T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is an aggressive malignancy of thymocytes. Using a transgenic screen in zebrafish, thymocyte selection-associated high mobility group box protein (TOX) was uncovered as a collaborating oncogenic driver that accelerated T-ALL onset by expanding the initiating pool of transformed clones and elevating genomic instability. TOX is highly expressed in a majority of human T-ALL and is required for proliferation and continued xenograft growth in mice. Using a wide array of functional analyses, we uncovered that TOX binds directly to KU70/80 and suppresses recruitment of this complex to DNA breaks to inhibit nonhomologous end joining (NHEJ) repair. Impaired NHEJ is well known to cause genomic instability, including development of T-cell malignancies in KU70- and KU80-deficient mice. Collectively, our work has uncovered important roles for TOX in regulating NHEJ by elevating genomic instability during leukemia initiation and sustaining leukemic cell proliferation following transformation.Significance: TOX is an HMG box-containing protein that has important roles in T-ALL initiation and maintenance. TOX inhibits the recruitment of KU70/KU80 to DNA breaks, thereby inhibiting NHEJ repair. Thus, TOX is likely a dominant oncogenic driver in a large fraction of human T-ALL and enhances genomic instability. Cancer Discov; 7(11); 1336-53. ©2017 AACR.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1201.
©2017 American Association for Cancer Research.