Ectopic expression of Myc in most primary cell types induces apoptosis, and cancer development typically requires additional, anti-apoptotic mutations. We reported previously that ectopic expression of Myc in unfractionated murine bone marrow cells induced rapid onset acute myeloid leukemia (AML) without detectable anti-apoptotic mutations. We hypothesized that AML developed in our model because a subset of normal primary bone marrow cells were inherently resistant to Myc-induced apoptosis. Consistent with this model, seven days of Myc activation in the bone marrow of mice caused the reduction of B-lineage cells while at the same time inducing the expansion of myeloid lineage cells. We sought to determine the mechanism by which myeloid progenitor cells evaded Myc-induced apoptosis, and found that Myc-induced AML cells exhibited a distinct profile of pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins, including high levels of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family member Mcl-1. To prioritize apoptosis genes, we examined AML patient microarray data and found MCL1 to be uniformly expressed at high levels in human AML (94/94, 100%). We used Mcl1 heterozygous mice (Mcl1F/null) as bone marrow donors for transduction-transplantation experiments and found that, compared with Mcl1 wild-type (median survival=60 days), haploinsufficiency for Mcl1 completely protected mice from Myc-induced AML (median survival not reached). Mice transplanted with Mcl1F/null cells co-expressing Myc and Bcl2 succumbed rapidly to disease (median survival 25 days). In wild-type mice, defined hematopoietic stem and myeloid progenitor cell populations were not significantly increased by Myc activation. However, Myc transduction conferred serial replating ability to sorted hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells including lineage-committed (Lin+Kit+) progenitors cells. These data demonstrate a critical role for Mcl1 in our AML model and suggest that dysregulation of MYC in MCL1-expressing progenitor cells may mediate AML pathogenesis in humans.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.