Deletion of the IKAROS DNA-binding domain generates dominant-negative isoforms that interfere with the transcriptional activity of the IKAROS family and correlate with poor prognosis in human precursor B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias (B-ALL). In this study, we defined the role of the Ikaros family during pre-B cell differentiation, the stage from which human B-ALLs arise, by conditionally inactivating IKAROS DNA binding in the immediate precursors of pre-B cells in mice. We demonstrate a novel niche-dependent phase in early pre-B cell differentiation that supports self-renewal and proliferative expansion. Expression of dominant-negative IKAROS arrests cells in this state by augmenting integrin and MAPK signaling and attenuating pre-B cell receptor signaling and differentiation. Up-regulated genes in Ikaros mutant pre-B cells were highly enriched in pathways involved in focal adhesion and remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton. The mutant pre-B cells had increased β1 integrin-mediated adhesion and elevated levels of activated focal adhesion kinase (FAK), whereas treatment with a small molecule FAK inhibitor greatly reduced pre-B cell stromal adhesion and selectively induced apoptosis in Ikaros mutant but not WT pre-B cells. Transplantation of polyclonal Ikaros mutant pre-B cells into recipient mice resulted in long-latency oligoclonal pre-B-ALL, demonstrating that loss of IKAROS contributes to multistep B-leukemogenesis. The highly proliferative and aberrantly self-renewing phenotype of Ikaros-deficient pre-B cells illuminates mechanisms underlying human IKAROS mutant B-ALL and suggests new therapeutic strategies for treatment of this aggressive leukemia.


Van Etten:Bristol Myers Squibb: Consultancy; Deciphera Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy; TEVA Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.