Theses Doctoral

Mechanisms and therapeutic targeting of NT5C2 mutations in relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Dieck, Chelsea

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is an aggressive hematologic malignancy that results from the unregulated growth of B-cell and T-cell lymphoid progenitors. Despite the implementation of risk-stratification and improved multi-agent therapeutic regimens, 20% of pediatric and 50% of adult patients fail to achieve remission and end up relapsing. NT5C2 (5’ cytosolic nucleotidase II) is the most frequently mutated gene specifically found in relapsed ALL. NT5C2 mutations are present in 20% of relapsed T-ALLs and 3-10% of relapsed B-ALLs and present as heterozygous gain of function alleles exhibiting increased nucleotidase activity. As NT5C2 can dephosphorylate and inactivate the cytotoxic metabolites generated by 6-mercaptopurine, a chemotherapy used in the treatment of ALL, these NT5C2 activating mutations can contribute to thiopurine chemotherapy resistance (Tzoneva, Perez-Garcia et al. 2013).
Here we perform an extensive structure-function study to understand how relapse-associated NT5C2 mutations result in increased nucleotidase activity and contribute to chemotherapy resistance in ALL. Crystallization of 15 NT5C2 WT and mutant structures as well as enzymatic, structural modeling, and genetic screens identified three regulatory mechanisms of NT5C2, which are disrupted by these gain of function alleles. Class I NT5C2 mutations lock the protein in an active configuration through stabilization of the helixA region, which allows for substrate processing and catalysis. Class II NT5C2 mutations disrupt an intramolecular switch off domain involving the arm region and the intermonomeric positively charged pocket. And a single C-terminus truncating mutant creates a third class of mutations, which show increased nucleotidase activity due to the loss of the C-terminus blockade against allosteric activation. These studies provide new insight into the regulatory controls that mediate NT5C2 activity providing a framework for the development of targeted inhibitors for the treatment of relapsed ALL.
In addition to looking at relapse associated NT5C2 mutations on a structural level, we also explored how NT5C2 mutations shape the clonal architecture and evolutionary dynamics during tumor initiation and disease progression in ALL. To formally address these questions, we developed a murine NOTCH1-driven T-ALL with conditional knock-in of the Nt5c2R367Q mutation, the most recurrent mutation found in relapsed ALL, from the endogenous locus. Using this model, we confirmed that Nt5c2+/R367Q lymphoblasts show increased resistance to 6-MP in vitro and in vivo. We also found that Nt5c2+/R367Q mutant lymphoblasts exhibit impaired cell fitness and decreased leukemia initiating cell capacity. Metabolomic profiling and guanosine rescue experiments show that this decrease in cell fitness is due to excess clearance of purine metabolites out of the cell as a result of deregulated Nt5c2 nucleotidase activity. However, in the context of 6-MP therapy, Nt5c2+/R367Q mutant cells are positively selected for in mixed population studies in vitro and in vivo. These results identify a clear selective advantage for NT5C2 mutant cells in the context of 6-MP chemotherapy. In addition, NT5C2 mutant chemoresistant cells show collateral sensitivity to inhibition of inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) with mizoribine, which further disrupts guanosine production pointing to a potentially selective therapy against NT5C2 mutant cells.
We also show here the initial development of a small molecule NT5C2 inhibitor for the treatment of relapsed ALL. Using a malachite green based NT5C2 nucleotidase assay, we performed a small molecule high throughput assay and identified HTP_2 as a lead compound with low micromolar inhibitory activity against NT5C2 R367Q mutant recombinant protein. HTP_2 can reverse 6-MP resistance in Nt5c2+/R367Q mouse lymphoblasts and NT5C2 R29Q mutant expressing human cell lines. Interestingly, HTP_2 treatment also results in increased sensitivity to 6-MP therapy in NT5C2 wild-type cells, suggesting a role for wild-type NT5C2 activity in the clearance of 6-MP and supporting a potential therapeutic use for NT5C2 inhibitors in potentiating the effects of 6-MP based chemotherapy in NT5C2 wild-type cells as well. NT5C2 knockdown cells and Nt5c2 knockout mice show no apparent toxicities suggesting that systemic inhibition of NT5C2 could be fairly well tolerated. In all, this work presents a framework for the development of a high affinity NT5C2 inhibitor for the reversal of 6-MP resistance in relapsed ALL patients.
These studies presented here address the role of NT5C2 mutant proteins as drivers of resistance and as therapeutic targets in relapsed ALL. Improved understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for increased NT5C2 nucleotidase activity and on the process of clonal evolution during disease progression provide important insight into the mechanism driving ALL resistance and relapse. The identification of IMPDH inhibition as a collateral vulnerability in NT5C2 mutant ALL cells and the development of a first-in-class NT5C2 inhibitor serve as framework for the development of new combination therapies aimed at curtailing the emergence of these thiopurine-resistant relapse driving clones in ALL.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Ferrando, Adolfo A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 9, 2019