Notch1 signaling is required at multiple stages of normal T-lymphocyte development. Notch1 is a transmembrane receptor that is physiologically activated when Notch ligands induce conformational changes that allow Notch1 cleavage by the intramembranous γ-secretase complex, releasing active intracellular Notch1 (ICN1) fragment from the plasma membrane. Activating NOTCH1 mutations are very frequent in human and mouse T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (T-LL). Typically, these mutations promote ligand-independent Notch1 cleavage by γ-secretase or increase ICN1 stability by truncating the C-terminal PEST domain. Understandably, much effort has focused on elucidating mechanisms of normal and oncogenic Notch1 signaling. However, some studies suggest that the absence of NOTCH1 mutations portends a worse prognosis for human T-LL. Therefore, we set out to define signals that promote proliferation and survival of T-LL cells lacking activated Notch1. We used Western blotting to detect γ-secretase cleaved ICN1 protein in a cohort of 35 primary T-LLs that developed spontaneously in mice lacking the Ataxia telangiectasia mutated (Atm) tumor suppressor. We identified 3 ICN1 subgroups: 63% expressed PEST-truncated ICN1 (T-ICN1); 17% expressed non-truncated ICN1 (NT-ICN1); and 20% had undetectable ICN1 (UD-ICN1), most lacked Notch1 mRNA. We confirmed the difference in Notch transcriptional activity and functional dependence between the UD-ICN1 and T-ICN1 subgroups and then compared their gene expression profiles to define pathways unique to the UD-ICN1 group. Gene set enrichment analyses revealed that UD-ICN1 T-LLs expressed higher levels of Klf9 and other transcription factors associated with a highly proliferative stage of normal T-cell development. siRNA knock-down studies demonstrated that Klf9 promoted proliferation of UD-ICN1 but not T-ICN1 T-LL cells. Collectively, these data demonstrate that Klf9 can regulate proliferation of Notch-independent T-LLs and suggest that Klf9 may provide a novel therapeutic target for human T-LLs lacking activating NOTCH1 mutations.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.