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1.  Epigenetics Meets Genetics in Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Clinical Impact of a Novel Seven-Gene Score 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2013;32(6):548-556.
Molecular risk stratification of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is largely based on genetic markers. However, epigenetic changes, including DNA methylation, deregulate gene expression and may also have prognostic impact. We evaluated the clinical relevance of integrating DNA methylation and genetic information in AML.
Next-generation sequencing analysis of methylated DNA identified differentially methylated regions (DMRs) associated with prognostic mutations in older (≥ 60 years) cytogenetically normal (CN) patients with AML (n = 134). Genes with promoter DMRs and expression levels significantly associated with outcome were used to compute a prognostic gene expression weighted summary score that was tested and validated in four independent patient sets (n = 355).
In the training set, we identified seven genes (CD34, RHOC, SCRN1, F2RL1, FAM92A1, MIR155HG, and VWA8) with promoter DMRs and expression associated with overall survival (OS; P ≤ .001). Each gene had high DMR methylation and lower expression, which were associated with better outcome. A weighted summary expression score of the seven gene expression levels was computed. A low score was associated with a higher complete remission (CR) rate and longer disease-free survival and OS (P < .001 for all end points). This was validated in multivariable models and in two younger (< 60 years) and two older independent sets of patients with CN-AML. Considering the seven genes individually, the fewer the genes with high expression, the better the outcome. Younger and older patients with no genes or one gene with high expression had the best outcomes (CR rate, 94% and 87%, respectively; 3-year OS, 80% and 42%, respectively).
A seven-gene score encompassing epigenetic and genetic prognostic information identifies novel AML subsets that are meaningful for treatment guidance.
PMCID: PMC3918538  PMID: 24378410
2.  Clinical Role of microRNAs in Cytogenetically Normal Acute Myeloid Leukemia: miR-155 Upregulation Independently Identifies High-Risk Patients 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2013;31(17):2086-2093.
To evaluate the impact of miR-155 on the outcome of adults with cytogenetically normal (CN) acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in the context of other clinical and molecular prognosticators and to gain insight into the leukemogenic role of this microRNA.
Patients and Methods
We evaluated 363 patients with primary CN-AML. miR-155 levels were measured in pretreatment marrow and blood by NanoString nCounter assays that quantified the expression of the encoding gene MIR155HG. All molecular prognosticators were assessed centrally. miR-155–associated gene and microRNA expression profiles were derived using microarrays.
Considering all patients, high miR-155 expression was associated with a lower complete remission (CR) rate (P < .001) and shorter disease-free survival (P = .001) and overall survival (OS; P < .001) after adjusting for age. In multivariable analyses, high miR-155 expression remained an independent predictor for a lower CR rate (P = .007) and shorter OS (P < .001). High miR-155 expressers had approximately 50% reduction in the odds of achieving CR and 60% increase in the risk of death compared with low miR-155 expressers. Although high miR-155 expression was not associated with a distinct microRNA expression profile, it was associated with a gene expression profile enriched for genes involved in cellular mechanisms deregulated in AML (eg, apoptosis, nuclear factor-κB activation, and inflammation), thereby supporting a pivotal and unique role of this microRNA in myeloid leukemogenesis.
miR-155 expression levels are associated with clinical outcome independently of other strong clinical and molecular predictors. The availability of emerging compounds with antagonistic activity to microRNAs in the clinic provides the opportunity for future therapeutic targeting of miR-155 in AML.
PMCID: PMC3731981  PMID: 23650424
3.  Highly Elevated Serum Hepcidin in Patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia prior to and after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation: Does This Protect from Excessive Parenchymal Iron Loading? 
Advances in Hematology  2011;2011:491058.
Hepcidin is upregulated by inflammation and iron. Inherited (HFE genotype) and treatment-related factors (blood units (BU), Iron overload) affecting hepcidin (measured by C-ELISA) were studied in 42 consecutive patients with AML prior to and after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT). Results. Elevated serum ferritin pre- and post-HCT was present in all patients. Median hepcidin pre- and post-HCT of 358 and 398 ng/mL, respectively, were elevated compared to controls (median 52 ng/mL) (P < .0001). Liver and renal function, prior chemotherapies, and conditioning had no impact on hepcidin. Despite higher total BU after HCT compared to pretransplantation (P < .0005), pre- and posttransplant ferritin and hepcidin were similar. BU influenced ferritin (P = .001) and hepcidin (P = .001). No correlation of pre- or posttransplant hepcidin with pretransplant ferritin was found. HFE genotype did not influence hepcidin. Conclusions. Hepcidin is elevated in AML patients pre- and post-HCT due to transfusional iron-loading suggesting that hepcidin synthesis remains intact despite chemotherapy and HCT.
PMCID: PMC3112503  PMID: 21687645
4.  GAS6 expression identifies high-risk adult AML patients: potential implications for therapy 
Leukemia  2013;28(6):1252-1258.
