Hypoxia inducible transcription factors (HIFs) are the main regulators of adaptive responses to hypoxia and are often activated in solid tumors, but their role in leukemia is less clear. In acute myeloid leukemia (AML), in particular, controversial new findings indicate that HIF-1α can act either as an oncogene or a tumor suppressor gene, and this may depend on the stage of leukemia development and/or the AML sub-type.In this study, we find that HIF-1α promotes leukemia progression in the acute monocytic leukemia sub-type of AML through activation of an invasive phenotype. By applying a list of validated HIF-1α-target genes to different AML sub-types, we identified a HIF-1α signature that typifies acute monocytic leukemia when compared with all other AML sub-types. We validated expression of this signature in cell lines and primary cells from AML patients. Interestingly, this signature is enriched for genes that control cell motility at different levels. As a consequence, inhibiting HIF-1α impaired leukemia cell migration, chemotaxis, invasion and transendothelial migration in vitro, and this resulted in impaired bone marrow homing and leukemia progression in vivo. Our data suggest that in acute monocytic leukemia an active HIF-1α-dependent pro-invasive pathway mediates the ability of leukemic cells to migrate and invade extramedullary sites and may be targeted to reduce leukemia dissemination.
Keywords: HIF-1α; acute monocytic leukemia; invasion; motility; self-renewal.