ATL response to arsenic/interferon therapy is triggered by SUMO/PML/RNF4-dependent Tax degradation

Zeina Dassouki, Umut Sahin, Hiba El Hajj, Florence Jollivet, Youmna Kfoury, Valérie Lallemand-Breitenbach, Olivier Hermine, Hugues de Thé and Ali Bazarbachi

Key Points

  • Survival of ATL cells depends on continuous Tax expression.

  • Arsenic/interferon combination induces SUMO/PML/RNF4-mediated Tax degradation.


The human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-1) Tax transactivator initiates transformation in adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATL), a highly aggressive chemotherapy-resistant malignancy. The arsenic/interferon combination, which triggers degradation of the Tax oncoprotein, selectively induces apoptosis of ATL cell lines and has significant clinical activity in Tax-driven murine ATL or human patients. However, the role of Tax loss in ATL response is disputed, and the molecular mechanisms driving degradation remain elusive. Here we demonstrate that ATL-derived or HTLV-1-transformed cells are dependent on continuous Tax expression, suggesting that Tax degradation underlies clinical responses to the arsenic/interferon combination. The latter enforces promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML) nuclear body (NB) formation and partner protein recruitment. In arsenic/interferon-treated HTLV-1 transformed or ATL cells, Tax is recruited onto NBs and undergoes PML-dependent hyper-sumoylation by small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO)2/3 but not SUMO1, ubiquitination by RNF4, and proteasome-dependent degradation. Thus, the arsenic/interferon combination clears ATL through degradation of its Tax driver, and this regimen could have broader therapeutic value by promoting degradation of other pathogenic sumoylated proteins.

  • Submitted April 28, 2014.
  • Accepted November 6, 2014.
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