Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology


Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology Department

First Thesis Advisor

Lucio H. Castilla, PhD


Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Fusion Oncogene Proteins, Leukemic Gene Expression Regulation


Dissertations, UMMS; Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute; Oncogene Proteins, Fusion; Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic


The CBFbeta-SMMHC fusion protein is expressed in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) samples with the chromosome inversion inv(16)(p13;q22). This fusion protein binds the transcription factor RUNX with higher affinity than its physiological partner CBFbeta and disrupts the core binding factor (CBF) activity in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Studies in the Castilla laboratory have shown that CBFbeta-SMMHC expression blocks differentiation of hematopoietic progenitors, creating a pre-leukemic progenitor that progresses to AML in cooperation with other mutations. However, the combined function of cumulative cooperating mutations in the pre-leukemic progenitor cells that enhance their expansion to induce leukemia is not known. The standard treatment for inv(16) AML is based on the use of non-selective cytotoxic chemotherapy, resulting in a good initial response, but with limited long-term survival. Therefore, there is a need for developing targeted therapies with improved efficacy in leukemic cells and minimal toxicity for normal cells.

Here, we used conditional Nras+/LSL-G12D; Cbfb+/56M; Mx1Cre knock-in mice to show that allelic expression of oncogenic N-RasG12D expanded the multi-potential progenitor (MPP) compartment by 8 fold. Allelic expression of Cbfbeta-SMMHC increased the MPPs and short-term hematopoietic stem cells (ST-HSCs) by 2 to 4 fold both alone and in combination with N-RasG12D expression. In addition, allelic expression of oncogenic N-RasG12D and Cbfbeta-SMMHC increases survival of pre-leukemic stem and progenitor cells. Differential analysis of bone marrow cells determined that Cbfb+/MYH11 and Nras+/G12D; vii Cbfb+/MYH11 cells included increased number of blasts, myeloblasts and promyelocytes and a reduction in immature granulocytes, suggesting that expression of N-RasG12D cannot bypass Cbfbeta-SMMHC driven differentiation block.

N-RasG12D and Cbfbeta-SMMHC synergized in leukemia, in which Nras+/G12D; Cbfb+/MYH11 mice have a shorter median latency than Cbfb+/MYH11 mice. In addition, the synergy in leukemogenesis was cell autonomous. Notably, leukemic cells expressing N-RasG12D and Cbfbeta-SMMHC showed higher (over 100 fold) leukemia-initiating cell activity in vivo than leukemic cells expressing Cbfbeta-SMMHC (L-IC activity of 1/4,000 and 1/528,334, respectively).

Short term culture and biochemical assays revealed that pre-leukemic and leukemic cells expressing N-RasG12D and Cbfbeta-SMMHC have reduced levels of pro-apoptotic protein Bim compared to control. The Nras+/G12D; CbfbMYH11 pre-leukemic and leukemic cells were sensitive to pharmacologic inhibition of MEK/ERK signaling pathway with increasing apoptosis and Bim protein levels but not sensitive to PI3K inhibitors. In addition, knock-down of Bcl2l11 (Bim) expression in Cbfbeta-SMMHC pre-leukemic progenitors decreased their apoptosis levels.

In collaboration with Dr. John Bushweller’s and other research laboratories, we recently developed a CBFbeta-SMMHC inhibitor named AI-10-49, which specifically binds to CBFbeta-SMMHC, prevents its binding to RUNX proteins and restores CBF function. Biochemical analysis in human leukemic cells showed that AI-10-49 has significant specificity in reducing the viability of leukemic cells expressing CBFbeta-SMMHC (IC50= 0.83μM), and negligible toxicity in normal cells. Likewise, mouse Nras+/G12D; viii Cbfb+/MYH11 leukemic cells were sensitive to AI-10-49 (IC50= 0.93μM). By using the NrasLSL-G12D; Cbfb56M mouse model, we also show that AI-10-49 significantly prolongs the survival of mice bearing the leukemic cells. Preliminary mechanistic analysis of AI-10-49 activity has shown that AI-10-49 increased BCL2L11 transcript levels in a dose and time dependent manner in murine and human leukemic cells, suggesting that the viability through BIM-mediated apoptosis may be targeted by both oncogenic signals.

My thesis study demonstrates that Cbfbeta-SMMHC and N-RasG12D promote the survival of pre-leukemic myeloid progenitors primed for leukemia by activation of the MEK/ERK/Bim axis, and define NrasLSL-G12D; Cbfb56M mice as a valuable genetic model for the study of inv(16) AML targeted therapies. For instance, the novel CBFbeta-SMMHC inhibitor AI-10-49 shows a significant efficacy in this mouse model. This small molecule will serve as a promising first generation drug for targeted therapy of inv(16) leukemia and also a very useful tool to understand mechanisms of leukemogenesis driving by CBFbeta-SMMHC.



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