Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a critical process for inducing stem-like properties of epithelial cancer cells. However, the role of EMT inducers in hematologic malignancies is unknown. Twist1, an EMT inducer necessary for cell migration, has recently been found to have transcriptionally regulatory activity on the expression of Bmi1, and these two are capable of promoting tumorigenesis in a synergized manner. Knowing that Bmi1 expression is essential for maintenance of leukemic stem cells, we speculate that Twist1 might govern the pathogenesis of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) development as well.

We used AML cell lines KG1a and THP1 cells, which had low and high expression levels of Twist1, respectively to demonstrate that upregulated Twist1 increased Bmi1 expression in AML. Bmi1 overexpression endued leukemic cells a higher proliferative potential and increased resistance to apoptosis. In primary AML samples, there was strong positive correlation between the expression levels of Twist1 and Bmi1. AML Patients whose leukemic blasts harbored overexpressed Twist1 had a more aggressive clinical phenotype, but they were more likely to have a better clinical outcome after standard therapy. In vitro studies confirmed that Twist1-overexpressing leukemic cells were more susceptible to cytarabine, but not daunorubicin, cytotoxicity.

Our findings suggest that, in a subset of AML patients, Twist1 plays a prominent role in the pathogenesis of the disease that leads to unique clinical phenotypes. The result indicates that Twist1 could represent a powerful biomarker that serves as a prognostic as well as therapeutic guide for patients with AML.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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