Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with high expression of a transcriptional factor, Ecotropic viral integration site 1 (EVI1), is associated with extremely poor prognosis. EVI1 is, however, also essential for maintaining normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), rendering it potentially difficult to target this molecule. To overcome this therapeutic difficulty, it is important to comprehensively elucidate differentially regulated downstream targets between normal and leukemia cells. In this study, we searched downstream targets of EVI1 in normal hematopoiesis by combining a chromatin immunoprecipitation sequence (ChIP-seq) and RNA-sequence (RNA-seq) analysis using a mouse hematopoietic cell line 32D-cl3 with high EVI1 expression.

We deleted Evi1 using CRISPR/Cas9 in 32D-cl3 cells. Evi1 knock-out (KO) 32D-cl3 cells showed comparable cell growth with parental cells in the presence of IL-3, which enables them to proliferate permanently without differentiation. When they are allowed to differentiate by adding G-CSF, the number of KO cells decreased sharply at day 5-6, compared with parental 32D-cl3 cells. Along with the decreased cell number, KO cells also demonstrated higher positive rate of Gr-1 at day 7, a typical marker of differentiation into granulocytes, indicating accelerated differentiation of KO cells. These results indicated that EVI1 is required to maintain undifferentiated status of 32D-cl3 cells in a differentiation-permissive conditions, which can model normal hematopoiesis.

We knocked in 3×FLAG tag at the 3' end of the Evi1 gene to perform ChIP-seq using anti-FLAG antibody. By using these knock-in cells, ChIP-seq was performed on day 0 and day 3 of G-CSF treatment, when they had started to differentiate with still maintained EVI1 expression. The peaks observed in undifferentiated day 0 sample were considered to contain a group of genes involved in undifferentiated hematopoietic cells in cooperation with EVI1. Genes associated HDAC class I, RAC1 signaling were enriched in these genes.

To investigate the functional implications of the result of ChIP-seq, RNA-seq data using two clones of KO cells and parental cells were combined. We found that 152 genes were significantly up-regulated, and 155 genes were down-regulated in the KO cells, with false discovery rate less than 0.05. Twenty-four genes were identified by extracting common genes between ChIP-seq and RNA-seq; namely, genes which had day 0-specific peaks in ChIP-seq, and whose expression were decreased in the KO cells.

In order to further examine the physiological implications of 24 genes in vivo, we referred to the results of RNA-seq using murine bone marrow transplantation model, where murine hematopoietic progenitor cells retrovirally transduced with Evi1 were transplanted into irradiated syngeneic mice, finally leading to AML after a long latency. Samples obtained early after post transplantation and those after AML onset were compared to those of normal hematopoietic progenitor cells. Among the above 24 genes, the expression of 5 genes was increased early after transplantation and decreased after the onset of AML, that is, these genes were up-regulated by EVI1 but don't seem to be involved in AML maintenance.

We functionally validated the role of these genes in 32D-cl3 cells. Of the above, CRISPR/Cas9-mediated knock-out of Gfi1(Growth Factor Independent 1 Transcriptional Repressor) and Mfsd2b (Major facilitator superfamily domain containing 2B) in 32D-cl3 cells led to high Gr-1 positivity at day 7 like Evi1-KO cells, suggesting that these genes are involved in the functions of EVI1 in the normal hematopoiesis. The mRNA expression of these genes was compared in LSK (Lineage- Sca1+ c-kit+) cells from the bone marrow of Evi1 conditional knockout (cKO) mice and control mice. The expression of Gfi1 and Mfsd2b was decreased in LSK cells from Evi1 cKO mice. Furthermore, retroviral expression of Gfi1 in LSK cells restored the reduced colony-forming ability of Evi1 cKO cells. These results collectively suggest that GFI1 is regulated by EVI1 and is involved in the function of EVI1 regulating the stemness of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells in normal hematopoiesis.

These findings provide us with the novel insights on EVI1-mediated HSC maintenance as well as on the therapeutic strategy that specifically targets leukemia-specific EVI1 effectors while preserving normal hematopoiesis.


Kurokawa:Shire Plc: Speakers Bureau; Jansen Pharmaceutical: Speakers Bureau; Ono: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Boehringer Ingelheim: Speakers Bureau; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Speakers Bureau; Eisai: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Teijin: Research Funding; Takeda: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Kyowa Kirin: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Astellas: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Otsuka: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Pfizer: Research Funding; Sanwa-Kagaku: Consultancy; MSD: Consultancy, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Chugai: Consultancy, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Bioverativ Japan: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau; Daiichi Sankyo: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Nippon Shinyaku: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.