Key Points

  • Overexpressing AID in Eµ-TCL1 mice enhances leukemia cell proliferation and causes more aggressive disease.

  • TCL1/AID mice develop AID-induced mutations in cancer driver genes at identical amino acid substitutions as in human neoplasms.

Most cancers become more dangerous by the outgrowth of malignant subclones with additional DNA mutations that favor proliferation or survival. Using chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a disease exemplary of this process, and a model for neoplasms in general, we created transgenic mice overexpressing the enzyme, activation-induced deaminase (AID), whose normal function is to induce DNA mutations in B lymphocytes. AID allows normal B lymphocytes to develop more effective immunoglobulin (Ig)-mediated immunity, but also is able to mutate non-Ig genes, predisposing to cancer. In chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), AID expression correlates with poor prognosis suggesting a role for this enzyme in disease progression. Nevertheless, direct experimental evidence identifying the specific genes that are mutated by AID and indicating that those genes are associated with disease progression is not available. To address this point, we overexpressed Aicda in a murine model of CLL (Em-TCL1). Analyses of TCL1/AID mice demonstrate a role for AID in disease kinetics, CLL-cell proliferation, and the development of cancer-related target mutations with canonical AID signatures in non-Igs genes. Notably, our mouse models can accumulate mutations in the same genes that are mutated in human cancers. Moreover, some of these mutations occur at homologous positions, leading to identical or chemically-similar amino acid substitutions as in human CLL and lymphoma.Together, these findings support a direct link between aberrant AID activity and CLL driver mutations that are then selected for their oncogenic effects, whereby AID promotes aggressiveness in CLL and other B-cell neoplasms.

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