Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Lucio Castilla, Ph.D.


Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute, Core Binding Factor beta Subunit, Core Binding Factor Alpha 2 Subunit, Oncogene Proteins, Fusion, Receptors, Thrombopoietin, MicroRNAs


Leukemia is a hematopoietic cancer that is characterized by the abnormal differentiation and proliferation of hematopoietic cells. It is ranked 7th by death rate among cancer types in USA, even though it is not one of the top 10 cancers by incidence (USCS, 2010). This indicates an urgent need for more effective treatment strategies. In order to design the new ways of prevention and treatment of leukemia, it is important to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in development of the disease.

In this study, we investigated mechanisms involved in the development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that is associated with CBF fusion genes. The RUNX1 and CBFB genes that encode subunits of a transcriptional regulator complex CBF, are mutated in a subset (20 – 25%) of AML cases. As a result of these mutations, fusion genes called CBFB-MYH11 and RUNX1-ETO arise. The chimeric proteins encoded by the fusion genes provide block in proliferation for myeloid progenitors, but are not sufficient for AML development. Genetic studies have indicated that activation of cytokine receptor signaling is a major oncogenic pathway that cooperates in leukemia development. The main goal of my work was to determine a role of two factors that regulate cytokine signaling activity, the microRNA cluster miR-17-92 and the thrombopoietin receptor MPL, in their potential cooperation with the CBF fusions in AML development.

We determined that the miR-17-92 miRNA cluster cooperates with Cbfb-MYH11 in AML development in a mouse model of human CBFB-MYH11 AML. We found that the miR-17-92 cluster downregulates Pten and activates the PI3K/Akt pathway in the leukemic blasts. We also demonstrated that miR-17-92 provides an anti-apoptotic effect in the leukemic cells, but does not seem to affect proliferation. The anti-apoptotic effect was mainly due to activity of miR-17 and miR-20a, but not miR-19a and miR-19b.

Our second study demonstrated that wild type Mpl cooperated with RUNX1-ETO fusion in development of AML in mice. Mpl induced PI3K/Akt, Ras/Raf/Erk and Jak2/Stat5 signaling pathways in the AML cells. We showed that PIK3/Akt pathway plays a role in AML development both in vitro and in vivo by increasing survival of leukemic cells. The levels of MPL transcript in the AML samples correlated with their response to thrombopoietin (THPO). Moreover, we demonstrated that MPL provides pro-proliferative effect for the leukemic cells, and that the effect can be abrogated with inhibitors of PI3K/AKT and MEK/ERK pathways.

Taken together, these data confirm important roles for the PI3K/AKT and RAS/RAF/MEK pathways in the pathogenesis of AML, identifies two novel genes that can serve as secondary mutations in CBF fusions-associated AML, and in general expands our knowledge of mechanisms of leukemogenesis.



Rights and Permissions

Copyright is held by the author, with all rights reserved.