In this report, we show that expression of a NUP98-PHF23 (NP23) fusion, associated with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in humans, leads to myeloid, erythroid, T-cell, and B-cell leukemia in mice. The leukemic and preleukemic tissues display a stem cell-like expression signature, including Hoxa, Hoxb, and Meis1 genes. The PHF23 plant homeodomain (PHD) motif is known to bind to H3K4me3 residues, and chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments demonstrated that the NP23 protein binds to chromatin at a specific subset of H3K4me3 sites, including at Hoxa, Hoxb, and Meis1. Treatment of NP23 cells with disulfiram, which inhibits the binding of PHD motifs to H3K4me3, rapidly and selectively killed NP23-expressing myeloblasts; cell death was preceded by decreased expression of Hoxa, Hoxb, and Meis1. Furthermore, AML driven by a related fusion gene, NUP98-JARID1A (NJL), was also sensitive to disulfiram. Thus, the NP23 mouse provides a platform to evaluate compounds that disrupt binding of oncogenic PHD proteins to H3K4me3. Significance: NP23 and NJL belong to a subset of chromatin-modifying fusion oncoproteins that cause leukemia characterized by overexpression of Hoxa and Meis1 genes. Inhibition of NP23 binding to H3K4me3 at Hoxa and Meis1 loci by disulfiram, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug, leads to leukemic cell death, demonstrating the feasibility of targeting this subset of oncoproteins.
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