• BCL11A promotes myeloid leukemogenesis via the repression of PU.1 target genes.

  • Inhibition of corepressors abrogates the BCL11A function, inducing growth suppression and inhibition of engraftment in AML.

The transcriptional repressor, BCL11A, is involved in hematological malignancies, B-cell development, and fetal-to-adult hemoglobin switching. However, the molecular mechanism by which it promotes the development of myeloid leukemia remains largely unknown. We find that Bcl11a cooperates with the pseudokinase, Trib1, in the development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Bcl11a promotes the proliferation and engraftment of Trib1-expressing AML cells both in vitro and in vivo. ChIP-seq analysis showed that upon DNA-binding, Bcl11a is significantly associated with PU.1, an inducer of myeloid differentiation, and that Bcl11a represses several PU.1 target genes, such as Asb2, Clec5a, and Fcgr3. Asb2, as a Bcl11a target gene that modulates cytoskeleton and cell-cell interaction, plays a key role in Bcl11a-induced malignant progression. The repression of PU.1 target genes by Bcl11a is achieved by both sequence-specific DNA-binding activity and recruitment of corepressors by Bcl11a. Suppression of the corepressor components, HDAC and LSD1, reverses the repressive activity. Moreover, treatment of AML cells with the HDAC inhibitor, pracinostat, and LSD1 inhibitor, GSK2879552, resulted in growth inhibition both in vitro and in vivo. High BCL11A expression is associated with worse prognosis in human AML patients. Blocking of BCL11A expression upregulates the expression of PU.1 target genes, and inhibits the growth of HL-60 cells and their engraftment to the bone marrow, suggesting that BCL11A is involved in human myeloid malignancies via the suppression of PU.1 transcriptional activity.

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