Rearrangements that drive ectopic MEF2C expression have recurrently been found in patients with human early thymocyte progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP-ALL). Here, we show high levels of MEF2C expression in patients with ETP-ALL. Using both in vivo and in vitro models of ETP-ALL, we demonstrate that elevated MEF2C expression blocks NOTCH-induced T cell differentiation while promoting a B-lineage program. MEF2C activates a B cell transcriptional program in addition to RUNX1, GATA3, and LMO2; upregulates the IL-7R; and boosts cell survival by upregulation of BCL2. MEF2C and the Notch pathway, therefore, demarcate opposite regulators of B- or T-lineage choices, respectively. Enforced MEF2C expression in mouse or human progenitor cells effectively blocks early T cell differentiation and promotes the development of biphenotypic lymphoid tumors that coexpress CD3 and CD19, resembling human mixed phenotype acute leukemia. Salt-inducible kinase (SIK) inhibitors impair MEF2C activity and alleviate the T cell developmental block. Importantly, this sensitizes cells to prednisolone treatment. Therefore, SIK-inhibiting compounds such as dasatinib are potentially valuable additions to standard chemotherapy for human ETP-ALL.
Kirsten Canté-Barrett, Mariska T. Meijer, Valentina Cordo’, Rico Hagelaar, Wentao Yang, Jiyang Yu, Willem K. Smits, Marloes E. Nulle, Joris P. Jansen, Rob Pieters, Jun J. Yang, Jody J. Haigh, Steven Goossens, Jules P.P. Meijerink