In acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chemotherapy resistance remains prevalent and poorly understood. Using functional proteomics of patient AML specimens, we identified MEF2C S222 phosphorylation as a specific marker of primary chemoresistance. We found that Mef2cS222A/S222Aknock-in mutant mice engineered to block MEF2C phosphorylation exhibited normal hematopoiesis, but were resistant to leukemogenesis induced by MLL–AF9. MEF2C phosphorylation was required for leukemia stem cell maintenance and induced by MARK kinases in cells. Treatment with the selective MARK/SIK inhibitor MRT199665 caused apoptosis and conferred chemosensitivity in MEF2C-activated human AML cell lines and primary patient specimens, but not those lacking MEF2C phosphorylation. These findings identify kinase-dependent dysregulation of transcription factor control as a determinant of therapy response in AML, with immediate potential for improved diagnosis and therapy for this disease. SIGNIFICANCE: Functional proteomics identifies phosphorylation of MEF2C in the majority of primary chemotherapy-resistant AML. Kinase-dependent dysregulation of this transcription factor confers susceptibility to MARK/SIK kinase inhibition in preclinical models, substantiating its clinical investigation for improved diagnosis and therapy of AML.
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