Activating mutations of the FMS-like tyrosine kinase-3 (FLT3) receptor occur in approximately 30% of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients and, at least for internal tandem duplication (ITD) mutations, are associated with poor prognosis. FLT3 mutations trigger downstream signaling pathways including RAS-MAP/AKT kinases and signal transducer and activator of transcription-5 (STAT5). We find that FLT3/ITD mutations start a cycle of genomic instability whereby increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production leads to increased DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) and repair errors that may explain aggressive AML in FLT3/ITD patients. Cell lines transfected with FLT3/ITD and FLT3/ITD-positive AML cell lines and primary cells demonstrate increased ROS. Increased ROS levels appear to be produced via STAT5 signaling and activation of RAC1, an essential component of ROS-producing NADPH oxidases. A direct association of RAC1-GTP binding to phosphorylated STAT5 (pSTAT5) provides a possible mechanism for ROS generation. A FLT3 inhibitor blocked increased ROS in FLT3/ITD cells resulting in decreased DSB and increased repair efficiency and fidelity. Our study suggests that the aggressiveness of the disease and poor prognosis of AML patients with FLT3/ITD mutations could be the result of increased genomic instability that is driven by higher endogenous ROS, increased DNA damage, and decreased end-joining fidelity.
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