Low MS4A3 is a common mechanism among LSPC quiescence, BCR-ABL1-independent primary TKI resistance, and blastic transformation.
MS4A3 controls LSPC sensitivity to differentiating cytokines by regulating β chain receptor endocytosis and signaling.
The chronic phase of chronic myeloid leukemia (CP-CML) is characterized by excessive production of maturating myeloid cells. As CML stem/progenitor cells (LSPCs) are poised to cycle and differentiate, LSPCs must balance conservation and differentiation to avoid exhaustion, similar to normal hematopoiesis under stress. Since BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) eliminate differentiating cells, but spare BCR-ABL1-independent LSPCs, understanding the mechanisms that regulate LSPC differentiation may inform strategies to eliminate LSPCs. Upon performing a meta-analysis of published CML transcriptomes, we discovered that low expression of the MS4A3 transmembrane protein is a universal characteristic of LSPC quiescence, BCR-ABL1 independence, and transformation to blast phase. Several mechanisms are involved in suppressing MS4A3, including aberrant methylation and a MECOM-C/EBPε axis. Contrary to previous reports, we find that MS4A3 does not function as a G1/S phase inhibitor, but promotes endocytosis of common β chain (βc) cytokine receptors upon GM-CSF/IL-3 stimulation, enhancing downstream signaling and cellular differentiation. This suggests that LSPCs downregulate MS4A3 to evade βc cytokine-induced differentiation and maintain a more primitive, TKI-insensitive state. Accordingly, knockdown or deletion of MS4A3/Ms4a3 promotes TKI resistance and survival of CML cells ex vivo and enhance leukemogenesis in vivo, while targeted delivery of exogenous MS4A3 protein promotes differentiation. These data support a model in which MS4A3 governs response to differentiating myeloid cytokines, providing a unifying mechanism for the differentiation block characteristic of CML quiescence and blast phase CML. Promoting MS4A3 re-expression or delivery of ectopic MS4A3 may help eliminating LSPCs in vivo.