Theses Doctoral

Microproteins and Epigenetic Remodeling in Cancer and Aging

Quinn, Stuart Aidan

The plant homeodomain 6 gene (PHF6) is frequently mutated in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL); however, its specific functional role in leukemia development remains to be established. Here, we show that loss of PHF6 is an early mutational event in leukemia transformation. Mechanistically, genetic inactivation of Phf6 in the hematopoietic system enhances hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) long-term self-renewal and hematopoietic recovery after chemotherapy by rendering Phf6 knockout HSCs more quiescent and less prone to stress-induced activation. Consistent with a leukemia-initiating tumor suppressor role, inactivation of Phf6 in hematopoietic progenitors lowers the threshold for the development of NOTCH1-induced T-ALL. Moreover, loss of Phf6 in leukemia lymphoblasts activates a leukemia stem cell transcriptional program and drives enhanced T-ALL leukemia-initiating cell activity. These results implicate Phf6 in the control of HSC homeostasis and long-term self-renewal and support a role for PHF6 loss as a driver of leukemia-initiating cell activity in T-ALL. Phf6 controls HSC homeostasis, leukemia initiation, and T-ALL leukemia-initiating cell self-renewal.

These results substantiate a role for PHF6 mutations as early events and drivers of leukemia stem cell activity in the pathogenesis of T-ALL. Further, in the hematopoietic system stem cell aging is characterized by accumulation HSCs with poor self-renewal capacity and myeloid biased differentiation. Despite improved appreciation of the cell intrinsic and cell extrinsic mechanisms driving age-associated HSC functional exhaustion, no interventions have proven effective in delaying HSC aging to date. Here, we show that genetic inactivation of the Phf6 prevents age- associated HSC functional decline. Immunophenotypic and single cell transcriptomics profiling demonstrated markedly decreased accumulation of immunophenotypically-defined HSCs, reduced myeloid bias and decreased upregulation of transcriptional programs associated with stem cell aging in old hematopoietic-specific Phf6 knockout mice. Functionally, Phf6 knockout HSCs from aged mice demonstrated increased hematopoietic reconstitution capacity and preservation of lymphoid differentiation potential. Mechanistically, analysis of long-term HSCs from old Phf6 knockout mice revealed reduced levels of ongoing DNA damage and downregulation of genotoxic stress-induced transcriptional signaturesconducive of HSC aging. These results identify Phf6 as an important epigenetic regulator of HSC aging, whose inactivation counters the functional deterioration of HSC activity induced with age.

Microprotein encoding genes are a class of genes which encode poly-peptide gene products comprised by 100 or fewer amino acids. Until recently, many such genes had been considered of low- or no-coding potential given the technical limitations associated with identification of such small proteins. However, recently prominent examples of microprotein encoding genes have been reported with a wide variety of regulatory functions. Therefore, we hypothesized that novel microprotein genes exist within the human genome with oncogenic and tumor suppressive roles. To test this hypothesis, we developed a pipeline for identification of microproteins based on conservation of the open reading frame. Leveraging PLATE-seq to generate a high-dimensional readout in a loss-of-function screen, we then screened for microproteins with potential tumor suppressive or oncogenic function. From this, we identified a brain- specific, 65 amino-acid microprotein encoded in within LINC00617 (TUNAR) which is conserved at the protein level across vertebrates.

We experimentally validated the protein-level expression of the TUNAR microprotein. In vitro and in vivo knockout and overexpression experiments demonstrate a role for TUNAR as a tumor suppressor in glioma. Specifically, we show that loss of Tunar in the mouse brain results in lower expression of Fermt1 and genes in the integrin signaling pathway. Consistently, overexpression of TUNAR in human glioblastoma multiforme cell lines significantly impeded cellular migration suggesting a role of Tunar in glioma cell dissemination. Finally, human glioma sequencing and copy number data were mined to determine the prognostic significance of the loss of TUNAR in human gliomas. These analyses demonstrated that copy number loss of TUNAR is associated with poor outcomes in lower grade gliomas and that TUNAR expression and glioma grade are strongly, negatively correlated suggesting that TUNAR likely has tumor suppressive effects in human glioma.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine
Thesis Advisors
Ferrando, Adolfo A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2021