Translocation t(12;21), resulting in the ETV6-RUNX1 (or TEL-AML1) fusion protein, is present in 25% of pediatric patients with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is considered a first hit in leukemogenesis. A targeted therapy approach is not available for children with this subtype of leukemia. To identify the molecular mechanisms underlying ETV6-RUNX1-driven leukemia, we performed gene expression profiling of healthy hematopoietic progenitors in which we ectopically expressed ETV6-RUNX1. We reveal an ETV6-RUNX1-driven transcriptional network that induces proliferation, survival and cellular homeostasis. In addition, Vps34, an important regulator of autophagy, was found to be induced by ETV6-RUNX1 and up-regulated in ETV6-RUNX1-positive leukemic patient cells. We show that induction of Vps34 was transcriptionally regulated by ETV6-RUNX1 and correlated with high levels of autophagy. Knockdown of Vps34 in ETV6-RUNX1-positive cell lines severely reduced proliferation and survival. Inhibition of autophagy by hydroxychloroquine, a well-tolerated autophagy inhibitor, reduced cell viability in both ETV6-RUNX1-positive cell lines and primary acute lymphoblastic leukemia samples, and selectively sensitized primary ETV6-RUNX1-positive leukemia samples to L asparaginase. These findings reveal a causal relationship between ETV6-RUNX1 and autophagy, and provide pre-clinical evidence for the efficacy of autophagy inhibitors in ETV6-RUNX1-driven leukemia.

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Journal Haematologica
Polak, R., Bierings, MB, van der Leije, C.S., Sanders, M.A, Roovers, O, Marchante, J.R.M., … Buitenhuis, M. (2019). Autophagy inhibition as a potential future targeted therapy for ETV6-RUNX1-driven B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Haematologica, 104(4), 738–748. doi:10.3324/haematol.2018.193631