Hox genes modulate the properties of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and reacquired Hox expression in progenitors contributes to leukemogenesis. Here, our transcriptome and DNA methylome analyses revealed that Hoxb cluster and retinoid signaling genes are predominantly enriched in LT-HSCs, and this coordinate regulation of Hoxb expression is mediated by a retinoid-dependent cis-regulatory element, distal element RARE (DERARE). Deletion of the DERARE reduced Hoxb expression, resulting in changes to many downstream signaling pathways (e.g., non-canonical Wnt signaling) and loss of HSC self-renewal and reconstitution capacity. DNA methyltransferases mediate DNA methylation on the DERARE, leading to reduced Hoxb cluster expression. Acute myeloid leukemia patients with DNMT3A mutations exhibit DERARE hypomethylation, elevated HOXB expression, and adverse outcomes. CRISPR-Cas9-mediated specific DNA methylation at DERARE attenuated HOXB expression and alleviated leukemogenesis. Collectively, these findings demonstrate pivotal roles for retinoid signaling and the DERARE in maintaining HSCs and preventing leukemogenesis by coordinate regulation of Hoxb genes.
Keywords: CRISPR-Cas9; DNA methylation; DNMT3A mutation; Hox genes; Hoxb cluster; acute myeloid leukemia; cis-regulatory element; epigenome editing; hematopoietic stem cells; non-canonical Wnt signaling.
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