WT1 forms a major node in the rewired mutation-specific gene regulatory networks of multiple AML subtypes. WT1 is frequently either mutated or upregulated in AML, and its expression is predictive for relapse. The WT1 protein exists as multiple isoforms. For two main AML subtypes, we demonstrate that these isoforms exhibit differential patterns of binding and support contrasting biological activities, including enhanced proliferation. We also show that WT1 responds to oncogenic signaling and is part of a signaling-responsive transcription factor hub that controls AML growth. WT1 therefore plays a central and widespread role in AML biology.

Exp Hematol  (2020). Chin PS, et al. RUNX1/ETO and mutant KIT both contribute to programming the transcriptional and chromatin landscape in t(8;21) acute myeloid leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia development occurs in a stepwise fashion whereby an original driver mutation is followed by additional mutations. The first type of mutations tends to be in genes encoding members of the epigenetic/transcription regulatory machinery (i.e., RUNX1, DNMT3A, TET2), while the secondary mutations often involve genes encoding members of signaling pathways that cause uncontrolled growth of such cells such as the growth factor receptors c-KIT of FLT3. Patients usually present with both types of mutations, but it is currently unclear how both mutational events shape the epigenome in developing AML cells. To this end we generated an in vitro model of t(8;21) AML by expressing its driver oncoprotein RUNX1-ETO with or without a mutated (N822K) KIT protein. Expression of N822K-c-KIT strongly increases the self-renewal capacity of RUNX1-ETO-expressing cells. Global analysis of gene expression changes and alterations in the epigenome revealed that N822K-c-KIT expression profoundly influences the open chromatin landscape and transcription factor binding. However, our experiments also revealed that double mutant cells still differ from their patient-derived counterparts, highlighting the importance of studying patient cells to obtain a true picture of how gene regulatory networks have been reprogrammed during tumorigenesis.

Cell Rep 31:107691 (2020). Nafria M, et al. Expression of RUNX1-ETO Rapidly Alters the Chromatin Landscape and Growth of Early Human Myeloid Precursor Cells.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a hematopoietic malignancy caused by recurrent mutations in genes encoding transcriptional, chromatin, and/or signaling regulators. The t(8;21) translocation generates the aberrant transcription factor RUNX1-ETO (RUNX1-RUNX1T1), which by itself is insufficient to cause disease. t(8;21) AML patients show extensive chromatin reprogramming and have acquired additional mutations. Therefore, the genomic and developmental effects directly and solely attributable to RUNX1-ETO expression are unclear. To address this, we employ a human embryonic stem cell differentiation system capable of forming definitive myeloid progenitor cells to express RUNX1-ETO in an inducible fashion. Induction of RUNX1-ETO causes extensive chromatin reprogramming by interfering with RUNX1 binding, blocks differentiation, and arrests cellular growth, whereby growth arrest is reversible following RUNX1-ETO removal. Single-cell gene expression analyses show that RUNX1-ETO induction alters the differentiation of early myeloid progenitors, but not of other progenitor types, indicating that oncoprotein-mediated transcriptional reprogramming is highly target cell specific.

Haematologica  (2020). Kellaway SG, et al. RUNX1-EVI1 disrupts lineage determination and the cell cycle by interfering with RUNX1 and EVI1 driven gene regulatory networks.

Hematological malignancies are characterised by a block in differentiation, which in many cases is caused by recurrent mutations affecting the activity of hematopoietic transcription factors. RUNX1-EVI1 is a fusion protein formed by the t(3;21) translocation linking two transcription factors required for normal hematopoiesis. RUNX1-EVI1 expression is found in myelodysplastic syndrome, secondary acute myeloid leukemia, and blast crisis of chronic myeloid leukemia; with clinical outcomes being worse than in patients with RUNX1-ETO, RUNX1 or EVI1 mutations alone. RUNX1-EVI1 is usually found as a secondary mutation, therefore the molecular mechanisms underlying how RUNX1-EVI1 alone contributes to poor prognosis are unknown. To address this question, we induced expression of RUNX1-EVI1 in hematopoietic cells derived from an embryonic stem cell differentiation model. Induction resulted in disruption of the RUNX1-dependent endothelial-hematopoietic transition, blocked the cell cycle and undermined cell fate decisions in multipotent hematopoietic progenitor cells. Integrative analyses of gene expression with chromatin and transcription factor binding data demonstrated that RUNX1-EVI1 binding caused the re-distribution of endogenous RUNX1 within the genome and interfered with both RUNX1 and EVI1 regulated gene expression programs. In summary, RUNX1-EVI1 expression alone leads to extensive epigenetic reprogramming which is incompatible with healthy blood production.

Life Sci Alliance 4 (2021). Kellaway SG, et al. Different mutant RUNX1 oncoproteins program alternate haematopoietic differentiation trajectories.

Mutations of the haematopoietic master regulator RUNX1 are associated with acute myeloid leukaemia, familial platelet disorder and other haematological malignancies whose phenotypes and prognoses depend upon the class of the RUNX1 mutation. The biochemical behaviour of these oncoproteins and their ability to cause unique diseases has been well studied, but the genomic basis of their differential action is unknown. To address this question we compared integrated phenotypic, transcriptomic, and genomic data from cells expressing four types of RUNX1 oncoproteins in an inducible fashion during blood development from embryonic stem cells. We show that each class of mutant RUNX1 deregulates endogenous RUNX1 function by a different mechanism, leading to specific alterations in developmentally controlled transcription factor binding and chromatin programming. The result is distinct perturbations in the trajectories of gene regulatory network changes underlying blood cell development which are consistent with the nature of the final disease phenotype. The development of novel treatments for RUNX1-driven diseases will therefore require individual consideration.