Wilms' tumor gene 1 (WT1) is a tumor suppressor gene coding for a zinc finger transcriptional factor which was found overexpressed in acute myeloid leukemias (AML). In AML WT1 functions as an oncogene rather than a tumor suppressor. This may depend on the unbalanced expression of its different isoforms derived from alternative splicing in exon 5 (EX5+/−) or the presence of KTS in exon 9 ( KTS+/KTS-). In normal hematopoietic cells the physiological ratio between KTS+/KTS- isoforms is 1:1. KTS are inserted between the third and fourth zinc fingers thus influencing the DNA binding and therefore the transcriptional activity.
The aim of the study was to investigate the possibility of an unbalanced ratio between the isoforms thus leading to the disruption of WT1 function. In addition we correlated KTS+ isoform with clinical and biological features. Methods: we analyzed KTS+/KTS- isoforms in 120 AML patients ( 102 BM samples, 18 PB), 63 chronic phase CML patients (48 BM and 15 PB). In addition we evaluated 5 samples of selected blast cells from AML patients. In a subset of 38 adult acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients we measured all WT1 isoforms (A[EX5 -/KTS -], B[+/−], C[-/+] and D[+/+]. Quantitative PCR was used for the WT1 isoforms detection and measurement.
KTS+ isoform is significantly overexpressed with a ratio KTS+/KTS− 2:1 in both AML and CML patients and it is confirmed in blast cell samples. In the subgroup of patients analyzed for the expression pattern of all WT1 isoforms we detected a significant overexpression of isoform D (EX5+/KTS+) (median value 821) while the isoform A (EX5−/KTS−) is the less represented ( median value 303). In this subgroup the expression of KTS+ isoforms (B+D) is higher than KTS- ( A+C) with a median value of 642 compared to 421. The ratio of WT1 isoforms was not significantly different among FAB subgroups or according to cytogenetic risk, FLT3 (fms-like tyrosine kinase receptor-3) internal tandem duplication or exon 17 mutation, NPM (nucleophosmin) gene mutations and BAALC (brain and acute leukemia, cytoplasmic) gene expression.
Although WT1 is overexpressed in AML and CML patients it lacks its typical tumor suppressor function. In this study we have demonstrated the overexpression of WT1 KTS+ isoforms. In addition we have previously demonstrated that KTS+ isoform does not have transcriptional activity since it is mainly localized within the cytoplasm. In conclusion, WT1 is overexpressed in AML but the unbalanced ratio between the isoforms may probably influence the transcriptional activity. Any possible correlation between the unbalanced ratio of WT1 isoforms and clinical outcome requires further prospective studies to be established.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.