Rationale for targeting BCL6 in MLL-rearranged acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Hurtz C., Chan LN., Geng H., Ballabio E., Xiao G., Deb G., Khoury H., Chen C-W., Armstrong SA., Chen J., Ernst P., Melnick A., Milne T., Müschen M.
Chromosomal rearrangements of the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene occur in ∼10% of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) and define a group of patients with dismal outcomes. Immunohistochemical staining of bone marrow biopsies from most of these patients revealed aberrant expression of BCL6, a transcription factor that promotes oncogenic B-cell transformation and drug resistance in B-ALL. Our genetic and ChIP-seq (chromatin immunoprecipitation [ChIP] combined with high-throughput sequencing) analyses showed that MLL-AF4 and MLL-ENL fusions directly bound to the BCL6 promoter and up-regulated BCL6 expression. While oncogenic MLL fusions strongly induced aberrant BCL6 expression in B-ALL cells, germline MLL was required to up-regulate Bcl6 in response to physiological stimuli during normal B-cell development. Inducible expression of Bcl6 increased MLL mRNA levels, which was reversed by genetic deletion and pharmacological inhibition of Bcl6, suggesting a positive feedback loop between MLL and BCL6. Highlighting the central role of BCL6 in MLL-rearranged B-ALL, conditional deletion and pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 compromised leukemogenesis in transplant recipient mice and restored sensitivity to vincristine chemotherapy in MLL-rearranged B-ALL patient samples. Oncogenic MLL fusions strongly induced transcriptional activation of the proapoptotic BH3-only molecule BIM, while BCL6 was required to curb MLL-induced expression of BIM. Notably, peptide (RI-BPI) and small molecule (FX1) BCL6 inhibitors derepressed BIM and synergized with the BH3-mimetic ABT-199 in eradicating MLL-rearranged B-ALL cells. These findings uncover MLL-dependent transcriptional activation of BCL6 as a previously unrecognized requirement of malignant transformation by oncogenic MLL fusions and identified BCL6 as a novel target for the treatment of MLL-rearranged B-ALL.