Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is the most common malignancy in childhood, accounting for almost 30% of pediatric cancers. In pediatric T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), around 30% of the children still undergo disease relapse, which is associated with poor prognosis. Hence, novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of T-ALL are necessary, since conventional therapies still fail to cure a significant number of patients. Notch signaling contributes to the regulation of normal T-cells homeostasis, whereas oncogenic, activated form of Notch is present in the majority of the T-ALL cases.
Previous studies in our laboratory demonstrated that Notch1 signaling induces transcriptional activation of SKP2, the F-box protein of the SCF E3-ubiquitin ligase complex. SKP2 targets the major cell cycle inhibitors, the CKIs p21Cip1, p27Kip1, p57Kip2 and p130, for proteasome-mediated degradation. Increased Skp2 expression accelerates cell cycle progression in hematopoietic cells, and its overexpression is frequently found in cancers, in particular lymphomas and leukemias, in which is associated with poor prognosis.
We found that Skp2 expression is dynamically regulated during T-cell differentiation coinciding with the Notch expression pattern. Moreover, primary thymocytes cultured in vitro responded to Notch stimulation by the Delta1 ligand increasing their Skp2 expression and their cell cycle activity. As anticipated, we found that Skp2 expression is increased in T-ALL patient samples. Our hypothesis is that Notch activation promotes T-cell leukemogenesis by altering the cell cycle control through upregulation of SKP2. To better define the role of SKP2 in T-ALL, we analyzed the Skp2 expression in a murine model of Notch-induced T-cell leukemia. Mice transplanted with stem/progenitor cells transduced with the constitutive active form of Notch (ICN), developed T-ALL and died by week 12 after transplant. Analysis of T-ALL cells revealed a 5 fold upregulation of Skp2 expression compared to controls. Next, we tested whether SKP2 was required for T-ALL development. To this end, we evaluated leukemia development in mice transplanted with SKP2 deficient cells overexpressing ICN. Stem/progenitor cells derived from Skp2+/+, Skp2+/- or Skp2-/- mice were transduced with ICN and then transplanted into WT recipients. Loss of SKP2 significantly delayed the development of T-cell leukemia in transplanted mice and increased their survival by 60% at 12 weeks.
Taken together, these results demonstrate a previously unrecognized role for SKP2 in the initiation and progression of T-ALL and its potential role as a therapeutic target.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.