Purpose: Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) are frequently deregulated in leukemia, yet the biological consequences of this deregulation remain elusive. The mechanisms underlying aberrant methylation, a hallmark of leukemia, are not fully understood. Here we investigated the role of RTKs in methylation abnormalities and characterized the hypomethylating activities of RTK inhibitors. Experimental Design: Whether and how RTKs regulate expression of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs), tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) as well as global and gene-specific DNA methylation were examined. The pharmacologic activities and mechanisms of actions of RTK inhibitors in vitro, ex vivo, in mice, and in nilotinib-treated leukemia patients were determined. Results: Upregulation of RTKs paralleled DNMT overexpression in leukemia cell lines and patient blasts. Knockdown of RTKs disrupted, whereas enforced expression increased DNMT expression and DNA methylation. Treatment with the RTK inhibitor, nilotinib, resulted in a reduction of Sp1-dependent DNMT1 expression, the diminution of global DNA methylation, and the upregulation of the p15INK4B gene through promoter hypomethylation in AML cell lines and patient blasts. This led to disruption of AML cell clonogenicity and promotion of cellular apoptosis without obvious changes in cell cycle. Importantly, nilotinib administration in mice and human patients with AML impaired expression of DNMTs followed by DNA hypomethylation, TSG re-expression, and leukemia regression. Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate RTKs as novel regulators of DNMT-dependent DNA methylation and define DNA methylation status in AML cells as a pharmacodynamic marker for their response to RTK-based therapy, providing new therapeutic avenues for RTK inhibitors in overcoming epigenetic abnormalities in leukemia.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported in part by Hormel Foundation and National Cancer Institute (Bethesda, MD) grants R01CA149623 and R21CA155915.
The authors wish to thank the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation for providing financial support and drug (Nilotinib) supply for the clinical trial.