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2759 NK-2 Homeobox Transcription Factor NKX2-3 Confers Differentiation Block in NPM1-Mutated in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

Program: Oral and Poster Abstracts
Session: 602. Myeloid Oncogenesis: Basic: Poster II
Hematology Disease Topics & Pathways:
Research, Fundamental Science, Acute Myeloid Malignancies, AML, Translational Research, hematopoiesis, Diseases, Myeloid Malignancies, Biological Processes, molecular biology, pathogenesis
Sunday, December 10, 2023, 6:00 PM-8:00 PM

John A Chadwick1*, Bettina Wingelhofer, PhD2* and Tim CP Somervaille, PhD FRCP FRCPath3

1Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, Manchester, ENG, United Kingdom
2Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, Manchester, United Kingdom
3Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, Manchester, GBR

Dysregulation of HOX homeobox family transcription factor (TF) gene expression is important in the pathogenesis of AML in particular in NPM1-mutated and MLL rearranged molecular subtypes. However, little is known about the role of NK2-homeobox (NKX2) family TF genes. NKX2 genes have critical roles in normal development of the central nervous system, thyroid, lung and pancreas. We observed high expression of NKX2-3 in patient AML samples and hypothesised the transcription factor might have a functional role in the disease.

By qPCR, we found that NKX2-3 is highly expressed in normal HSCs but is rapidly down regulated as cells differentiate. In primary AML samples, it is highly expressed in 21-37% cases, including within the immunophenotypic LSC compartment, in particular in cases with NPM1 and/or FLT3-ITD mutations.

Forced expression of NKX2-3 in normal murine KIT+ bone marrow (BM) HSPCs transiently enhanced their clonogenic activity and impaired differentiation: NKX2-3-expressing HSPCs expressed higher levels of E2F or MYC target genes, and leukemia stem cell (LSC) maintenance genes. Congenic transplant experiments revealed that forced expression of NKX2-3 in normal BM HSPCs was sufficient to enhance multilineage engraftment across four months of follow up without inducing leukemia. In keeping with this, transplantation of Nkx2-3 -/- knockout BM cells led to significantly inferior engraftment compared with BM cells from litter mate control mice. Thus, while increased expression of Nkx2-3 enhances engraftment of normal stem cells in transplantation assays, loss of Nkx2-3 impairs it.

Analysis of NKX2-3high primary human AML cases demonstrated that HOXA9 was the most highly upregulated transcription factor gene compared with NKX2-3low cases. We expressed both factors singly and together in murine KIT+ BM HSPCs: Hoxa9/NKX2-3 cells exhibited significantly higher clonogenic activity and reduced morphologic and immunophenotypic differentiation compared with Hoxa9/MTV cells. Congenic BM transplant experiments demonstrated that Hoxa9/NKX2-3 recipients developed leukemias significantly earlier than Hoxa9/MTV recipients (median 82 vs 155 days). BM morphology and immunophenotyping confirmed that Hoxa9/NKX2-3 AMLs exhibited a greater degree of differentiation block than Hoxa9/MTV AMLs. Leukemia cells from Hoxa9/NKX2-3 recipients coordinately expressed higher levels of E2F or MYC target genes, and LSC maintenance genes.

NKX2-3 KD to ~30% of control values reduced proliferation and induced morphologic and immunophenotypic differentiation in primary patient NPM1-mutated AML cells. NKX2-3 KD led to down regulation of E2F and MYC target genes and normal human CD34+ stem cell genes; and up regulation of myeloid differentiation genes. Using a CRISPR ribonucleofection approach to relocate NPM1c to the nucleus we confirmed that NKX2-3 expression in NPM1-mutant primary AML cells is sustained by mutant NPM1c.

ChIPseq in NPM1-mutated primary patient and KO52 AML cells identified NKX2-3 binding peaks. As expected, DNA sequences under peak apices were strongly enriched for NKX2-3 binding motifs; there was also significant enrichment for RUNX and ETS family motifs, but not HOX/MEIS/PBX motifs. To identify genes potentially regulated by NKX2-3, genomic coordinates of strong binding peaks were mapped to the single nearest gene. Remarkably, among genes up regulated following NKX2-3 knockdown in primary human AML cells there was a highly significant enrichment of genes with putative regulatory elements bound by NKX2-3. Likewise, among genes down regulated in NKX2-3-expressing KIT+ murine HSPCs, there was a similar significant enrichment of genes with putative regulatory elements bound by NKX2-3. These data suggest that NKX2-3 functions as a transcription repressor at bound regulatory elements in primary AML cells.

In summary, NKX2-3 is highly expressed in NPM1 & FLT3 mutated molecular subtypes of AML and serves to enhance self-renewal and the level of differentiation block through binding to and repressing regulatory elements of myeloid differentiation genes.

Disclosures: Somervaille: Glaxo Smith Kline: Consultancy; CellCentric Ltd: Research Funding; Oryzon Genomics: Consultancy; Imago BioSciences, Inc., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc.: Research Funding; Abbvie: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy; Rain Oncology: Consultancy; Bristol Myers Squibb: Consultancy.

*signifies non-member of ASH