Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common diagnosed pediatric cancer. Despite improvements in chemotherapy that have increased the 5-year survival rate to close to 90%, 15-20% of these patients may relapse with the majority of such children succumbing to this disease. Pediatric ALL patients, particularly those in relapse can harbor a specific point mutation (E1099K) in NSD2 (nuclear receptor binding SET domain protein 2) gene, also known as MMSET or WHSC1, which encodes a histone methyl transferase specific for H3K36me2. To understand the biological processes mediated by mutant NSD2, we used CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to disrupt the NSD2E1099K mutant allele in two B-ALL cell lines (RCH-ACV and SEM) and one T-ALL cell line (RPMI-8402) and inserted the E1099K mutation into three ALL cell lines (697, CEM, MOLT4). Cell lines in which the NSD2E1099K mutant allele is present display increased global levels of H3K36me2 and decreased H3K27me3. NSD2E1099Kcells compared to cells in which the mutation is removed demonstrate enhanced cell growth, colony formation and migration. NSD2 mutant cell lines assayed by RNA-Seq exhibit an aberrant gene signature, mostly representing gene activation, with activation of signaling pathways, genes implicated in the epithelial mesenchymal transition and prominent expression of neural genes not generally found in hematopoietic tissues. Accordingly, NSD2E1099K cell lines showed prominent tropism to the central neural system (CNS) in xenografts.

The NSD2 mutation is found prominently in children who relapse early from therapy for ALL, and NSD2E1099K cells are particularly resistant to glucocorticoids (GC). Reversion of NSD2E1099K mutation to wild type NSD2 conferred glucocorticoid sensitivity to both B and T cell lines. GC response upon disruption of mutant NSD2 was accompanied by cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Mice xenografted with NSD2E1099K cells were completely resistant to GC treatment while treatment of mice injected with isogenic NSD2 wild-type cells led to significant tumor reduction and survival extension. RNA-Seq analysis showed that GC transcriptional response was almost completely blocked in NSD2E1099K cells, correlating with their lack of biological response. GC treatment activated apoptotic pathways and downregulated cell cycle and DNA repair pathways only in NSD2 wild-type cells. Furthermore, in NSD2 mutant cells, there was lower basal expression level of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and GR levels were not significantly induced by GC. Accordingly, after treatment with GC, there was significantly less DNA-binding activity of the GR in NSD2E1099K cells than that of NSD2 wild-type cells. The key pro-apoptotic regulators Bim and BMF failed to be activated by GC in NSD2E1099K cells but were prominently activated when the NSD2 mutation was removed. In conclusion, these studies demonstrate that the NSD2E1099K mutation may play an important role in treatment failure of pediatric ALL relapse by causing GC resistance. Future studies will determine how NSD2 which generally activates genes paradoxically blocks the ability of GC and the GR to induce critical pro-death genes.


Licht:Celgene: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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