Superenhancer Analysis Defines Novel Epigenomic Subtypes of Non-APL AML, Including an RARα Dependency Targetable by SY-1425, a Potent and Selective RARα Agonist

Cancer Discov. 2017 Oct;7(10):1136-1153. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-17-0399. Epub 2017 Jul 20.


We characterized the enhancer landscape of 66 patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), identifying 6 novel subgroups and their associated regulatory loci. These subgroups are defined by their superenhancer (SE) maps, orthogonal to somatic mutations, and are associated with distinct leukemic cell states. Examination of transcriptional drivers for these epigenomic subtypes uncovers a subset of patients with a particularly strong SE at the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RARA) gene locus. The presence of a RARA SE and concomitant high levels of RARA mRNA predisposes cell lines and ex vivo models to exquisite sensitivity to a selective agonist of RARα, SY-1425 (tamibarotene). Furthermore, only AML patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models with high RARA mRNA were found to respond to SY-1425. Mechanistically, we show that the response to SY-1425 in RARA-high AML cells is similar to that of acute promyelocytic leukemia treated with retinoids, characterized by the induction of known retinoic acid response genes, increased differentiation, and loss of proliferation.Significance: We use the SE landscape of primary human AML to elucidate transcriptional circuitry and identify novel cancer vulnerabilities. A subset of patients were found to have an SE at RARA, which is predictive for response to SY-1425, a potent and selective RARα agonist, in preclinical models, forming the rationale for its clinical investigation in biomarker-selected patients. Cancer Discov; 7(10); 1136-53. ©2017 AACR.See related commentary by Wang and Aifantis, p. 1065.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1047.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Benzoates / administration & dosage*
  • Benzoates / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Epigenomics / methods*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Mice
  • Retinoic Acid Receptor alpha / agonists
  • Retinoic Acid Receptor alpha / genetics*
  • Tetrahydronaphthalenes / administration & dosage*
  • Tetrahydronaphthalenes / pharmacology
  • Up-Regulation
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Benzoates
  • RARA protein, human
  • Retinoic Acid Receptor alpha
  • Tetrahydronaphthalenes
  • tamibarotene