Oncogenic mutations in components of cytokine signaling pathways elicit ligand-independent activation of downstream signaling, enhancing proliferation and survival in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The myeloproliferative leukemia virus oncogene, MPL, a homodimeric receptor activated by thrombopoietin (THPO), is mutated in myeloproliferative disorders but rarely in AML. Here we show that wild-type MPL expression is increased in a fraction of human AML samples expressing RUNX1-ETO, a fusion protein created by chromosome translocation t(8;21), and that up-regulation of Mpl expression in mice induces AML when coexpressed with RUNX1-ETO. The leukemic cells are sensitive to THPO, activating survival and proliferative responses. Mpl expression is not regulated by RUNX1-ETO in mouse hematopoietic progenitors or leukemic cells. Moreover, we find that activation of PI3K/AKT but not ERK/MEK pathway is a critical mediator of the MPL-directed antiapoptotic function in leukemic cells. Hence, this study provides evidence that up-regulation of wild-type MPL levels promotes leukemia development and maintenance through activation of the PI3K/AKT axis, and suggests that inhibitors of this axis could be effective for treatment of MPL-positive AML.

  • Submitted February 29, 2012.
  • Accepted May 15, 2012.
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