Improvements in antisense technology have now enabled clinically relevant therapeutic credentialing of the noncoding genome. MALAT1 is a long non-coding RNA that, among other functions, is thought to serve as a nuclear scaffold for splicing and transcription factors. MALAT1 expression is associated with inferior prognosis across solid tumors and its depletion impairs proliferation and metastasis in preclinical solid tumor models. We found that elevated MALAT1 levels are independently associated with inferior overall survival in patients with CMML. Further, RNA-sequencing of primary CMML monocytes identified MALAT1 as the fourth most over-expressed transcript compared to controls.

Therefore, we explored the biologic relevance and therapeutic candidacy of MALAT1 across several human and murine models of CMML. First, we crossed NRASQ61R/+Mx1-cre driven mice, which display a CMML-like phenotype, to MALAT1KO/KOmice. Although MALAT1KO/KOmice did not have abnormalities in complete blood counts, immunophenotyping of the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) compartment identified statistically significantly lower numbers of HSC compared to wild type (WT) controls and a non-significant decrease in NRASQ61R/+/MALAT1KO/KOcompared to NRASQ61R/+alone. This decrease in HSC was not a result of impaired self-renewal as no differences were observed in these models after in vivo competitive transplant experiments. Therefore, we reasoned that MALAT1 expression may be controlling HSC differentiation. To test this, we transformed bone marrow cells from these models with an estrogen-regulated (ER) Hoxb8 construct enabling cells to maintain an HSC state until ER is withdrawn and myeloid differentiation is induced. ER-Hoxb8NRASQ61R/+/MALAT1KO/KOcells had increased basal levels of Gr-1 compared to ER-Hoxb8 transformed NRASQ61R/+alone that was dramatically enhanced upon ER withdrawal suggesting that MALAT1 depletion regulates myeloid differentiation. These findings were validated by assessment of morphology, transcriptome, and in vivo immunophenotyping of bone marrow and spleen cells. Further, moribund NRASQ61R/+/MALAT1KO/KOmice displayed a reduction in organomegaly typically associated with leukemic burden. We validated this in human monocytic leukemia by generating MALAT1 depleted THP-1 isogeneic cell lines using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. MALAT1 depleted THP-1 cells (MKO) had greater terminal differentiation according to immunophenotypic markers and morphology that was greatly enhanced when treated with phorbol myristate acetate. Last, MKO orthotopic xenografts demonstrated inferior human leukemia engraftment and decreased spleen and liver weights, and heterotopic xenografts exhibited reduced tumor volume, collectively suggesting diminished leukemic burden.

Because ATRA has been clinically tested in CMML with minimal effects, we next explored whether MALAT1 depletion could potentiate ATRA differentiation in CMML. First, we treated MKO cells with ATRA and observed a large induction of myeloid differentiation by marker expression and morphologic assessment compared to isogenic controls. This was validated by NRASQ61R/+/MALAT1KO/KOmice demonstrating that ATRA more robustly induced differentiation compared to vehicle which was not seen in NRASQ61R/+/MALAT1+/+mice. Next, we tested MALAT1 antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) currently under clinical development in THP-1 cells +/- ATRA and demonstrated both an increase in myeloid differentiation and apoptosis compared to ATRA alone. To test this therapeutic strategy in primary CMML specimens, we generated CMML patient-derived xenografts (n=30 mice) and treated each with ASO, ATRA, the combination, or controls and identified a more robust reduction in human HSC engraftment with the combination. To explore the mechanistic basis for these findings, we performed RNA-sequencing of MALAT1-depleted or control cells and identified that CREB target genes were differentially expressed. Basal protein levels of p-CREB were also decreased in MKO cells and were further reduced in the nucleus of MKO by western and microscopy. Lastly, overexpression of WT or constitutively active CREB but not its dominant negative rescued the differentiation effect seen in ATRA treated MKO cells. Taken together, MALAT1 is a novel, CREB-dependent regulator of myeloid differentiation and its depletion potentiates ATRA therapy.


Cluzeau:Menarini: Consultancy; Jazz Pharma: Consultancy; Abbvie: Consultancy. Komrokji:celgene: Consultancy; pfizer: Consultancy; DSI: Consultancy; JAZZ: Speakers Bureau; Novartis: Speakers Bureau; JAZZ: Consultancy; Agios: Consultancy; Incyte: Consultancy. MacLeod:Ionis Pharmaceuticals: Employment. List:Celgene: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding. Epling-Burnette:Forma Therapeutics: Research Funding; Celgene Corporation: Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Incyte Corporation: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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