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Title: TRIB2 in human AML : a biological and clinical investigation
Author: Campos, Joana Monteiro de
ISNI:       0000 0004 5994 5340
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2016
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Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) involves the proliferation, abnormal survival and arrest of cells at a very early stage of myeloid cell differentiation. The biological and clinical heterogeneity of this disease complicates treatment and highlights the significance of understanding the underlying causes of AML, which may constitute potential therapeutic targets, as well as offer prognostic information. Tribbles homolog 2 (Trib2) is a potent murine oncogene capable of inducing transplantable AML with complete penetrance. The pathogenicity of Trib2 is attributed to its ability to induce proteasomal degradation of the full length isoform of the transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein alpha (C/EBPα p42). The role of TRIB2 in human AML cells, however, has not been systematically investigated or targeted. Across human cancers, TRIB2 oncogenic activity was found to be associated with its elevated expression. In the context of AML, TRIB2 overexpression was suggested to be associated with the large and heterogeneous subset of cytogenetically normal AML patients. Based upon the observation that overexpression of TRIB2 has a role in cellular transformation, the effect of modulating its expression in human AML was examined in a human AML cell line that expresses high levels of TRIB2, U937 cells. Specific suppression of TRIB2 led to impaired cell growth, as a consequence of both an increase in apoptosis and a decrease in cell proliferation. Consistent with these in vitro results, TRIB2 silencing strongly reduced progression of the U937 in vivo xenografts, accompanied by detection of a lower spleen weight when compared with mice transplanted with TRIB2- expressing control cells. Gene expression analysis suggested that TRIB2 modulates apoptosis and cell-cycle sensitivity by influencing the expression of a subset of genes known to have implications on these phenotypes. Furthermore, TRIB2 was found to be expressed in a significant subset of AML patient samples analysed. To investigate whether increased expression of this gene could be afforded prognostic significance, primary AML cells with dichotomized levels of TRIB2 transcripts were evaluated in terms of their xenoengraftment potential, an assay reported to correlate with disease aggressiveness observed in humans. A small cohort of analysed samples with higher TRIB2 expression did not associate with preferential leukaemic cell engraftment in highly immune-deficient mice, hence, not predicting for an adverse prognosis. However, further experiments including a larger cohort of well characterized AML patients would be needed to clarify TRIB2 significance in the diagnostic setting. Collectively, these data support a functional role for TRIB2 in the maintenance of the oncogenic properties of human AML cells and suggest TRIB2 can be considered a rational therapeutic target. Proteasome inhibition has emerged as an attractive target for the development of novel anti-cancer therapies and results from translational research and clinical trials support the idea that proteasome inhibitors should be considered in the treatment of AML. The present study argued that proteasome inhibition would effectively inhibit the function of TRIB2 by abrogating C/EBPα p42 protein degradation and that it would be an effective pharmacological targeting strategy in TRIB2-positive AMLs. Here, a number of cell models expressing high levels of TRIB2 were successfully targeted by treatment with proteasome inhibitors, as demonstrated by multiple measurements that included increased cytotoxicity, inhibition of clonogenic growth and anti-AML activity in vivo. Mechanistically, it was shown that block of the TRIB2 degradative function led to an increase of C/EBPα p42 and that response was specific to the TRIB2-C/EBPα axis. Specificity was addressed by a panel of experiments showing that U937 cells (express detectable levels of endogenous TRIB2 and C/EBPα) treated with the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib (Brtz) displayed a higher cytotoxic response upon TRIB2 overexpression and that ectopic expression of C/EBPα rescued cell death. Additionally, in C/EBPα-negative leukaemia cells, K562 and Kasumi 1, Brtz-induced toxicity was not increased following TRIB2 overexpression supporting the specificity of the compound on the TRIB2-C/EBPα axis. Together these findings provide pre-clinical evidence that TRIB2- expressing AML cells can be pharmacologically targeted with proteasome inhibition due, in part, to blockage of the TRIB2 proteolytic function on C/EBPα p42. A large body of evidence indicates that AML arises through the stepwise acquisition of genetic and epigenetic changes. Mass spectrometry data has identified an interaction between TRIB2 and the epigenetic regulator Protein Arginine Methyltransferase 5 (PRMT5). Following assessment of TRIB2‟s role in AML cell survival and effective targeting of the TRIB2-C/EBPα degradation pathway, a putative TRIB2/PRMT5 cooperation was investigated in order to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular network in which TRIB2 acts as a potent myeloid oncogene. First, a microarray data set was interrogated for PRMT5 expression levels and the primary enzyme responsible for symmetric dimethylation was found to be transcribed at significantly higher levels in AML patients when compared to healthy controls. Next, depletion of PRMT5 in the U937 cell line was shown to reduce the transformative phenotype in the high expressing TRIB2 AML cells, which suggests that PRMT5 and TRIB2 may cooperate to maintain the leukaemogenic potential. Importantly, PRMT5 was identified as a TRIB2-interacting protein by means of a protein tagging approach to purify TRIB2 complexes from 293T cells. These findings trigger further research aimed at understanding the underlying mechanism and the functional significance of this interplay. In summary, the present study provides experimental evidence that TRIB2 has an important oncogenic role in human AML maintenance and, importantly in such a molecularly heterogeneous disease, provides the rational basis to consider proteasome inhibition as an effective targeting strategy for AML patients with high TRIB2 expression. Finally, the identification of PRMT5 as a TRIB2-interacting protein opens a new level of regulation to consider in AML. This work may contribute to our further understanding and therapeutic strategies in acute leukaemias.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Q Science (General)