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Blood. 2005 Nov 15;106(10):3559-66. Epub 2005 Jul 26.

Targeting MLL-AF4 with short interfering RNAs inhibits clonogenicity and engraftment of t(4;11)-positive human leukemic cells.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Interfaculty Institute for Cell Biology, Eberhard Karls University of Tuebingen, Germany.


The chromosomal translocation t(4;11) marks infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia associated with a particularly dismal prognosis. The leukemogenic role of the corresponding fusion gene MLL-AF4 is not well understood. We show that transient inhibition of MLL-AF4 expression with small interfering RNAs impairs the proliferation and clonogenicity of the t(4; 11)-positive human leukemic cell lines SEM and RS4;11. Reduction of mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL)-ALL-1 fused gene from chromosome 4 (AF4) levels induces apoptosis associated with caspase-3 activation and diminished BCL-X(L) expression. Suppression of MLL-AF4 is paralleled by a decreased expression of the homeotic genes HOXA7, HOXA9, and MEIS1. MLL-AF4 depletion inhibits expression of the stem-cell marker CD133, indicating hematopoietic differentiation. Transfection of leukemic cells with MLL-AF4 siRNAs reduces leukemia-associated morbidity and mortality in SCID mice that received a xenotransplant, suggesting that MLL-AF4 depletion negatively affects leukemia-initiating cells. Our findings demonstrate that MLL-AF4 is important for leukemic clonogenicity and engraftment of this highly aggressive leukemia. Targeted inhibition of MLL-AF4 fusion gene expression may lead to an effective and highly specific treatment of this therapy-resistant leukemia.

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