RUNX1 and CBFβ-SMMHC transactivate target genes together in abnormal myeloid progenitors for leukemia development.

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Inversion of chromosome 16 is a consistent finding in patients with acute myeloid leukemia subtype M4 with eosinophilia (AML M4Eo), which generates a CBFB-MYH11 fusion gene. It is generally considered that CBFβ-SMMHC, the fusion protein encoded by CBFB-MYH11, is a dominant negative repressor of RUNX1. However, recent findings challenge the RUNX1-repression model for CBFβ-SMMHC mediated leukemogenesis. To definitively address the role of Runx1 in CBFB-MYH11 induced leukemia, we crossed conditional Runx1 knockout mice (Runx1f/f)with conditional Cbfb-MYH11 knockin mice (Cbfb+/56M). Upon Mx1-Cre activation in hematopoietic cells induced by poly (I:C) injection, all Mx1-CreCbfb+/56Mmice developed leukemia in 5 months while no leukemia developed in Runx1f/fMx1-CreCbfb+/56Mmice, and this effect was cell autonomous. Importantly, the abnormal myeloid progenitors (AMPs), a leukemia initiating cell population induced by Cbfb-MYH11 in the bone marrow, decreased and disappeared in Runx1f/fMx1-CreCbfb+/56Mmice. RNA-seq analysis of AMP cells showed that genes associated with proliferation, differentiation blockage and leukemia initiation, were differentially expressed between Mx1-CreCbfb+/56Mand Runx1f/fMx1-CreCbfb+/56M mice. In addition, with chromatin immunocleavage sequencing (ChIC-seq) assay, we observed a significant enrichment of RUNX1/CBFβ-SMMHC target genes in Runx1f/fMx1-CreCbfb+/56M cells, especially among down-regulated genes, suggesting that RUNX1 and CBFβ-SMMHC mainly function together as activators of gene expression through direct target gene binding. These data indicate that Runx1 is indispensable for Cbfb-MYH11 induced leukemogenesis by working together with CBFβ-SMMHC to regulate critical genes associated with the generation of a functional AMP population.

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