Objective: T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is caused by collaboration of multiple genetic abnormalities in the transformation of T-cell progenitors. PHF6 is founded as a new key tumor suppressor and mutated in T-ALL. The clinical significance of PHF6 mutations has not been fully determined in adult T-ALL. This study aimed to screen the PHF6 mutations in adult T-ALL and explore the associations of PHF6 mutations with other genetic lesions, as well as their clinical relevance in adult T-ALL patients.

Methods: We amplified the exons of PHF6, NOTCH1, FBXW7, PTEN and JAK1 following by DNA sequencing to identify the genomic mutations and examined the PHF6 mRNA level by qPCR in adult T-ALL patients. We also analyzed the correlations of PHF6 and NOTCH1 mutations with clinical features using a χ2 test and survival curve using the Kaplan-Meier method.

Results: The 27.1% (16/59) PHF6 mutations including 10 novel mutations were detected in Chinese adult T-ALL. Six of 16 (37.5%) were frame-shift mutations, which could result in the deletion of the protein. We also observed PHF6 expression was significantly lower in T-ALL patients with PHF6 mutations compared with wide type cases (0.00423 vs. 0.06464, P=0.035) , indicating PHF6 mutations could be loss of function. Moreover, PHF6 mutation was significantly associated with NOTCH1 mutation(P=0.035). We further analyzed the domains involving co-existence mutations of NOTCH1 with PHF6. The most commonly mutated domains in NOTCH1 co-existed with PHF6 were HD-N only 6/12 (50.0%), followed by HD-C only 2/12(16.7%), PEST only 2/12(16.7%), HD-C+PEST 1/12(8.3%) and HD-N+HD-C 1/12(8.3%), indicating that HD domain (especially HD-N) of NOTCH1 may contribute to the synergistic effect on oncogenesis of the two genes. Furthermore, the patients with co-existence of PHF6 and NOTCH1 mutations had lower hemoglobin and higher incidence of splenomegaly or lymphadenopathy compared to that without co-existence of the mutations (95.0 vs 122.0, P=0.007; 81.8% vs 38.3%, P=0.009; 90.9% vs 44.7%, P=0.006). Importantly, the patients with co-existence of mutations in PHF6 and NOTCH1 (PHF6mutNOTCH1mut) had significant shorter event-free survival (EFS) compared with that without co-existence (non-PHF6mutNOTCH1mut)(2.0 months vs. 12.0 months, P=0.027).

Conclusion:PHF6 is inactivated in T-ALL due to its low expression and mutations. PHF6 mutation is co-existed with NOTCH1 mutations, and the patients with PHF6mutNOTCH1mut had a poor prognosis. Our results indicated synergistic effect of PHF6 and NOTCH1 mutations on leukemogenesis and PHF6mutNOTCH1mut may be potential prognostic marker in adult T-ALL.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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