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1083 Genome Wide siRNA Screen Identifies CGAS-Sting Pathway As a Pharmacological Target That Promotes Survival of Hematopoietic Stem Cells Deficient in Fanconi Genes

Program: Oral and Poster Abstracts
Session: 101. Red Cells and Erythropoiesis, Excluding Iron: Poster I
Hematology Disease Topics & Pathways:
Research, Fundamental Science, Translational Research
Saturday, December 9, 2023, 5:30 PM-7:30 PM

Arvindhan G. Nagarajan, PhD1*, Nicholas Neeley, MS1*, Paymon Doroodian1*, Ane Olazabel1* and Gary Kupfer, MD2

1Department of Oncology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
2Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC


Fanconi anemia (FA) is a homozygous recessive genetic disorder due to mutation in the Fanconi family of genes. The disease is characterized by early onset bone marrow failure and a predisposition to cancer. The FA genes are involved in DNA damage sensing and repair. Mutation in these genes leads to heightened DNA damage and extreme sensitivity to cross-linking agents. Hematopoietic stem cells of FA patients are defective in differentiation and self-renewal, leading to stem cell exhaustion and bone marrow failure early in life. The current treatment for bone marrow failure is allogeneic stem cell transplant from healthy donors. Due to difficulties in finding matching donors and the inherent problems associated with allogeneic transplants, pharmacological therapies that delay or prevent bone marrow failure are of clinical importance. Other proposed therapies including TGF-b, metformin, and resveratrol have met with limited clinical success.


To identify genes that promote survival of FA cells we performed a genome wide siRNA screen using isogenic pair of cell line with FANCD2 deletions and its corrected counterpart using transfection of siRNA libraries targeting 18,119 genes from Human Drug Targets, Human Druggable Genome, and Human Genome libraries at 2000 cells/well in 384-well plates followed by cell viability measurement after 72 hrs. We measured IRF3 phosphorylation and expression of immune related genes to analyze the CGAS-STING pathway. Using peripheral blood and bone marrow derived CD34+ cells transduced with lentivirus expressing shRNA against FANCD2 we tested the effect of CGAS inhibitor in promoting CFU-GM and CFU-E.


A genome wide siRNA screen identified IRF7 as one of the top 5 hits whose diminished expression resulted in increased viability of F-D2 mutant PD20 cells. IRF7 along with IRF3 serve as downstream transcription factors including various Toll-like receptors, CGAS-STING pathways, and other pattern recognition innate immune receptors. Using pIRF3 as an activation readout for CGAS-STING pathway we identified that both FANCD2 and FANCA mutant cells have elevated pIRF3 levels. The elevated pIRF3 levels were further increased upon addition of mitomycin C (MMC) in FA mutant cells as compared to gene corrected cells. The pIRF3 levels decreased upon both genetic KD and small molecule inhibition of both CGAS and STING. In line with increased pIRF3 FA mutant cells showed increased gene expression of various interferon-regulated genes, which were then also reduced by CGAS inhibitor. Overexpression of RNAseH1 partially reduced pIRF3 levels in FA mutant cells indicating that the RNA:DNA hybrids whose levels are elevated in FA mutant cells is one of the ligands of CGAS. Most importantly 10µM of CGAS inhibitor RU.51 was able to rescue FA-A mutant cell line 6914 cells from low dose MMC-induced cell death showing that the sensitivity of FA mutant cells to DNA damaging agents was at least partially driven by CGAS-STING pathway. We then tested if the protective effect of CGAS inhibitor extended to human CD34+ cells deficient in FA genes. 20µM of RU.51 was able to rescue the CFU-GM and CFU-E defects of CD34+ cells carrying lentiviral integrated shRNA against FANCD2 to a level to that in cells expressing non-silencing shRNAs. Interferon-regulated gene expression was also elevated in the FANCD2-deficient CD34+ cells, which was reversed by treatment with cGAS inhibitor.

Conclusions: It has previously been shown that FA patients have elevated TNF-alpha, IFN-gamma levels, and NFkbactivation, and interferon alpha administration hastens the onset of bone marrow failure in FA patients. Our results show that FA mutant cells have elevated CGAS-STING signaling resulting in heightened interferon gene expression. Elevated R-loop levels in FA cells act as trigger for the CGAS-STING pathway. CGAS inhibitor is able to rescue low dose MMC-induced cell death in FA mutant fibroblasts and also restores the CFU-GM and CFU-E forming ability of CD34+ cells. These results indicate that CGAS-STING pathway is a pharmacologically tractable target to reverse the hematopoietic stem cell exhaustion seen in FA patients.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

*signifies non-member of ASH