Key Points

  • Chromatin accessibility patterns at key heptad regulatory elements can predict cell identity in healthy progenitors and leukemic cells.

  • A sub-circuit comprised of GATA2, TAL1, and ERG regulates the stem cell to erythroid transition in both healthy and leukemic cells.

Changes in gene regulation and expression govern orderly transitions from hematopoietic stem cells to terminally differentiated blood cell types. These transitions are disrupted during leukemic transformation but knowledge of the gene regulatory changes underpinning this process is elusive. We hypothesised that identifying core gene regulatory networks in healthy hematopoietic and leukemic cells could provide insights into network alterations that perturb cell state transitions. A heptad of transcription factors (LYL1, TAL1, LMO2, FLI1, ERG, GATA2, RUNX1) bind key hematopoietic genes in human CD34+ haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) and have prognostic significance in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). These factors also form a densely interconnected circuit by binding combinatorially at their own, and each other's, regulatory elements. However, their mutual regulation during normal haematopoiesis and in AML cells, and how perturbation of their expression levels influences cell fate decisions remains unclear. Here, we integrated bulk and single cell data and found that the fully connected heptad circuit identified in healthy HSPCs persists with only minor alterations in AML, and that chromatin accessibility at key heptad regulatory elements was predictive of cell identity in both healthy progenitors and in leukemic cells. The heptad factors GATA2, TAL1 and ERG formed an integrated sub-circuit that regulates stem cell to erythroid transition in both healthy and leukemic cells. Components of this triad could be manipulated to facilitate erythroid transition providing a proof of concept that such regulatory circuits could be harnessed to promote specific cell type transitions and overcome dysregulated haematopoiesis.

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