A Multiplex CRISPR-Screen Identifies PLA2G4A as Prognostic Marker and Druggable Target for HOXA9 and MEIS1 Dependent AML.

HOXA9 and MEIS1 are frequently upregulated in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), including those with MLL-rearrangement. Because of their pivotal role in hemostasis, HOXA9 and MEIS1 appear non-druggable. We, thus, interrogated gene expression data of pre-leukemic (overexpressing Hoxa9) and leukemogenic (overexpressing Hoxa9 and Meis1; H9M) murine cell lines to identify cancer vulnerabilities. Through gene expression analysis and gene set enrichment analyses, we compiled a list of 15 candidates for functional validation. Using a novel lentiviral multiplexing approach, we selected and tested highly active sgRNAs to knockout candidate genes by CRISPR/Cas9, and subsequently identified a H9M cell growth dependency on the cytosolic phospholipase A2 (PLA2G4A). Similar results were obtained by shRNA-mediated suppression of Pla2g4a. Remarkably, pharmacologic inhibition of PLA2G4A with arachidonyl trifluoromethyl ketone (AACOCF3) accelerated the loss of H9M cells in bulk cultures. Additionally, AACOCF3 treatment of H9M cells reduced colony numbers and colony sizes in methylcellulose. Moreover, AACOCF3 was highly active in human AML with MLL rearrangement, in which PLA2G4A was significantly higher expressed than in AML patients without MLL rearrangement, and is sufficient as an independent prognostic marker. Our work, thus, identifies PLA2G4A as a prognostic marker and potential therapeutic target for H9M-dependent AML with MLL-rearrangement.


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