Emerging data demonstrate important roles for the TYRO3/AXL/MERTK receptor tyrosine kinase (TAM RTK) family in diverse cancers. We investigated the prognostic relevance of GAS6 expression, encoding the common TAM RTK ligand, in 270 adults (n=71 aged <60 years; n=199 aged ≥60 years) with de novo cytogenetically normal acute myeloid leukemia (CN-AML). Patients expressing GAS6 (GAS6+), especially those aged ≥60 years, more often failed to achieve a complete remission (CR). In all patients, GAS6+ patients had shorter disease-free (DFS) and overall (OS) survival than patients without GAS6 expression (GAS6−). After adjusting for other prognostic markers, GAS6+ predicted CR failure (P=0.02), shorter DFS (P=0.004) and OS (P=0.04). To gain further biologic insights, we derived a GAS6-associated gene-expression signature (P<0.001) that in GAS6+ patients included overexpressed BAALC and MN1, known to confer adverse prognosis in CN-AML, and overexpressed CXCL12, encoding stromal cell-derived factor, and its receptor genes, CXCR4 and CXCR7. This study reports for the first time that GAS6 expression is an adverse prognostic marker in CN-AML. Although GAS6 decoy receptors are not yet available in the clinic for GAS6+ CN-AML therapy, potential alternative therapies targeting GAS6+-associated pathways, e.g., CXCR4 antagonists may be considered for GAS6+ patients to sensitize them to chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC4047202  PMID: 24326683
GAS6; acute myeloid leukemia; prognosis
5.  Intronic miR-3151 Within BAALC Drives Leukemogenesis by Deregulating the TP53 Pathway 
Science signaling  2014;7(321):ra36.
The BAALC/miR-3151 locus on chromosome 8q22 contains both the BAALC gene (for brain and acute leukemia, cytoplasmic) and miR-3151, which is located in intron 1 of BAALC. Older acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients with high expression of both miR-3151 and the BAALC mRNA transcript have a low survival prognosis, and miR-3151 and BAALC expression is associated with poor survival independently of each other. We found that miR-3151 functioned as the oncogenic driver of the BAALC/miR-3151 locus. Increased production of miR-3151 reduced the apoptosis and chemosensitivity of AML cell lines and increased leukemogenesis in mice. Disruption of the TP53-mediated apoptosis pathway occurred in leukemia cells overexpressing miR-3151 and the miR-3151 bound to the 3′ untranslated region of TP53. In contrast, BAALC alone had only limited oncogenic activity. We found that miR-3151 contains its own regulatory element, thus partly uncoupling miR-3151 expression from that of the BAALC transcript. Both genes were bound and stimulated by a complex of the transcription factors SP1 and nuclear factor κB (SP1/NF-κB). Disruption of SP1/NF-κB binding reduced both miR-3151 and BAALC expression. However, expression of only BAALC, but not miR-3151, was stimulated by the transcription factor RUNX1, suggesting a mechanism for the partly discordant expression of miR-3151 and BAALC observed in AML patients. Similar to the AML cells, in melanoma cell lines, overexpression of miR-3151 reduced the abundance of TP53, and knockdown of miR-3151 increased caspase activity, whereas miR-3151 overexpression reduced caspase activity. Thus, this oncogenic miR-3151 may also have a role in solid tumors.
PMCID: PMC4165404  PMID: 24736457
6.  Kinetics of iron removal by phlebotomy in patients with iron overload after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation 
Excess body iron could persist for years after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) with possible deleterious sequels. An iron depletive therapy with phlebotomy seems rational. Kinetics of iron removal by phlebotomy without erythropoietin support in non-thalassemic adult patients with iron overload after HCT and the impact of pre- and post-HCT hemochromatosis (HFE) genotype on iron mobilization were investigated. Patients and methods: Phlebotomy was initiated in 61 recipients of allografts due to hematologic malignancies (median age 48 years) after a median of 18 months. The prephlebotomy median serum ferritin (SF) was 1697ng/ml and the median number of blood transfusions 28 units. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)/aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphates (AP), and bilirubin were elevated in 55.7%, 64% and 11.5% patients respectively. HFE-genotype was elucidated by polymerase chain reaction using hybridization probes and melting curve analysis. Results: Phlebotomy was well-tolerated irrespective of age or conditioning. A negative iron balance in 80% of patients (median SF 1086 ng/ml) and a rise in hemoglobin were observed (p<0.0001). Higher transfusional burden and SF were associated with a greater iron mobilization per session (p=0.02). In 58% of patients, a plateau after an initial steady decline in SF was followed by a second decline under further phlebotomy. The improvement in ALT (p=0.002), AST (p=0.03), AP (p=0.01), and bilirubin (p<0.0001) did not correlate with the decline in SF. Mutant HFE-gene variants were detected in 14/55 (25%) pre-HCT and 22/55 (40%) patients post-HCT. Overall, dissimilar pre- and posttransplantational HFE-genotypes were detected in 20/55 (40%) patients. Posttransplantational mutant HFE variants correlated with a slower decline in SF (p=0.007). Conclusions: Phlebotomy is a convenient therapy of iron overload in survivors of HCT. A negative iron balance and a rise in hemoglobin were observed in the majority of patients. Liver dysfunction improved irrespective of SF reduction suggesting a probable rapid decline of the deleterious labile plasma iron. In recipients of grafts with mutant HFE variants a “mixed chimerism” of HFE in body tissues might be created with a change in the set point for iron regulation. The transient plateau in SF after an initial decline might reflect iron mobilization from various tissues.
PMCID: PMC3512175  PMID: 23226624
Iron overload; ferritin; phlebotomy; allogeneic HCT

Results 1-6 (6)