PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Hematology - Molecular Biology - Oncology

The Leukemia-Specific Fusion Gene ETV6/RUNX1 Perturbs Distinct Key Biological Functions Primarily by Gene Repression
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011
Author: Gerhard Fuka et al.

by Gerhard Fuka, Maximilian Kauer, Reinhard Kofler, Oskar A. Haas, Renate Panzer-Grümayer


ETV6/RUNX1 (E/R) (also known as TEL/AML1) is the most frequent gene fusion in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and also most likely the crucial factor for disease initiation; its role in leukemia propagation and maintenance, however, remains largely elusive. To address this issue we performed a shRNA-mediated knock-down (KD) of the E/R fusion gene and investigated the ensuing consequences on genome-wide gene expression patterns and deducible regulatory functions in two E/R-positive leukemic cell lines.


Microarray analyses identified 777 genes whose expression was substantially altered. Although approximately equal proportions were either up- (KD-UP) or down-regulated (KD-DOWN), the effects on biological processes and pathways differed considerably. The E/R KD-UP set was significantly enriched for genes included in the “cell activation”, “immune response”, “apoptosis”, “signal transduction” and “development and differentiation” categories, whereas in the E/R KD-DOWN set only the “PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling” and “hematopoietic stem cells” categories became evident. Comparable expression signatures obtained from primary E/R-positive ALL samples underline the relevance of these pathways and molecular functions. We also validated six differentially expressed genes representing the categories “stem cell properties”, “B-cell differentiation”, “immune response”, “cell adhesion” and “DNA damage” with RT-qPCR.


Our analyses provide the first preliminary evidence that the continuous expression of the E/R fusion gene interferes with key regulatory functions that shape the biology of this leukemia subtype. E/R may thus indeed constitute the essential driving force for the propagation and maintenance of the leukemic process irrespective of potential consequences of associated secondary changes. Finally, these findings may also provide a valuable source of potentially attractive therapeutic targets.