Using high-throughput sequencing, an increased number of gene mutations has been identified in cancer. Among the up to hundreds of acquired mutations in cancer clones, only a few cooperating mutations are believed to be needed for initiation of the malignant disease. Recently, we reported a single amino acid substitution at position 676 (N676K) within the FLT3 kinase domain as the sole cause of resistance to PKC412 in one patient with FLT3-ITD associated acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The FLT3-N676K mutation was more recently identified independently in up to 6% of de novo AML patients with inv(16) by other groups. As FLT3-TKD mutations are strongly associated with inv(16) in AML and particularly FLT3-N676K was found almost exclusively in AML patients with inv(16), this prompted us to investigate the transforming activity of FLT3-N676K and to test whether FLT3-N676K would cooperate with inv(16) to promote AML. First, we analyzed in vivo leukemogenesis mediated by FLT3-N676K. Retroviral expression of FLT3-N676K in myeloid 32D cells induced AML in syngeneic C3H/HeJ mice (n=11/13, latency ~8 weeks), with a transforming activity similar to FLT3-ITD (n=8/8), FLT3-TKD D835Y (n=8/9), and FLT3-ITD-N676K (n=9/9) mutations. Three out of 14 C57BL/6J mice transplanted with FLT3-N676K-transduced primary lineage negative (Lin-) bone marrow cells died of acute leukemia (latency of 68, 77, and 273 days), while none of 16 animals in the control groups including FLT3-ITD and CBFß-SMMHC developed any hematological malignancy. Secondly, co-expression of FLT3-N676K and CBFß-SMMHC did not promote acute leukemia in 3 independent experiments using C3H/HeJ and C57BL/6J mice (n=16). So far only 1 out of 11 C57BL/6J mice co-expressing FLT3-N676K and CBFß-SMMHC developed acute leukemia (AML with latency of 166 days). In comparison with FLT3-ITD, FLT3-N676K tended to result in stronger phosphorylation of FLT3, MAPK and AKT, and diseased animals carrying FLT3-N676K demonstrated much lower frequency of leukemic stem cells in the majority of analyzed cases. Importantly, leukemic cells co-expressing FLT3-N676K and CBFß-SMMHC were still highly sensitive to the FLT3 inhibitor AC220. Taken together, we show that FLT3-N676K mutant is potent to transform murine hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells in vivo independently of the inv(16) chimeric gene CBFB-MYH11. This is the first report of acute leukemia induced by an activating FLT3 mutation in C57BL/6J mice. Moreover, our data suggest that targeting FLT3-N676K mutation may be an attractive treatment option for FLT3-N676K-positive patients without concurrent ITD. Our data emphasize more careful analysis of the cooperating network of mutations identified in AML by high-throughput sequencing.

This work was supported by DJCLS (grant: 13/22) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant: Li 1608/2-1). KH and ZP were supported by the China Scholarship Council (2011638024 and 201406100008).


Heidel:Novartis: Consultancy, Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.