hnRNP K is an RNA binding protein that controls a multitude of cellular processes and is aberrantly expressed in cancers. We have previously shown that hnRNP K functions as a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor in AML patients with 9q deletions. However, overexpression of hnRNP K is the more commonly observed clinical phenomenon. We have recently discovered that hnRNP K overexpression in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma correlates with dismal outcomes and directly resulted in the development of lymphomas in transgenic mice.

To understand the mechanistic basis for the oncogenicity of hnRNP K overexpression and to identify therapeutic vulnerabilities, we performed RNA-sequencing, RNA immunoprecipitation following by sequencing (RIP-Seq), mass spectrometry, and polysome assays. We observed that hnRNP K regulates both global transcription and translational processes within the cell via modulation of 7SK and translation initiation proteins (such as the eIFs and PABP), respectively. Consequently, we hypothesized that aberrant hnRNP K expression primarily perturbs oncogenes with short half-lives. Mechanistically, we identified that hnRNP K binds to the RNA and regulates the expression of a plethora of critical oncogenes and tumor suppressors involved in hematologic malignancies such as c-Myc, RUNX1, and Cyclin D1. As proof of concept for clinical applications, we have demonstrated that hnRNP K-driven c-Myc overexpression renders tumors susceptible to bromodomain inhibition.

Given that hnRNP K directs global transcription and translation, it is likely that hnRNP K overexpressing tumors will also be sensitive to transcriptional and translational inhibitors such as CDK9 inhibitors and omacetaxine mepesuccinate, respectively. However, since hnRNP K also regulates a plethora of additional cellular processes that extend far beyond mRNA and protein synthesis, there is a need to develop hnRNP K-specific inhibitors that will only target these activities. Thus, we have recently begun to identify small molecule compounds that can directly inhibit hnRNP K-RNA binding function on specific targets using an in vitro fluorescent binding assay. Using this assay, we are currently screening a library of 70,000 small molecule compounds to identify agents that can prevent hnRNP K-RNA interactions.

In summary, we have established that hnRNP K is a bona fide oncogene that drives lymphomagenesis. Global analyses have revealed therapeutic vulnerabilities of hnRNP K overexpressing tumors. Furthermore, using our in vitro RNA binding assays, we anticipate identification of novel hnRNP K-specific inhibitors.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.