The Histone Demethylase KDM1A Sustains the Oncogenic Potential of MLL-AF9 Leukaemia Stem Cells

  • William Harris

Student thesis: Phd


Rearrangements involving the mixed lineage leukaemia (MLL) gene are found in 5-10% of human leukaemias and are likely propagated by a deregulated self renewing pool of leukaemia stem cells (LSCs). Targeting of the LSC pool represents a key novel strategy for the treatment of AML. In recent years epigenetic dysfunction has been identified as a key driving factor in a range of solid tumours and haematological malignancies. Evidence for this includes identification of mutations in the genes coding for critical epigenetic modifiers, characterisation of localised regions of abnormal chromatin at oncogene or tumour suppressor genes and the efficacious use of epigenetic-targeted therapies already present in the clinic.The data submitted in this thesis identify the histone demethylase KDM1A as a critical regulator of LSC potential in MLL-AF9 acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Of all the histone demethylases, we found that only Kdm1a expression correlated positively and significantly with LSC frequency in murine models of human MLL fusion AML. Genetic knockdown or Cre-mediated excision of Kdm1a resulted in loss of LSC potential, reduced expression of LSC maintenance transcriptional programs and induction of macrophage differentiation in MLL-AF9 cells. These effects were phenocopied by chemical inhibition of KDM1A using the monoamine oxidase inhibitor tranylcypromine (TCP), as well as novel TCP analogues which inhibit KDM1A with greater potency and selectivity. These results were seen in murine, human cell line and primary patient cells harbouring MLL rearrangements. Global transcriptome and epigenome analyses revealed a key role for KDM1A in maintaining the histone three lysine four (H3K4) methylation status at highly expressed MLL-AF9-bound genes. In vivo transplantation of Kdm1a knockdown MLL-AF9 cells conferred a significant survival advantage compared with control littermates. Similarly, TCP analogue treatment of mice transplanted with MLL-AF9 cells revealed a reduction in LSC potential of the donor-derived AML cells but little impact on normal recipient haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). Critically the clonogenic and repopulating potential of normal HSPCS, of both murine and human origin, was spared following either knockdown or chemical inhibition of KDM1A. Taken together, the data presented establish KDM1A as a potential therapeutic target in MLL fusion leukaemia.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTim Somervaille (Supervisor)


  • Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
  • Epigenetics
  • Stem Cells

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