DHH-RHEBL1 fusion transcript: a novel recurrent feature in the new landscape of pediatric CBFA2T3-GLIS2-positive acute myeloid leukemia.
Masetti R, Togni M, Astolfi A, Pigazzi M, Manara E, Indio V, Rizzari C, Rutella S, Basso G, Pession A, Locatelli F.
Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a clinically and genetically heterogeneous malignant disease. Despite improvements in outcome over the past decades, the current survival rate still is approximately 60-70%. Cytogenetic, recurrent genetic abnormalities and early response to induction treatment are the main factors predicting clinical outcome. While the majority of children carry recurrent chromosomal translocations, 20% of patients do not show any recognizable cytogenetic alteration and are defined to have cytogenetically normal AML (CN-AML). This subset of patients is characterized by a significant heterogeneity in clinical outcome, which is influenced by factors only recently started to be identified. In this respect, genome-wide analyses have been used with the aim of defining the full array of genetic lesions in CN-AML. Recently, through whole-transcriptome massively parallel sequencing of seven cases of pediatric CN-AML, we identified a novel recurrent CBFA2T3-GLIS2 fusion, predicting poorer outcome. However, since the expression of CBFA2T3-GLIS2 fusion in mice is not sufficient for leukemogenesis, we speculated that further unknown abnormalities could contribute to both cancer transformation and response to treatment. Thus, we analyzed, by whole-transcriptome sequencing, 4 CBFA2T3-GLIS2-positive patients, as well as 4 CN-AML patients. We identified a new fusion transcript in the CBFA2T3-GLIS2-positive patients, involving Desert Hedgehog (DHH), a member of Hedgehog family, and Ras Homologue Enrich in Brain Like 1 (RHEBL1), a gene coding for a small GTPase of the Ras family. Through the screening of a validation cohort of 55 additional pediatric AML patients, we globally detected DHH-RHEBL1 fusion in 8 out of 20 (40%) CBFA2T3-GLIS2-rearranged patients. Gene expression analysis performed on RNA-seq data revealed that DHH-RHEBL1-positive patients exhibited a specific signature. These 8 patients had an 8-year overall survival worse than that of the remaining 12 CBFA2T3-GLIS2-rearranged patients not harboring DHH-RHEBL1 fusion (25% vs 55%, respectively, P=0.1). Taken together, these findings are unprecedented and indicate that the DHH-RHEBL1 fusion transcript is a novel recurrent feature in the changing landscape of CBFA2T3-GLIS2-positive childhood AML. Moreover, it could be instrumental in the identification of a subgroup of CBFA2T3-GLIS2-positive patients with a very poor outcome.