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3439 In Vivo crispr Screening Identifies GLUT1 As a Key Metabolic Regulator of MLL-AF9-Driven Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Program: Oral and Poster Abstracts
Session: 617. Acute Myeloid Leukemias: Biomarkers, Molecular Markers and Minimal Residual Disease in Diagnosis and Prognosis: Poster III
Hematology Disease Topics & Pathways:
Fundamental Science, Translational Research, AML, Clinically Relevant, Diseases, Metabolism, Myeloid Malignancies, Biological Processes
Monday, December 13, 2021, 6:00 PM-8:00 PM

Maria Rodriguez Zabala, MSc1*, Ramprasad Ramakrishnan, PhD1*, Katrin Reinbach, BSc1*, Leal Oburoglu, PhD2*, Somadri Ghosh, PhD1*, Ton Falqués, PhD1*, Pablo Peña-Martínez, PhD1*, Noelia Puente-Moncada, PhD1*, Thoas Fioretos, MD1*, Anna Hagstroem-Andersson, PhD1, Niels-Bjarne Woods, PhD2* and Marcus Järås, PhD1

1Department of Laboratory Medicine, Division of Clinical Genetics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
2Division of Molecular Medicine and Gene Therapy, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Disease relapse in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is associated with a failure of current treatments to eradicate leukemia stem cells (LSCs), a self-renewing population of cells responsible for disease progression and maintenance. Thus, novel therapeutic strategies designed to specifically target LSCs while sparing normal hematopoietic stem cells are needed. To identify dependencies in LSCs that may reveal new treatment opportunities, we performed an in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 dropout screen in the widely used MLL-AF9-driven AML murine model. The pooled lentiviral CRISPR library was designed to target 960 genes encoding cell surface proteins expressed on MLL-AF9 AML cells as these are accessible for therapeutic targeting.

The facilitated glucose transporter member 1(GLUT1), a major mediator of cellular glucose uptake, emerged as the highest ranked dependency in the screen, with all 6 sgRNAs depleted more than 10-fold in vivo. Consistent with the results from the screen, validation experiments confirmed that sgRNA-mediated GLUT1 disruption in c-Kit+Cas9+dsRed+MLL-AF9 cells led to a 5-fold reduction in the establishment of leukemia in both the bone marrow and spleen of recipient mice. In line with these in vivo observations, leukemia cells expressing GLUT1 sgRNAs were rapidly depleted over time in an ex vivo competition assay (p<0.0001). GLUT1 disruption also led to a marked increase in mean survival from 28 to 73 days in mice transplanted with sorted GLUT1 sgRNA-expressing leukemia cells relative to controls. Notably, while GLUT1 loss did not affect apoptosis or cell-cycle state, it led to a more than two-fold increase in the surface expression of the myeloid differentiation marker Gr-1 (p=0.0002). Interestingly, knockdown of GLUT1 lead to reduced mRNA expression levels of key downstream genes of MLL-driven leukemia Meis1 (p<0.0001) and Hoxa9 (p=0.0013), both of which are commonly downregulated upon differentiation. These findings suggest that GLUT1 ablation arrests AML cell growth at least in part via accelerated differentiation and attenuated cell proliferation.

Given GLUT1-mediated glucose transfer constitutes the first rate-limiting step for glucose metabolism, we assessed the metabolic profile of MLL-AF9 AML cells following loss of GLUT1. Bioenergetic profiling revealed that the rate of glycolysis was significantly decreased upon GLUT1 knockdown, as measured by a decrease in extracellular acidification rate (ECAR), glucose uptake, hexokinase activity and extracellular lactate production.

To further assess the feasibility of GLUT1 inhibition as a therapy for AML patients, we treated murine cKit+MLL-AF9 leukemia cells with BAY-876, a potent and highly selective GLUT1 inhibitor. BAY-876 impaired tumor growth following 24hr (IC50 60.3 nM) and 48hr (IC50 68.8 nM) treatment ex vivo in a dose-dependent manner. Interestingly, the inhibitory effect on the counterpart healthy bone marrow c-Kit+ cells was significantly weaker (24hr IC50 347.7 nM; 48hr IC50 258.4nM), indicating selective targeting of LSCs. To test the efficacy of BAY-876 as an anti-leukemic agent in vivo, sublethally irradiated mice were transplanted with c-Kit+MLL-AF9 AML cells and 3 days post-injection, were randomised into two groups (Veh n=4; BAY-876 n=6) and orally treated with either vehicle or 4mg/kg of BAY-876 daily. Following 10 days of treatment, mice were sacrificed and leukemia burden was assessed. Notably, substantially lower levels of leukemia cells in the bone marrow (p=0.0095), spleen (p=0.0095), and peripheral blood (p=0.036) were observed in the BAY-876 treatment group with no significant loss of body weight. Consistent with these findings, the average spleen weight was reduced by 66% upon BAY-876 treatment (p=0.0136).

Collectively, we demonstrate that MLL-AF9-driven AML cells are dependent on GLUT1 for continued growth and survival. Targeting of GLUT1 downregulates glycolysis and induces cellular differentiation. We report that genetic or pharmacological inhibition of GLUT1 is sufficient to impair leukemic growth in vitro and in vivo, highlighting a potential therapeutic opportunity for disarming intrinsic metabolic dependencies of LSCs. Ongoing studies are aimed at translating these findings to the human disease and exploring combinatorial therapies that may act synergistically to overcome mechanisms of therapy resistance and metabolic plasticity.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

*signifies non-member of ASH