Oncogenic NRAS primes primary acute myeloid leukemia cells for differentiation

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Abstract

RAS mutations are frequently found among acute myeloid leukemia patients (AML), generating a constitutively active signaling protein changing cellular proliferation, differentiation and apoptosis. We have previously shown that treatment of AML patients with high-dose cytarabine is preferentially beneficial for those harboring oncogenic RAS. On the basis of a murine AML cell culture model, we ascribed this effect to a RAS-driven, p53-dependent induction of differentiation. Hence, in this study we sought to confirm the correlation between RAS status and differentiation of primary blasts obtained from AML patients. The gene expression signature of AML blasts with oncogenic NRAS indeed corresponded to a more mature profile compared to blasts with wildtype RAS, as demonstrated by gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) and real-time PCR analysis of myeloid ecotropic viral integration site 1 homolog (MEIS1) in a unique cohort of AML patients. In addition, in vitro cell culture experiments with established cell lines and a second set of primary AML cells showed that oncogenic NRAS mutations predisposed cells to cytarabine (AraC) driven differentiation. Taken together, our findings show that AML with inv(16) and NRAS mutation have a differentiation gene signature, supporting the notion that NRAS mutation may predispose leukemic cells to AraC induced differentiation. We therefore suggest that promotion of differentiation pathways by specific genetic alterations could explain the superior treatment outcome after therapy in some AML patient subgroups. Whether a differentiation gene expression status may generally predict for a superior treatment outcome in AML needs to be addressed in future studies.

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Brendel, C., Teichler, S., Millahn, A., Stiewe, T., Krause, M., Stabla, K., … Neubauer, A. (2015). Oncogenic NRAS primes primary acute myeloid leukemia cells for differentiation. PLoS ONE, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0123181

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