Asxl1 loss cooperates with oncogenic Nras in mice to reprogram the immune microenvironment and drive leukemic transformation

Xiaona You, Fabao Liu, Moritz Binder, Alexis Vedder, Terra Lasho, Zhi Wen, Xin Gao, Evan Flietner, Adhithi Rajagopalan, Yun Zhou, Christy Finke, Abhishek Mangaonkar, Ruiqi Liao, Guangyao Kong, Erik A. Ranheim, Nathalie Droin, Anthony M. Hunter, Sergey Nikolaev, Maria Balasis, Omar Abdel-WahabRoss L. Levine, Britta Will, Kalyan Vara Ganesh Nadiminti, David Yang, Klaus Geissler, Eric Solary, Wei Xu, Eric Padron, Mrinal M. Patnaik, Jing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Mutations in chromatin regulator ASXL1 are frequently identified in myeloid malignancies, in particular ∼40% of patients with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). ASXL1 mutations are associated with poor prognosis in CMML and significantly co-occur with NRAS mutations. Here, we show that concurrent ASXL1 and NRAS mutations defined a population of CMML patients who had shorter leukemia-free survival than those with ASXL1 mutation only. Corroborating this human data, Asxl1−/− accelerated CMML progression and promoted CMML transformation to acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in NrasG12D/+ mice. NrasG12D/+;Asxl1−/− (NA) leukemia cells displayed hyperactivation of MEK/ERK signaling, increased global levels of H3K27ac, upregulation of Flt3. Moreover, we find that NA-AML cells overexpressed all the major inhibitory immune checkpoint ligands: programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1)/PD-L2, CD155, and CD80/CD86. Among them, overexpression of PD-L1 and CD86 correlated with upregulation of AP-1 transcription factors (TFs) in NA-AML cells. An AP-1 inhibitor or short hairpin RNAs against AP-1 TF Jun decreased PD-L1 and CD86 expression in NA-AML cells. Once NA-AML cells were transplanted into syngeneic recipients, NA-derived T cells were not detectable. Host-derived wild-type T cells overexpressed programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and T-cell immunoreceptor with immunoglobulin and ITIM domains (TIGIT) receptors, leading to a predominant exhausted T-cell phenotype. Combined inhibition of MEK and BET resulted in downregulation of Flt3 and AP-1 expression, partial restoration of the immune microenvironment, enhancement of CD8 T-cell cytotoxicity, and prolonged survival in NA-AML mice. Our study suggests that combined targeted therapy and immunotherapy may be beneficial for treating secondary AML with concurrent ASXL1 and NRAS mutations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1066-1079
Number of pages14
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 17 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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