Mutant RAS oncoproteins activate signaling molecules that drive oncogenesis in multiple human tumors including acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). However, the specific functions of these pathways in AML are unclear, thwarting the rational application of targeted therapeutics. To elucidate the downstream functions of activated NRAS in AML, we used a murine model that harbors Mll-AF9 and a tetracycline-repressible, activated NRAS (NRASG12V). Using computational approaches to explore our gene-expression data sets, we found that NRASG12V enforced the leukemia self-renewal gene-expression signature and was required to maintain an MLL-AF9- and Myb-dependent leukemia self-renewal gene-expression program. NRASG12V was required for leukemia self-renewal independent of its effects on growth and survival. Analysis of the gene-expression patterns of leukemic subpopulations revealed that the NRASG12V-mediated leukemia self-renewal signature is preferentially expressed in the leukemia stem cell-enriched subpopulation. In a multiplexed analysis of RAS-dependent signaling, Mac-1Low cells, which harbor leukemia stem cells, were preferentially sensitive to NRASG12V withdrawal. NRASG12V maintained leukemia self-renewal through mTOR and MEK pathway activation, implicating these pathways as potential targets for cancer stem cell-specific therapies. Together, these experimental results define a RAS oncogene-driven function that is critical for leukemia maintenance and represents a novel mechanism of oncogene addiction.
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© 2014 by The American Society of Hematology.