Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a blood cancer originated by expression of BCR-ABL, a constitutively activated kinase product of the chromosomal translocation t(9;22), in hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). Although tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) can efficiently induce molecular remission in CML patients, drug discontinuation often leads to relapse caused by reactivation of leukemic stem cells (LSC) spared from TKI therapy via BCR-ABL-independent mechanisms of self-renewal and survival. Thus, there is a need for alternative drugs for relapse patients to prevent expansion of BCR-ABL-positive LSC during discontinuation of chemotherapy or emergence of chemoresistance. We found that somatic deletion of the reprogramming factor Krüppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) in BCR-ABL(p210)-induced CML severely impaired disease maintenance. This inability to sustain CML in the absence of KLF4 was caused by a progressive attrition of LSCs in bone marrow and the spleen and impaired ability of LSCs to recapitulate leukemia in secondary recipients. Analyses of global gene expression and genome-wide binding of KLF4 revealed that the dual-specificity tyrosine-(Y)-phosphorylation regulated kinase 2 (DYRK2) is repressed by KLF4 in CML LSCs. Immunoblots revealed elevated levels of DYRK2 protein that were associated with a reduction of c-Myc protein and increased levels of p53 (S46) phosphorylation and PARP cleavage in KLF4-deficient LSCs purified from the bone marrow of CML mice. Genomic silencing of KLF4 in the murine CML cell line 32D-BCR-ABL resulted in increased levels of DYRK2 and phosphorylated c-Myc (S62) leading to diminished levels of c-Myc protein, which was reverted by treatment with a proteasome inhibitor, suggesting that KLF4 prevents c-Myc degradation triggered by DYRK2-mediated priming phosphorylation. Consistent with an inhibitory role in leukemia, DYRK2 levels are significantly reduced both in CD34+CD38+ and CD34+CD38 cells from CML patients compared to normal stem/progenitor cells. Aiming at pharmacological activation of DYRK2 to abrogate self-renewal and survival of CML cells, we treated CML cells with vitamin K3 that inhibits Siah2, an ubiquitin E3 ligase involved in Dyrk2 proteolysis. Vitamin K3, and not Vitamin K1 and K2, induces dose-dependent cytotoxicity in a panel of human-derived CML cell lines by stabilizing Dyrk2 protein and consequently promoting c-Myc degradation. Interestingly, combination of vitamin K3 with Imatinib exhibit additive effect inducing cytotoxicity in CML cells. Collectively, the identification of Dyrk2 as a critical mediator of LSC downfall is a novel paradigm poised to support the development of LSC-specific therapy to induce treatment-free remission in conjunction with Imitinib in CML patients.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.