Lipid metabolism plays a crucial role in regulating physiological stem cells and cancer cells. Variations in length or degree of desaturation of fatty acid (FA) chains greatly contribute to lipid diversity, but whether it significantly regulates hematopoietic cell biology remains unknown. The enzyme ELOVL6 converts C16 saturated and monounsaturated FAs to C18 species. Elovl6 gene disruption (Elo6KO) in mice decreases the proportions of stearate (C18:0) and oleate (C18:1n-9) and increases those of palmitate (C16:0) and palmitoleate (C16:1n-7). Here, we report that ELOVL6 is essential for hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) engraftment after bone marrow (BM) transplantation and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) development in a mouse model.

To determine whether hematopoietic cells of Elo6KO mice exhibit changes in FAs composition, we analyzed FAs in BM cell lysates. We found that the ratio of stearate to palmitate (C18:0/C16:0 ratio) was significantly decreased in Elo6KO cells compared to WT cells. To assess the effects of Elovl6 loss on the mouse HSC, we performed competitive repopulation assays. Using control or Elo6KO donor BM cells mixed in a 1:1 ratio with competitor BM cells, the chimerism of peripheral blood (PB) was about 50% in mice transplanted with control cells but remained at < 0.2% in those with Elo6KO cells at 12 weeks after transplantation. Even when transplanted Elo6KO donor cells with the competitor in a 10:1 ratio, the chimerism of PB was similarly low. Next, we investigated the roles of Elovl6 in leukemogenesis. We infected lineage-negative and c-Kit+ cells from WT or Elo6KO BM with MLL-AF9(MA9) retrovirus and transplanted lethally irradiated mice with either WT or Elo6KO MA9 cells. All mice receiving WT MA9 cells developed AML; however, AML propagation in Elo6KO MA9 cell-transplanted recipients was blocked. Elo6KO MA9 cell-transplanted mice survived until 6 months after transplantation.

To assess the mechanisms underlying these phenotypes, we performed RNA-seq and gene enrichment analysis (GSEA) using CD34-, lineage-negative, Sca-1+ and c-Kit+ (CD34-LSK) cells and MA9 cells from Elo6KO or control mice. Chemotaxis, CXCR4 pathways, and their related target gene sets were enriched in Elo6KO cells, relative to control in both CD34-LSK cells and MA9 cells. We tested the chemotaxis of Elo6KO CD34-LSK and MA9 cells toward CXCL12 in a migration assay. A greater fraction of WT CD34-LSK and MA9 cells than that of these Elo6KO cells migrated to the CXCL12-containing chamber. We then examined the pharmacologic effects of inhibiting the PI3K pathway on chemotaxis. In a migration assay, the presence of PI3K inhibitor, Copanlisib, decreased the migration rate in WT MA9 cells, but not significantly in Elo6KO MA9 cells, which was already compromised. By contrast, AKT inhibitor, MK2206, did not alter WT or Elo6KO MA9 cell migration. In GSEA, Rac1-related pathways were enriched in Elo6KO cells. We thus investigated whether Rac1 activation was blocked by Elovl6 loss. The levels of the GTP-bound Rac1 were markedly increased in WT MA9 cells following CXCL12 stimulation compared to control, while those were not significantly different with/wo CXCL12 stimulation in Elo6KO MA9 cells. Given impaired chemotaxis and CXCR4-PI3K-Rac1 signaling in Elo6KO cells, we then investigated whether these cells exhibited altered actin remodeling in response to CXCL12. As expected, CXCL12 treatment induced lamellipodia formation in WT CD34-LSK cells, but not in Elo6KO CD34-LSK cells. Thus, ELOVL6 may regulate a CXCL12-CXCR4 pathway, resulting in PI3K-Rac1-mediated cytoskeletal remodeling and chemotaxis.

Finally, to determine whether exogenously expressed Elovl6 could rescue Elo6KO MA9 cell phenotypes, we generated Elo6KO MA9 cells expressing Flag-tagged ELOVL6 (Elo6KO MA9Elo6) and mock controls (Elo6KO MA9mock). To evaluate the rescue of AML propagation, we transplanted lethally irradiated syngeneic mice with either Elo6KO MA9mock or Elo6KO MA9Elo6 cells. Among Elo6KO MA9mock transplanted mice, few recipients developed AML, while 10 out of 14 recipients had died due to AML after Elo6KO MA9Elo6 cell transplant.

In summary, this study demonstrates novel and unexpected outcomes in normal HSCs and AML driver-transformed cells following lipid changes induced by Elovl6 deficiency. Altering lipid diversity could be a potential strategy to treat AML.

Sakata-Yanagimoto:Bristol-Myers Squibb Company: Research Funding; Eisai Co., Ltd.: Research Funding; Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.: Research Funding. Chiba:Bayer Yakuhin Ltd.: Research Funding; Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.: Research Funding; Thyas Co., Ltd.: Research Funding; Kyowa Kirin Co., Ltd.: Research Funding; Astellas Pharma Inc.: Research Funding; Eisai Co., Ltd.: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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