Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is characterized by disordered DNA methylation, suggesting these epigenetic changes might play a critical role in disease onset and progression. The methyltransferase DNMT3A is a key regulator of DNA methylation. Although DNMT3A somatic mutations in CLL are rare, we found that low DNMT3A expression is associated with more aggressive disease. A conditional knockout mouse model showed that homozygous depletion of Dnmt3a from B cells results in the development of CLL with 100% penetrance at a median age of onset of 5.3 months, and heterozygous Dnmt3a depletion yields a disease penetrance of 89% with a median onset at 18.5 months, confirming its role as a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor. B1a cells were confirmed as the cell of origin of disease in this model, and Dnmt3a depletion resulted in focal hypomethylation and activation of Notch and Myc signaling. Amplification of chromosome 15 containing the Myc gene was detected in all CLL mice tested, and infiltration of high-Myc–expressing CLL cells in the spleen was observed. Notably, hyperactivation of Notch and Myc signaling was exclusively observed in the Dnmt3a CLL mice, but not in three other CLL mouse models tested (Sf3b1-Atm, Ikzf3, and MDR), and Dnmt3adepleted CLL were sensitive to pharmacologic inhibition of Notch signaling in vitro and in vivo. Consistent with these findings, human CLL samples with lower DNMT3A expression were more sensitive to Notch inhibition than those with higher DNMT3A expression. Altogether, these results suggest that Dnmt3a depletion induces CLL that is highly dependent on activation of Notch and Myc signaling.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research