Core-binding factor leukemia hijacks the T-cell–prone PU.1 antisense promoter

Academic Article


  • The blood system serves as a key model for cell differentiation and cancer. It is orchestrated by precise spatiotemporal expression of crucial transcription factors. One of the key master regulators in the hematopoietic systems is PU.1. Reduced levels of PU.1 are characteristic for human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and are known to induce AML in mouse models. Here, we show that transcriptional downregulation of PU.1 is an active process involving an alternative promoter in intron 3 that is induced by RUNX transcription factors driving noncoding antisense transcription. Core-binding factor (CBF) fusions RUNX1-ETO and CBFβ-MYH11 in t(8;21) and inv(16) AML, respectively, activate the PU.1 antisense promoter that results in a shift from sense toward antisense transcription and myeloid differentiation blockade. In patients with CBF-AML, we found that an elevated antisense/sense transcript and promoter accessibility ratio represents a hallmark compared with normal karyotype AML or healthy CD34+ cells. Competitive interaction of an enhancer with the proximal or the antisense promoter forms a binary on/off switch for either myeloid or T-cell development. Leukemic CBF fusions thus use a physiological mechanism used by T cells to decrease sense transcription. Our study is the first example of a sense/antisense promoter competition as a crucial functional switch for gene expression perturbation by oncogenes. Hence, this disease mechanism reveals a previously unknown Achilles heel for future precise therapeutic targeting of oncogene-induced chromatin remodeling.
  • Published In

  • Blood  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • van der Kouwe E; Heller G; Czibere A; Pulikkan JA; Agreiter C; Castilla LH; Delwel R; Di Ruscio A; Ebralidze AK; Forte M
  • Start Page

  • 1345
  • End Page

  • 1358
  • Volume

  • 138
  • Issue

  • 15