GLI3 repressor determines Hedgehog pathway activation and is required for response to SMO antagonist glasdegib in AML

Parvesh Chaudhry, Mohan Singh, Timothy J. Triche, Monica Guzman and Akil A. Merchant

Key Points

  • GLI3R inhibits Hh signaling and is required for response to SMO antagonist in AML.

  • GLI3 is silenced in AML, and decitabine restores GLI3 expression and leads to modulation of Hh signaling.


The Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway is activated in many cancers and is a promising target for therapeutic development. Deletions in the receptor Patched (PTCH) or activating mutations in Smoothened (SMO) have been reported in basal cell carcinoma and medulloblastoma, but are largely absent in most tumor types. Therefore, the mechanism of pathway activation in most cancers, including hematological malignancies, remains unknown. In normal tissues, Hh pathway activation via PTCH/SMO causes an increase in the downstream transcriptional activator GLI1 and a decrease in the GLI3 transcriptional repressor (GLI3R). In this article, we confirm that the Hh pathway is active in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), however, this activity is largely independent of SMO. Epigenetic and gene expression analysis of The Cancer Genome Atlas AML data set reveals that GLI3 expression is silenced in most AML patient samples, and the GLI3 locus is abnormally methylated. We show that GLI3R is required for the therapeutic effect of SMO antagonists in AML samples and restoration of GLI3R suppresses the growth of AML. We additionally demonstrate that GLI3R represses AML growth by downregulating AKT expression. In summary, this study provides the first evidence that GLI3R plays an essential role in SMO-independent Hh signaling in AML, and suggests that GLI3R could serve as a potential biomarker for patient selection in SMO antagonist clinical trials. Furthermore, these data support rational combinations of hypomethylating agents with SMO antagonists in clinical trials.

  • Submitted May 25, 2016.
  • Accepted April 29, 2017.
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