, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 428-437
Date: 29 Sep 2012

Disordered epigenetic regulation in MLL-related leukemia


Leukemias bearing rearrangements of chromosome 11q23 are of particular interest due to their unique clinical and biological characteristics. 11q23 abnormalities occur in up to 70 % of infant leukemias, and about 10 % of adult acute myelogenous leukemias (AML). Two major rearrangements of the MLL gene are found in MLL-related leukemia. The most common of these is balanced translocations in which the N-terminal portion of MLL is fused to the C-terminus of the translocation partner. To date, nearly 100 different chromosome bands have been described in rearrangements involving MLL, and more than 70 known fusion partners of MLL have been cloned and characterized at the molecular level. Another major aberration of the MLL gene creates a repeat within the N-terminal MLL resulting in an internal partial tandem duplication (PTD). As a consequence, an extra amino-terminus is added in-frame to full-length MLL, resulting in leukemogenic MLL-PTD. MLL-PTD occurs predominantly in myeloid dysplasia syndromes, secondary AML (s-AML), and de novo AML. The presence of an MLL rearrangement generally confers a poor prognosis. MLL fusions and MLL-PTD are transcriptional regulators that take control of targets normally controlled by MLL, with the clustered HOX homeobox genes as prominent examples. Several epigenetic regulators that modify DNA or histones have been implicated in MLL fusion driven leukemogenesis, including DNA methylation, histone acetylation, and histone methylation. Recently, the histone methyltransferase DOT1L, the bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) family member BRD4, and the MLL-interacting protein Menin have emerged as important mediators of MLL fusion-mediated leukemic transformation. The clinical development of targeted inhibitors of these epigenetic regulators has heralded promise for the treatment of MLL fusion leukemia. Although the biological function and molecular mechanism for MLL-PTD remains largely unknown, based on the primary protein structure of MLL-PTD and the knowledge gained so far from MLL fusions, newly developed inhibitors of epigenetic regulators could potentially also prove effective in the treatment of MLL-PTD related leukemias.