T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive cancer of immature T cells that often shows aberrant activation of the Notch1 signaling pathway. Several studies have utilized mRNA expression profiling to identify downstream mediators of oncogenic Notch signaling in this context. Since microRNAs (miRNAs) have in recent years been shown to play important roles in hematological maliganancy, we performed a microarray-based screen for Notch-dependent miRNA expression in T-ALL. Jurkat and P12-Ichikawa cell lines were treated with gamma-secretase inhibitor to block Notch signaling vs. DMSO control for 4 days and profiled using Exigon miRCURY LNA miRNA microarrays. Surprisingly few miRNAs were found to be regulated by this approach; however, one of the hits, miR-223, showed consistent upregulation after gamma-secretase treatment in Jurkat cells and 5 additional human T-ALL cell lines assessed by miRNA qPCR. This observation was unique to human T-ALL as murine models of T-ALL showed no evidence for Notch-dependent miR-223 expression. Given that canonical Notch signaling results in transcriptional activation, our observation that Notch signaling is associated with reduced miR-223 expression suggests an intermediary repressor may be involved.
miR-223 has been reported to play an important role in normal granulopoiesis, to be expressed relatively highly in T-ALL with myeloid-like gene features, and most recently to accelerate Notch-mediated T-cell leukemogenesis. To explore potential functional consequences for Notch-dependent miR-223 repression in T-ALL, candidate miR-223 targets identified by TargetScan software were analyzed with Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software, which indicated IGF-1, insulin receptor, PTEN, and ERK5 signaling pathways as the top hits. We recently reported IGF1R signaling to be important for growth and viability of bulk T-ALL cells as well as for leukemia-initiating cell activity. Additionally, we reported that Notch signaling directly upregulates IGF1R transcription by binding to an intronic enhancer which is present between exons 21/22 in the human, but not mouse IGF1R locus. As miR-223 has previously been reported to target IGF1R mRNA and reduce its translation, we hypothesized that Notch signaling may also upregulate net IGF1R protein expression by repressing miR-223. To test this hypothesis, we transduced several human T-ALL cell lines with miR-223 retrovirus and observed a modest decrease in total IGF1R protein levels by western blot; however, no significant change was observed in surface IGF1R levels as assessed by flow cytometry. Addtionally, knockdown of miR-223 by lentiviral expression miR-223 target sequences (miR-223 “sponge”) resulted in modestly increased total IGF1R protein levels, but again showed no demonstrable effect on surface IGF1R levels. Of note, we also observed no apparent effect of either overexpression or knockdown of miR-223 on bulk cell growth or viability.
We interpret these findings to suggest that Notch signaling does not have major effects on the miR transcriptome, and that up- or down-modulation of miR-223 in established T-ALL cells does not have significant effects on overall cell growth/viability. Further studies will be required to determine if miR-223 may act in concert with other Notch target genes to modulate cell physiology.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.