The significance of low PU.1 expression in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia
© Zhu et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 2 April 2012
Accepted: 8 May 2012
Published: 8 May 2012
Although the importance of the hematopoietic transcription factor PU.1 in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has been demonstrated, the expression of PU.1 in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) patient samples awaits further investigation. The current study used APL patient samples to assess the expression pattern of PU.1 in the initiation and progression of APL.
We used real-time RT-PCR to compare PU.1 expression between de novo APL patient samples and normal blood specimens, and the results indicated that PU.1 expression was significantly lower in newly diagnosed APL patient samples as compared to normal hematopoietic cells. Further evidence showed a significant inverse correlation between the expression level of PML-RARα and that of PU.1. In addition, we analyzed the correlation between PML-RARα and PU.1 expression in a large population of AML patients retrieved from the expression profiles. The results showed that PU.1 expression was lower in patients with APL than other AML subtypes and there was also a trend towards increasing PU.1 expression from AML-M0 to AML-M5, with the exception of AML-M3 (APL). These observations suggested that PU.1 expression was reduced by PML-RARα in APL patients. Furthermore, we measured PU.1 expression in APL-initiating cells isolated from de novo APL patients by side population cell analysis and found that suppression of PU.1 expression occurred concurrently with PML-RARα expression, indicating the pivotal role of PU.1 in APL initiation.
Our findings provide evidence that low PU.1 expression in APL patients is required for disease initiation and progression.
KeywordsPML-RARα PU.1 Acute promyelocytic leukemia
Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is typified by the t(15;17) translocation, which generates the PML-RARα fusion protein and produces a beneficial response to all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and arsenic trioxide . At the molecular level, PML-RARα affects the normal functions of wild-type PML and RARα signaling. However, PML- or RARα-deficient mice display few obvious defects [2, 3]. Furthermore, in PML-RARα transgenic mice, on average, only 30% develop APL after a long latent period of observation , suggesting that APL development may require additional genetic events that are indispensable for myeloid differentiation.
Recently, we demonstrated that PML-RARα interferes with the function of PU.1, which results in a block of downstream PU.1 signaling . In addition, the study by Mueller BU et al. also reported that PU.1 is suppressed by PML-RARα and that ATRA treatment is capable of restoring PU.1 expression . Although these findings have been confirmed using cell lines, there is a growing evidence to suggest that cell lines do not fully recapitulate the biology of human disease. Therefore, to most accurately examine the role of PU.1 in APL, investigation into the expression profile of PU.1 in APL patient samples is required.
Materials and methods
Patient samples and human umbilical cord blood
Characteristics of the patient population
Mononuclear cells and granulocytes were isolated using Ficoll-Paque (Lymphoprep™, Fresenius Kabi Norge AS, Norway) density gradient separation. CD34+ cells were isolated from UCB specimens using a high magnetic gradient MiniMACS purification system (Miltenyi, Sunnyvale, CA).
Side population analysis of fresh APL and UCB specimens
Side population (SP) cell analysis was performed according to the protocol from Goodell's laboratory  with minor modifications.
Total RNA was extracted from cells using an RNeasy Kit from Qiagen (Chatsworth, CA). Reverse transcription was performed using the Superscript II reagent set (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA) with random hexamer primers. Quantitative real-time PCR was performed using an ABI Prism 7900HT detection system (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA). The relative expression level for each target in comparison to the internal control GAPDH was calculated using the following equation: ΔCt = Ct (target) - Ct (GAPDH), where the relative mRNA expression = 2-ΔCt × 100. Each assay was performed in triplicate.
The expression of PML-RARα, PU.1 and GAPDH mRNA in cells was analyzed by real-time PCR with the following primers corresponding to distinct sequences: sense (5’-AAGTGAGGTCTTCCTGCCCAA-3’) and antisense (5’-GGCTGGGCACTATCTCTTCAGA-3’) for PML-RARα; sense (5’-AGAAGAAGATCCGCCTGTACCA-3’) and antisense (5’-GTGCTTGGACGAGAACTGGAA-3’) for PU.1; sense (5’-GAAGGTGAAGGTCGGAGTC-3’) and antisense (5’- GAAGATGGTGATGGGATTTC-3’) for GAPDH.
