The SETD2 protein is a histone methyltransferase that specifically catalyzes the trimethylation of Lysine 36 on histone H3 (H3K36me3). SETD2/H3K36me3 are implicated in transcript elongation and splicing, DNA repair, chromosome segregation. SETD2 gene deletions and/or mutations (mostly frameshift or nonsense) have been reported in solid tumors (clear cell renal cell carcinoma, bladder cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, endometrial cancer) and in acute leukemias.
Using a Western Blotting (WB) approach to screen for SETD2 protein expression and for H3K36me3 levels in a relatively large cohort of 80 advanced-phase chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients (pts), we could detect reduced or null SETD2 and H3K36me3 in 86% of pts as compared to a pool of healthy donors and to chronic phase (CP) pts at diagnosis who achieved optimal responses to TKI, but neither mutations/deletions nor transcriptional down-regulation were the underlying causes. Inhibition of proteasome-mediated degradation in primary cells from pts with undetectable SETD2 restored H3K36me3 and led to accumulation of hyper-ubiquitinated SETD2, suggesting that a functional protein is produced but rapidly degraded. Moreover, proteasome inhibition was found to induce apoptosis and to reduce clonogenic growth. In K562 cells (SETD2/H3K36me3low), co-immunoprecipitation (co-IP) performed before and after proteasome inhibition showed accumulation of the hyper-ubiquitinated form of SETD2 bound to MDM2. MDM2 inhibition by SP-141 resulted in cytostatic effects and restored SETD2 expression and activity. Superimposable results were achieved by siRNA-mediated silencing of MDM2, suggesting that MDM2 is implicated in SETD2 reduced stability. Co-IP also showed that SETD2 interacts with Aurora Kinase A a Ser-Thr kinase frequently overexpressed in CML. We found that Aurora Kinase A phosphorylates SETD2, and both pharmacological inhibition by Danusertib and siRNA-mediated silencing rescued SETD2 expression and activity.
Next, to investigate whether SETD2/H3K36me3 loss may contribute to genetic instability, LAMA 84 (SETD2/H3K36Me3high) and K562 (SETD2/H3K36me3low) cells were studied by WB and immunofluorescence (IF) to assess phosphorylated histone 2A.X (γH2AX) and Rad51 foci in steady state conditions and after sub-lethal DNA damage by UV exposure. The same studies were performed after SETD2 silencing for 3 months. Cells with low or silenced SETD2 had significantly higher levels of γH2AX and were unable to induce homologous recombination (HR) repair after DNA damage. Clonogenic assays performed in LAMA 84 cells before and after SETD2 silencing, in K562 (SETD2/H3K36me3low) and in imatinib-resistant (IM-R) K562 cells which have lost SETD2 expression and activity, suggested that reduction of clonogenic growth after proteasomal or MDM2 inhibition is strictly dependent on SETD2 expression and functional status (Figure 1A).
First and second generation proteasome inhibitors (bortezomib, carfilzomib and ixazomib) inhibited the clonogenic potential of the mononuclear cell fraction from both CP (n=2) and blast crisis (BC) (n=4) CML pts at subnanomolar concentrations, with the extent of anti-tumor activity clearly anti-correlated with SETD2 expression and H3K36me3 levels: pts with lower SETD2 expression showed lower LD50 when compared with pts with higher SETD2 expression and H3K36me3 levels (Figure 1B). Similarly, clonogenic assays performed by administrating increasing doses of SP-141 (from 0.25 to 1.25 µM) suggested that MDM2 specific inhibition had more significant effects in BC-CML pts showing low SETD2 levels and activity as compared to BC-CML pts showing intermediate SETD2 levels and activity and to CP CML pts.
In conclusion, phosphorylation by Aurora Kinase A and ubiquitination by MDM2 contribute to SETD2 non-genomic loss of function in advanced-phase CML. Loss of SETD2/H3K36me3 is associated with increased DNA damage and impaired HR repair. Restoring physiological H3K36me3 levels may help improve the outcome of this critical subset of pts.
Acknowledgments: study supported by AIRC (project code 16996) and AIL (Associazione Italiana contro le Leucemia, Linfomi e Mieloma).
Castagnetti:Incyte: Consultancy, Honoraria; Pfizer: Consultancy, Honoraria; Bristol Meyers Squibb: Consultancy, Honoraria; Novartis: Consultancy, Honoraria. Gugliotta:Novartis: Honoraria; Pfizer: Honoraria; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Honoraria; Incyte: Honoraria. Abruzzese:Pfizer: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy; BMS: Consultancy; Ariad: Consultancy. Bonifacio:Incyte: Consultancy; Pfizer: Consultancy; Amgen: Consultancy; Novartis: Research Funding; Bristol Myers Squibb: Consultancy. Martinelli:Ariad/incyte: Consultancy; Pfizer: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy; Amgen: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy; Roche: Consultancy. Cavo:Adaptive Biotechnologies: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; GlaxoSmithKline: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Takeda: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; AbbVie: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Janssen: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Celgene: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Amgen: Honoraria, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Soverini:Bristol Myers Squibb: Consultancy; Incyte Biosciences: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.