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ZFP521 regulates murine hematopoietic stem cell function and facilitates MLL-AF9 leukemogenesis in mouse and human cells

Brian S. Garrison, Adrian P. Rybak, Isabel Beerman, Balthasar Heesters, Francois E. Mercier, David T. Scadden, David Bryder, Roland Baron and Derrick J. Rossi

Key Points

  • ZFP521 regulates HSC self-renewal and differentiation.

  • ZFP521 facilitates leukemogenesis in an MLL-AF9–mediated leukemia model.

Abstract

The concept that tumor-initiating cells can co-opt the self-renewal program of endogenous stem cells as a means of enforcing their unlimited proliferative potential is widely accepted, yet identification of specific factors that regulate self-renewal of normal and cancer stem cells remains limited. Using a comparative transcriptomic approach, we identify ZNF521/Zfp521 as a conserved hematopoietic stem cell (HSC)–enriched transcription factor in human and murine hematopoiesis whose function in HSC biology remains elusive. Competitive serial transplantation assays using Zfp521-deficient mice revealed that ZFP521 regulates HSC self-renewal and differentiation. In contrast, ectopic expression of ZFP521 in HSCs led to a robust maintenance of progenitor activity in vitro. Transcriptional analysis of human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patient samples revealed that ZNF521 is highly and specifically upregulated in AMLs with MLL translocations. Using an MLL-AF9 murine leukemia model and serial transplantation studies, we show that ZFP521 is not required for leukemogenesis, although its absence leads to a significant delay in leukemia onset. Furthermore, knockdown of ZNF521 reduced proliferation in human leukemia cell lines possessing MLL-AF9 translocations. Taken together, these results identify ZNF521/ZFP521 as a critical regulator of HSC function, which facilitates MLL-AF9–mediated leukemic disease in mice.

  • Submitted September 7, 2016.
  • Accepted June 1, 2017.
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