Fusion oncoproteins are the initiating event in the pathogenesis of many pediatric AML. The CBFA2T3-GLIS2 (C/G) fusion is a product of a cryptic translocation primarily seen in infants and early childhood and is associated with dismal outcome. Here, we demonstrate that the expression of the C/G oncogenic fusion protein promotes the transformation of human cord blood hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (CB HSPCs) in an endothelial cell (EC) co-culture system, that recapitulates the transcriptome, morphology and immunophenotype of C/G AML and induces highly aggressive leukemia in xenograft models. Interrogating the transcriptome of C/G-CB cells and primary C/G AML identified a library of C/G fusion-specific genes that are potential targets for therapy. We developed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells directed against one of the targets, FOLR1, and demonstrated their pre-clinical efficacy against C/G AML using in vitro and xenograft models. FOLR1 is also expressed in renal and pulmonary epithelium, raising concerns for toxicity that must be addressed for the clinical application of this therapy. Our findings underscore the role of the endothelial niche in promoting leukemic transformation of C/G-transduced CB HSPCs. Furthermore, this work has broad implications for studies of leukemogenesis applicable to a variety of oncogenic fusion-driven pediatric leukemias, providing a robust and tractable model system to characterize the molecular mechanisms of leukemogenesis and identify biomarkers for disease diagnosis and targets for therapy.
Quy Le, Brandon Hadland, Jenny L. Smith, Amanda Leonti, Benjamin J. Huang, Rhonda Ries, Tiffany A. Hylkema, Sommer Castro, Thao T. Tang, Cyd N. McKay, LaKeisha Perkins, Laura Pardo, Jay Sarthy, Amy K. Beckman, Robin Williams, Rhonda Idemmili, Scott Furlan, Takashi Ishida, Lindsey Call, Shivani Srivastava, Anisha M. Loeb, Filippo Milano, Suzan Imren, Shelli M. Morris, Fiona Pakiam, James M. Olson, Michael R. Loken, Lisa Eidenschink Brodersen, Stanley R. Riddell, Katherine Tarlock, Irwin D. Bernstein, Keith R. Loeb, Soheil Meshinchi