Gene expression analysis
The raw gene expression data and clinical data from four cohorts of AML patients were provided by other research groups [8–11]. To perform interarray comparisons, the CEL files were analyzed using Affymetrix MAS 5.0 software. The PU.1 expression level relative to that of GAPDH was calculated as log2(10000 × expression level of PU.1 / expression level of GAPDH). Two-tailed t tests were used to validate the significance of the observed differences.
PU.1 expression is significantly lower in APL patient samples in comparison to normal hematopoietic cells
PU.1 is expressed at lower levels in patients with APL as compared to other AML subtypes
PU.1 expression is particularly repressed in APL
PU.1 is suppressed in APL initiation
PU.1 not only plays an importance role in normal hematopoiesis but is also strongly implicated in leukemogenesis. By comparing PU.1 expression between APL patients and normal blood samples, we found that PU.1 expression was significantly lower in APL patients. By analyzing the expression pattern of PU.1 across a large scale of AML patients, we found that PU.1 expression was significantly lower in patients with APL compared to other AML subtypes. These observations may have been the result of the distinctive expression of PML-RARα, which suggests a connection between PML-RARα expression and the decreased expression of PU.1 in APL. Taken together, these data indicate that low PU.1 expression may be a contributing event in APL.
The level of PU.1 expression is critical for hematopoietic lineage commitment and maturation . PU.1 expression is low in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), and is upregulated at the CMP stage. CMPs with relatively high levels of PU.1 are mainly committed to the granulocyte and macrophage lineages, whereas those with relatively low levels of PU.1 are committed to the erythrocyte and megakaryocyte lineages . AML is characterized by the blockage of myeloid differentiation at different stages, and FAB classification (M0 to M7) is generally performed according to the type of cells from which leukemia developed as well as their degree of maturity. The observed trend towards increasing PU.1 expression from M0 to M5 (except for M3) may reflect differentiation-related differences in PU.1 expression. Lower PU.1 expression was detected in undifferentiated (M0) AML confirms the finding that low PU.1 expression is present in blasts with minimal differentiation . The intermediate PU.1 expression observed in myeloid (M1/2) AML and the high PU.1 expression observed in myelomonocytic (M4/5) AML are likely associated with the stage at which myeloid differentiation is blocked. Moreover, in regards to the increasing expression from M0 to M5, PU.1 expression in APL (M3) was exceptional and was detected at a significantly lower level, which was likely attributable to distinctive PML-RARα expression at this stage. In vivo animal studies have also shown that functional disruption of PU.1 or a graded reduction in its expression blocks myelomonocytic differentiation or maturation, resulting in the accumulation of myeloid blasts and, thus, the genesis of myelogenous leukemia [17, 18]. The differentiation of preleukemic cells in these mice was mostly blocked at the immature granulocytic stage, which suggests that other abnormalities may also influence PU.1 expression. Indeed, AML1-ETO has been reported to suppress PU.1 expression . Although PU.1 expression was greater in the M2 stage than the M3 stage, this may have been due to the fact that 70–80% of M2 do not have AML1-ETO expression . A more detailed classification for distinguishing between cell types would help to confirm the role of PU.1 in the development of AML. In addition, low PU.1 expression in erythrocytic (M6) and megakaryocytic (M7) AML supported the observation that PU.1 expression was reduced in the erythrocyte and megakaryocyte lineages . Taken together, our data demonstrate that PML-RARα expression together with reduced PU.1 expression is a characteristic of APL.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that the initiation of APL requires the expression of PML-RARα . However, PML-RARα alone is not sufficient to induce APL [22–24]. Walter et al. demonstrated that transgenic mice expressing PML-RARα frequently develop APL in association with the deletion of PU.1 . Moreover, the penetrance rate for APL development was significantly increased when PML-RARα mice were crossed with PU.1+/− mice . Consistent with the above observations, our study found that PU.1 expression was lower during APL initiation using SP cells isolated from APL patient samples.
In conclusion, our data reveal the expression pattern of PU.1 in APL patient samples and provide additional clues about the mechanisms in the initiation and progression of APL. Therefore, we conclude that the formation of PML-RARα and the subsequent suppression of PU.1 expression are critical for the initiation and progression of APL.
Acute promyelocytic leukemia
Acute myeloid leukemia
All-trans retinoic acid
Umbilical cord blood
White blood cell
Common myeloid progenitor
Hematopoietic stem cell.
This work was supported in part by Ministry of Science and Technology of China Grants (2009CB825607, 2012AA02A211 and 2011CB910202) and National Natural Science Foundation Grants (31171257, 90919059 and 30971623).
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