DOT1L as a therapeutic target for the treatment of DNMT3A-mutant acute myeloid leukemia

Blood. 2016 Aug 18;128(7):971-81. doi: 10.1182/blood-2015-11-684225. Epub 2016 Jun 22.


Mutations in DNA methyltransferase 3A (DNMT3A) are common in acute myeloid leukemia and portend a poor prognosis; thus, new therapeutic strategies are needed. The likely mechanism by which DNMT3A loss contributes to leukemogenesis is altered DNA methylation and the attendant gene expression changes; however, our current understanding is incomplete. We observed that murine hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in which Dnmt3a had been conditionally deleted markedly overexpress the histone 3 lysine 79 (H3K79) methyltransferase, Dot1l. We demonstrate that Dnmt3a(-/-) HSCs have increased H3K79 methylation relative to wild-type (WT) HSCs, with the greatest increases noted at DNA methylation canyons, which are regions highly enriched for genes dysregulated in leukemia and prone to DNA methylation loss with Dnmt3a deletion. These findings led us to explore DOT1L as a therapeutic target for the treatment of DNMT3A-mutant AML. We show that pharmacologic inhibition of DOT1L resulted in decreased expression of oncogenic canyon-associated genes and led to dose- and time-dependent inhibition of proliferation, induction of apoptosis, cell-cycle arrest, and terminal differentiation in DNMT3A-mutant cell lines in vitro. We show in vivo efficacy of the DOT1L inhibitor EPZ5676 in a nude rat xenograft model of DNMT3A-mutant AML. DOT1L inhibition was also effective against primary patient DNMT3A-mutant AML samples, reducing colony-forming capacity (CFC) and inducing terminal differentiation in vitro. These studies suggest that DOT1L may play a critical role in DNMT3A-mutant leukemia. With pharmacologic inhibitors of DOT1L already in clinical trials, DOT1L could be an immediately actionable therapeutic target for the treatment of this poor prognosis disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenosine / pharmacology
  • Adenosine / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic / drug effects
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / enzymology*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Methylation
  • Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Phenylurea Compounds / pharmacology
  • Phenylurea Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Rats
  • Time Factors
  • Tumor Stem Cell Assay
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • DNMT3A protein, human
  • Dnmt3a protein, mouse
  • EPZ004777
  • Histones
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • DOT1L protein, human
  • Dot1l protein, mouse
  • Methyltransferases
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases
  • DNA Methyltransferase 3A
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Lysine
  • Adenosine