Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are a heterogeneous group of malignancies including polycythemia vera (PV), essential thrombocythemia (ET) and primary myelofibrosis (PMF). The JAK2V617F mutation can be found in 90% of PV and approximately 50% of ET and PMF patients. Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are master transcriptional regulators of the response to decreases in cellular oxygen levels. Unveiling the function of deregulated HIF-1 signaling in normal and malignant hematopoiesis was the aim of several recent publications, highlighting the importance of HIF-1 for the maintenance of leukemic stem cells (LSCs) in acute and chronic myeloid leukemia (AML/CML). In a JAK2V617F knock-in mouse model and in patients, JAK2V617F was shown to induce the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the hematopoietic stem cell compartment, leading to a stabilization of HIF-1α protein. Further, aberrant STAT5 and PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling induced HIF-1α expression on the transcriptional and translational level. Ruxolitinib treatment inhibited growth and reduced the expression of HIF-1α and its target gene VEGF in the JAK2V617F human erythroleukemia cell line HEL. In several leukemic cell lines constitutive expression of HIF-1α was reported, even under normoxic conditions. However, it still remains unknown whether HIF-1α plays a role in JAK2V617F positive MPN. In this study, we investigated the role HIF-1α signaling in JAK2V617F positive MPN in vitro.

We retrovirally transduced the murine bone marrow cell line 32D with JAK2V617F or JAK2WT. Western blot analysis revealed significant increases in HIF-1α protein levels in JAK2V617F positive cells compared to JAK2WT controls after cultivation in normoxic conditions and this effect was abrogated by treatment with the JAK1/JAK2 inhibitor ruxolitinib. Inhibition of HIF-1, binding to hypoxia response elements (HRE), by low doses of echinomycin (1 nM), significantly impaired proliferation and survival. Using an Annexin-V/7-AAD flow cytometry assay apoptosis was found to be selectively induced in JAK2V617F positive, but not JAK2WT cells after echinomycin treatment. Additionally, BrdU/7-AAD cell cycle analysis revealed that only JAK2V617F positive cells were significantly arrested in G0/1 phase. These findings were consistent with shRNA-mediated knockdown (KD) of HIF-1α in JAK2V617F transduced 32D cells in presence but not the absence of HIF-2 antagonist 2. Inhibition of HIF-2 was necessary due to a compensatory increase of HIF-2α protein levels, shown by Western Blot analysis, counteracting HIF-1α-KD mediated effects. We isolated PBMCs and BMMNCs from JAK2V617F positive patients or healthy controls using Ficoll density gradient centrifugation. Echinomycin significantly abrogated the colony formation ability alone and in combination with ruxolitinib. In vitro treatment with echinomycin significantly decreased cell number and viability of 8 JAK2V617F positive BMMNC samples (4 PV, 3 PMF, 1 preMF; p[1nM]=0.0169, p[5nM]=0.0009) and 7 PBMC samples (6 PV, 1 PMF; p[1nM]=0.0156, p[5nM]=0.0156) in a dose-dependent manner. In contrast, PBMCs from 6 healthy donors were unaffected by the treatment. The same effect was observed in heterozygous and homozygous iPS cell-derived progenitors from JAK2V617F positive PV patients, whereas JAK2WT cells were unaffected by the treatment. Collectively, our data indicate that targeting HIF-1 might represent a novel therapeutic approach in classical Philadelphia-chromosome-negative MPN.


Brümmendorf:Pfizer: Consultancy, Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Research Funding; Janssen: Consultancy; Merck: Consultancy; Takeda: Consultancy.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.