Protease-activated receptor-1 inhibits proliferation but enhances leukemia stem cell activity in acute myeloid leukemia

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Eradication of leukemia stem cells (LSCs) is the ultimate goal of treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We recently showed that the combined loss of Runx1/Cbfb inhibited the development of MLL-AF9-induced AML. However, c-Kit+/Gr-1- cells remained viable in Runx1/Cbfb-deleted cells, indicating that suppressing RUNX activity may not eradicate the most immature LSCs. In this study, we found upregulation of several hemostasis-related genes, including the thrombin-activatable receptor PAR-1 (protease-activated receptor-1), in Runx1/Cbfb-deleted MLL-AF9 cells. Similar to the effect of Runx1/Cbfb deletion, PAR-1 overexpression induced CDKN1A/p21 expression and attenuated proliferation in MLL-AF9 cells. To our surprise, PAR-1 deficiency also prevented leukemia development induced by a small number of MLL-AF9 leukemia stem cells (LSCs) in vivo. PAR-1 deficiency also reduced leukemogenicity of AML1-ETO-induced leukemia. Re-expression of PAR-1 in PAR-1-deficient cells combined with a limiting-dilution transplantation assay demonstrated the cell-dose-dependent role of PAR-1 in MLL-AF9 leukemia: PAR-1 inhibited rapid leukemic proliferation when there were a large number of LSCs, while a small number of LSCs required PAR-1 for their efficient growth. Mechanistically, PAR-1 increased the adherence properties of MLL-AF9 cells and promoted their engraftment to bone marrow. Taken together, these data revealed a multifaceted role for PAR-1 in leukemogenesis, and highlight this receptor as a potential target to eradicate primitive LSCs in AML.

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