The Groucho (Gro)/TLE family of transcriptional co-repressor proteins have been called master regulatory genes based on their interaction with a variety of transcription factors and their critical role in development. The TLEs have also been shown to play major roles in brain and lymphocyte differentiation. We became interested in this gene family after finding two family members, TLE1 and TLE4, localized to the commonly deleted region on chromosome 9q in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This deletion is tightly associated with t(8;21), and we recently showed loss of TLE1 and TLE4 cooperated with AML1-ETO to affect myeloid cell proliferation and survival, implicating TLE1 and 4 as potential tumor suppressor genes in AML. Based on their known ability to inhibit the function of several signaling pathways and transcription factors including Wnt/b-catenin, NF-kB, AML1, and Pu.1 known to be important in leukemogenesis and hematopoiesis, we undertook a series of experiments to determine whether the TLEs could affect myeloid cell differentiation and proliferation. We showed that expression of either TLE1 or TLE4 was able to induce differentiation in the HL-60 myeloid cell line as demonstrated by morphological changes, increased expression of the myeloid differentiation makers CD11b, CD14 and CD15, downregulated myeloperoxidase activity, as well as increased nitroblue tetrazolium (NBT) staining. Furthermore, when HL-60 cells were induced to differentiate by exposure to all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) we observed a 150-fold transient increase in TLE1 message after three days. Knockdown of TLE1 with specific shRNAs partially blocked ATRA-induced differentiation as monitored by CD11b expression, suggesting this burst of TLE1 expression is critical for ATRA induced myeloid cell differentiation. To determine the role of the TLEs in primary human cells, human cord blood cells were sorted, and TLE mRNA levels were determined in progenitor cells (CD34+/CD33/CD16/CD15/CD14), early myeloid precursors (CD34/CD33+/CD16/CD15CD14) and mature granulocytes (CD34/CD33+/CD16+/CD15CD14). Lowest levels of TLE1 and TLE4 were found in progenitor cells with a peak of expression in early myeloid precursors. To help determine the significance of these low TLE levels in hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, we designed shRNAs to simultaneously knockdown both TLE1 and TLE4. Knockdown of TLE1/4 in cord blood cells resulted in a 6.3-fold expansion of CD34+CD38 cells after 4 days’ coculture with M2-10B4 in the presence of hSCF, hFlt3-ligand, and hTPO, as compared with only 2.6-fold expansion of cells transfected with control shRNA. Similarly, using mouse bone marrow cells cultured in vitro in the presence of mIL-3, mIL-6 and mSCF, we found a 2.1-fold increase in mouse bone marrow Lin/Sca-1+/c-kit+ (LSK) cells transfected with TLE1/4 shRNA as compared to cells transfected with scrambled control shRNA. Our results indicate that modulation of TLE levels is capable of influencing both myeloid differentiation, as well as expansion of the stem cell and/or progenitor population.

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