Key Points

  • High PRMT1 expression maintains MLL-r ALL cell survival and growth by regulating FLT3 methylation at R972/973.

  • PRMT1 inhibition enhances ablation of MLL-r ALL by tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment.

Abstract

Relapse remains the main cause of MLL-rearranged (MLL-r) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment failure resulting from persistence of drug-resistant clones after conventional chemotherapy treatment or targeted therapy. Thus, defining mechanisms underlying MLL-r ALL maintenance is critical for developing effective therapy. PRMT1, which deposits an asymmetric dimethylarginine mark on histone/non-histone proteins, is reportedly overexpressed in various cancers. Here, we demonstrate elevated PRMT1 levels in MLL-r ALL cells and show that inhibition of PRMT1 significantly suppresses leukemic cell growth and survival. Mechanistically, we reveal that PRMT1 methylates Fms-like receptor tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) at arginine (R) residues 972 and 973 (R972/973), and its oncogenic function in MLL-r ALL cells is FLT3 methylation dependent. Both biochemistry and computational analysis demonstrate that R972/973 methylation could facilitate recruitment of adaptor proteins to FLT3 in a phospho-tyrosine (Y) residue 969 (Y969) dependent or independent manner. Cells expressing R972/973 methylation-deficient FLT3 exhibited more robust apoptosis and growth inhibition than did Y969 phosphorylation-deficient FLT3-transduced cells. We also show that the capacity of the type I PRMT inhibitor MS023 to inhibit leukemia cell viability parallels baseline FLT3 R972/973 methylation levels. Finally, combining FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitor PKC412 with MS023 treatment enhanced elimination of MLL-r ALL cells relative to PKC412 treatment alone in patient-derived mouse xenografts. These results indicate that abolishing FLT3 arginine methylation through PRMT1 inhibition represents a promising strategy to target MLL-r ALL cells.

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