Developmental transcription programs are epigenetically regulated by the competing actions of polycomb and trithorax (TrxG) protein complexes, which repress and activate genes, respectively. Ewing sarcoma is a developmental tumor that is associated with widespread de-regulation of developmental transcription programs, including HOX programs. Posterior HOXD genes are abnormally over-expressed by Ewing sarcoma and HOXD13, in particular, contributes to the tumorigenic phenotype. In MLL1 fusion-driven leukemia, aberrant activation of HOXA genes is epigenetically mediated by the TrxG complex and HOXA gene expression and leukemogenesis are critically dependent on the protein-protein interaction between the TrxG proteins MLL1 and menin. Based on these data, we investigated whether posterior HOXD gene activation and Ewing sarcoma tumorigenicity are similarly mediated by and dependent on MLL1 and/or menin. Our findings demonstrate that Ewing sarcomas express high levels of both MLL1 and menin and that continued expression of both proteins is required for maintenance of tumorigenicity. In addition, exposure of Ewing sarcoma cells to MI-503, an inhibitor of the MLL1-menin protein-protein interaction developed for MLL1-fusion driven leukemia, leads to loss of tumorigenicity and down-regulated expression of the posterior HOXD gene cluster. Together these data demonstrate an essential role for MLL1 and menin in mediating tumor maintenance and posterior HOXD gene activation in Ewing sarcoma. A critical dependency of these tumors on the MLL1-menin interaction presents a potentially novel therapeutic target.
Keywords: Ewing sarcoma; HOX; MLL; menin; trithorax.