Increased STAT3 signalling is a factor in driving ~50% of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In some cases increased cytokine production by the lymphoma is responsible for activation of JAK2 and STAT3 but the regulation of signalling through this pathway is not clear. We constructed a conditional BCL6 deficient cell line through disruption of the endogenous BCL6 loci of a genetically tractable human B-cell lymphoma by homologous recombination, and insertion of a tetracycline regulatable BCL6 transgene. On induction of BCL6 deficiency growth of the cell line slowed by 3 to 4-fold. A synthetic lethal screen employing a library of small molecule inhibitors in genetically BCL6 deficient lymphoma cells showed that lestaurtinib, a JAK2 inhibitor, enhanced loss of viability. We investigated the hypothesis that JAK2 is a direct BCL6 target gene. JAK2 mRNA and protein expression were induced by BCL6 deficiency. Inspection of the JAK2 proximal promoter region demonstrated a potential BCL6 binding site. BCL6 bound to this sequence in vitro and mutagenesis of the binding site relieved BCL6 mediated transcriptional repression in luciferase reporter assays. Analysis of ChIP-seq data showed a binding peak in the JAK2 proximal promoter region confirming in vivo BCL6 binding. Data from a large and publicly available gene expression dataset confirmed an inverse correlation between BCL6 and JAK2 mRNA whilst there was a positive correlation between JAK2 and STAT3 mRNA. STAT3 is a known target of BCL6 transcriptional repression. We suggest that BCL6 represses both JAK2 and STAT3 and that relatively high BCL6 levels will tend to reduce JAK2-STAT3 signalling whereas lower BCL6 levels will amplify this pathway. Mouse xenografts utilising our conditional BCL6 deficient cell line showed that lestaurtinib alone caused minimum reduction to tumour size but the combination of BCL6 deficiency and JAK2 inhibitor caused growth reduction with central necrosis. In summary we identify JAK2 as a BCL6 target gene and propose that BCL6 has an important role in regulation of JAK2-STAT3 signalling in DLBCL. BCL6 mRNA expression may be a biomarker to enable the rational use of JAK2 inhibitors in DLBCL.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.