Key Points

  • An atlas of PML/RARα direct targets redefines the activating function that acts through super-enhancers and explains synergism of ATRA/ATO

  • PML/RARα activates target gene GFI1 through chromatin conformation at the super-enhancer region, which is required for APL cell growth.

Transcriptional deregulation initiated by oncogenic fusion proteins plays a vital role in leukemia. The prevailing view is that the oncogenic fusion protein PML/RARα, generated by the chromosome translocation t(15;17), functions as a transcriptional repressor in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). Here we provide rich evidence of how PML/RARα drives oncogenesis through both repressive and activating functions, particularly the importance of the newly identified activation role for the leukemogenesis of APL. The activating function of PML/RARα is achieved by recruiting both abundant P300 and HDAC1 and by the formation of super-enhancers. All-trans retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide, two widely used drugs in APL therapy, exert synergistic effects on controlling super-enhancer-associated PML/RARα-regulated targets in APL cells. We utilize a series of in vitro and in vivo experiments to demonstrate that PML/RARα-activated target gene GFI1 is necessary for the maintenance of APL cells, and that PML/RARα, likely oligomerized, transactivates GFI1 through chromatin conformation at the super-enhancer region. Finally, we profile GFI1 targets and reveal the interplay between GFI1 and PML/RARα on chromatin in co-regulating target genes. Our study provides genomic insight into the dual role of fusion transcription factors in transcriptional deregulation to drive leukemia development, highlighting the importance of globally dissecting regulatory circuits.

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