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Haematologica. 2009 Jul;94(7):984-93. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2008.002436. Epub 2009 Jun 16.

The molecular biology of mixed lineage leukemia.

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Department of Genetics, University Erlangen, Erlangen, Germany.


Mixed lineage leukemia is a very aggressive blood cancer that predominantly occurs in pediatric patients. In contrast to other types of childhood acute leukemias, mixed lineage leukemia presents with a dismal prognosis and despite the availability of advanced treatment methods cure rates have stagnated over the last years. Mixed lineage leukemia is characterized by the presence of MLL fusion proteins that are the result of chromosomal translocations affecting the MLL gene at 11q23. These events juxtapose the amino-terminus of the histone methyltransferase MLL with a variety of different fusion partners that destroy normal histone methyltransferase function of MLL and replace it by heterologous functions contributed by the fusion partner. The resulting chimeras are transcriptional regulators that take control of targets normally controlled by MLL with the clustered HOX homeobox genes as prominent examples. Recent studies suggested that MLL fusion partners activate transcription by two different mechanisms. Some of these proteins are themselves chromatin modifiers that introduce histone acetylation whereas other fusion partners can recruit histone methyltransferases. In particular, histone H3 specific methylation at lysine 79 catalyzed by DOT1L has been recognized as a hallmark of chromatin activated by MLL fusion proteins. Interestingly, several frequent MLL fusion partners seem to coordinate DOT1L activity with a protein complex that stimulates the elongation phase of transcription by phosphorylating the carboxy-terminal repeat domain of RNA polymerase II. The discovery of these novel enzymatic activities that are essentially involved in MLL fusion protein function presents potential new targets for a rational drug development.

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