NG2 antigen is involved in leukemia invasiveness and central nervous system infiltration in MLL-rearranged infant B-ALL
Mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL)-rearranged (MLLr) infant B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (iMLLr-B-ALL) has a dismal prognosis and is associated with a pro-B/mixed phenotype, therapy refractoriness and frequent central nervous system (CNS) disease/relapse. Neuron-glial antigen 2 (NG2) is specifically expressed in MLLr leukemias and is used in leukemia immunophenotyping because of its predictive value for MLLr acute leukemias. NG2 is involved in melanoma metastasis and brain development; however, its role in MLL-mediated leukemogenesis remains elusive. Here we evaluated whether NG2 distinguishes leukemia-initiating/propagating cells (L-ICs) and/or CNS-infiltrating cells (CNS-ICs) in iMLLr-B-ALL. Clinical data from the Interfant cohort of iMLLr-B-ALL demonstrated that high NG2 expression associates with lower event-free survival, higher number of circulating blasts and more frequent CNS disease/relapse. Serial xenotransplantation of primary MLL-AF4+ leukemias indicated that NG2 is a malleable marker that does not enrich for L-IC or CNS-IC in iMLLr-B-All. However, NG2 expression was highly upregulated in blasts infiltrating extramedullar hematopoietic sites and CNS, and specific blockage of NG2 resulted in almost complete loss of engraftment. Indeed, gene expression profiling of primary blasts and primografts revealed a migratory signature of NG2+ blasts. This study provides new insights on the biology of NG2 in iMLLr-B-ALL and suggests NG2 as a potential therapeutic target to reduce the risk of CNS disease/ relapse and to provide safer CNS-directed therapies for iMLLr-B-ALL.