CALR exon9 frameshift mutations function as driver mutations in essential thrombocythemia (ET) and primary myelofibrosis patients with non-mutated JAK2 or MPL. The mutations augment signal transducer and activator of transcription activity in the presence of MPL, induce increased cell proliferation and growth factor independence in cell lines, and cause ET-like myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) in mice.

In tumor cells bearing the CALR mutation, mutant CALR protein expression occurs while wild-type (WT) CALR expression is decreased by half. Although the biological activity of mutant CALR has been elucidated in detail, the significance of CALR haploinsufficiency is unclear. The purpose of this study was therefore to clarify the influence of CALR haploinsufficiency on hematopoiesis in normal and CALR-mutated MPN in mice.

First, we analyzed the effect of CALR haploinsufficiency on hematopoiesis using CALR heterozygous knockout (CALR-hKO) mice (Tokuhiro et al. Sci Rep. 2015). Blood cell counts, liver and spleen weight, histology, cell fraction in bone marrow (BM) and spleen, and survival of CALR-hKO mice were all equivalent to that observed in WT mice. In the analysis of progenitor cells by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and colony formation assays, no difference was observed in the amount of progenitor cells and in colony replating capacity between WT mice and CALR-hKO mice. Interestingly, in competitive serial transplantation experiments using whole BM cells in primary and secondary transplanted mice, CALR-hKO cells showed higher levels of chimerism than WT cells.

Next, the effect of CALR haploinsufficiency on hematopoiesis in mutant CALR-del52 overexpressing mice was analyzed. We compared three groups of mice, WT mice, CALR-del52 transgenic (TG) mice (Shide et al. Leukemia 2017) and CALR-del52 TG/CALR-hKO double-mutant (TG-hKO) mice. Both TG mice and TG-hKO mice developed ET-like MPN. Compared to WT mice, increases in megakaryocytes, platelets and hematopoietic progenitor cells (including HSCs) were observed in these mice. However, no differences were observed between TG mice and TG-hKO mice.

Finally, 4000 LSK cells sorted from WT mice, TG mice, and TG-hKO mice (B6-Ly5.2) and B6-Ly5.1 competitor cells (1 × 106 WT BM cells) were mixed and injected into lethally irradiated B6-Ly5.1 recipient mice, and the percent chimerism of donor cells was followed for 1 year after transplantation. From 12 weeks after transplantation, the chimerism of TG cells was significantly lower than that of control WT cells, suggesting that the CALR mutation has a negative influence on clonal expansion of HSCs. The recipient mice transplanted with TG LSK cells showed very mild thrombocythemia. On the other hand, chimerism in TG-hKO cells was significantly higher than that in control WT cells up to 12 weeks after transplantation. Chimerism at 20 weeks after transplantation was equivalent to that in control WT cells, and the recipient mice transplanted with TG-hKO LSK cells showed severe thrombocythemia. These findings show that CALR haploinsufficiency compensates for HSCs functioning, which has been impaired by the CALR mutation, enhancing the ability of HSCs to develop ET.

Mice experiments have showed that HSCs with the JAK2V617F mutation are fragile, and it is considered that mutations in DNMT3A or TET2 often occurred prior to mutations in JAK2 to compensate for the defect in self renewal capacity. Conversely, since the CALR mutation is not typically preceded by any mutations, it is considered that the CALR mutation may not require any preceding mutations. Our results showed that, like JAK2 V617F mutants, overexpression of the CALR-del52 mutant impairs HSC functioning. Furthermore, we found that CALR haploinsufficiency restores the functions of impaired HSCs to the same extent as that found in WT HSCs. When an HSC acquires the CALR mutation, "defect" and "recovery" states thus occur simultaneously in the cell. This finding may explain why mutant CALR clones expand without needing to undergo any preceding mutation.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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