Background: The translocation (8;21) is the most common chromosomal rearrangement in AML, resulting in the expression of the fusion protein AML1/ETO. We have developed an ecdysone-inducible U937 model, in which AML1/ETO is expressed in response to treatment with Ponasterone (Pon) A (Fliegauf et al, Oncogene 2004). This model system was used to determine the cellular effects of AML1/ETO and to identify its target genes in U937 cells.
Methods: Effects of AML1/ETO expression upon cell growth, viability, cell cycle and apoptosis were analyzed by trypan blue exclusion, FACS analysis using propidium iodide and DiOC6 staining, DNA laddering and Western blot for PARP cleavage, respectively. The gene expression profile of U937 with and without conditional AML1/ETO expression was assessed using Affymetrix U133A microarrays. Wild-type U937 cells with and without PonA treatment as well as AML1/ETO-negative and AML1/ETO-positive myeloid cell lines served as controls. Northern and Western Blotting were used for validation of expression changes.
Results: Induction of AML1/ETO expression in U937 resulted in reduced cell growth, G1 arrest and in apoptosis beginning 48–72 hours after PonA treatment. To investigate the underlying mechanisms, microarray analysis was performed. Expression profiles of AML1/ETO-positive and AML1/ETO-negative cell lines formed distinct clusters. Based on stringent criteria, 191 different genes were found upregulated, whereas 37 were downregulated upon expression of AML1/ETO in U937. The identified genes were screened for genes with known functions in cell cycle and apoptosis by automated and manual review and included 13 apoptosis-related genes. Among them, the CDK inhibitor p21/WAF/CIP1 was upregulated 19-fold upon induction of AML1/ETO, whereas the apoptosis regulator MCL-1 was induced 2.5-fold. Based on our criteria, no differential expression of other transcriptionally-controlled apoptosis regulators (such as BCL2, BAX, BAK1, BAD or c-flip) was noted. Northern and Western Blot analysis confirmed the strong induction of p21/WAF/CIP1 that paralleled the expression of AML1/ETO 10 hours after PonA treatment. Induction of p21/WAF/CIP1 was independent of the tumor suppressor protein p53 (Dou et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 1995), and by Western blot, p53 was undetectable in U937. Northern Blot analysis revealed a higher expression of p21/WAF/CIP1 in the AML1/ETO-positive cell lines Kasumi-1 and SKNO-1 than in the AML1/ETO-negative cell lines HL-60, KG-1 and U937, supporting our finding that AML1/ETO may induce p21/WAF/CIP1.
Conclusions: AML1/ETO expression resulted in increased expression of p21/WAF/CIP1, which might contribute to the observed growth arrest and induction of apoptosis caused by the conditional expression of AML1/ETO.