Background: NSD2 (nuclear receptor binding SET domain protein 2) is a histone methyltransferase specific for dimethylation of histone H3 lysine 36 (H3K36me2), a modification associated with gene activation. In pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), particularly at relapse, a gain of function mutation (E1099K) of NSD2 is found in 10-15% of cases. The NSD2 mutation is found in addition to fusion proteins such as E2A-PBX and ETV6-RUNX1. The mutation can be subclonal at diagnosis and dominant at relapse, suggesting a link to therapeutic resistance. The NSD2-E1099K mutation affects gene expression through an increase in H3K36me2 and a decrease in H3K27me3. Using CRISPR/Cas9-edited isogenic ALL cell lines, we found that NSD2-E1099K mutation drove oncogenic programming by altering chromatin architecture, gene expression and enhancing cell growth, migration and infiltration to the central neural system (CNS). NSD2 mutation caused resistance of ALL cells to glucocorticoids (GC) by blocking genome wide binding of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR, encoded by NR3C1 gene) preventing GC-mediated induction of pro-apoptotic genes. NR3C1 levels were depressed in NSD2-E1099K cells and GC failed to induce autoactivation of NR3C1. While H3K27me3 was globally decreased by NSD2-E1099K, increased H3K27me3 was noted at the promoter of NR3C1, suggesting a novel role of polycomb repressive complex 2 as a therapeutic target for relapsed ALL with NSD2 mutation. While NSD2 is highly expressed in B cells and NSD2 knockout causes defects in B cell development, how the NSD2 mutation affects B cell development and leukemia occurrence in vivo is uncertain.

Aims: To determine the role of NSD2 mutation in the pathogenesis of lymphocytic malignancies and GC resistance in a mouse model.

Methods: We generated a conditional NSD2-E1099K knock-in mouse model in which the NSD2-E1099K allele was placed in the Rosa26 locus and expressed in B cells under the control of Cd19-Cre (Cd19+/-NSD2E1099K/WT). The resulting phenotype was characterized through peripheral blood counts, cellular morphology and histology of blood smears, bone marrow (BM), spleen and liver, flow cytometric analysis, germinal center B cells (GCB) immunization, BM transplantation, and hematopoiesis analysis in a CD3-/- background. We further established mouse leukemia cell lines with NSD2 mutation for functional analysis. RNA-Seq, real time PCR, immunoblotting, and apoptosis analysis (Annexin V/PI staining) following GC treatment were performed to demonstrate the effects of NSD2 mutation on histone modifications, transcriptome and GC resistance.

Results: The NSD2-E1099K mutation increased H3K36me2 and decreased H3K27me3 in isolated B cells from mouse BM and spleen. Mice were aged and did not develop signs of malignancy and RNA-sequencing showed few differences between B cells with or without the NSD2 mutation. However, after immunizing the mice with sheep red blood cells (SRBC), more GCBs were seen in the spleen of NSD2 mutant mice, suggesting mutant NSD2 stimulated germinal center hyperplasia. Transplantation of BM cells from mice expressing NSD2-E1099K into lethally irradiated recipients lead to an expansion of B cells while myeloid and T cells and life span of the recipients impaired. The NSD2 knock-in mouse model was crossed with Cd3-/- mice to create Cd19+/-Cd3-/-NSD2E1099K/WT mice, which within 2 months of birth developed a disease resembling an immature B lymphocytic leukemia (B220+CD19+IgM+IgD-CD5-) with infiltration of the spleen, liver and CNS and a median survival of 4.8 months. These tumors could be transplanted into immunodeficient mice but not immunocompetent mice. RNA seq analysis of these cells revealed 6,815 genes (3,295 upregulated and 3,520 downregulated) differentially expressed in NSD2 mutant B cells compared to normal B cells. The upregulated genes were related to abnormal immunoglobulin level , B cell activation, T-helper 1 physiology, and decreased B cell apoptosis. Importantly, the NSD2 mutant leukemic cells displayed depressed level of NR3C1 gene expression and GC resistance.

Conclusions: The NSD2 mutation alters B cell development, particularly in an immunodeficient background and causes B cells to become resistant to glucocorticoids. The inability of the mutation to generate disease on its own except in an immunodeficient background suggests genes that collaborate with NSD2 in ALL may play a role in immune escape.

Disclosures

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.