Megakaryoblastic leukemia 1 (MKL1) is a coactivator of serum response factor and together they regulate transcription of actin cytoskeleton genes. MKL1 is associated with hematologic malignancies and immunodeficiency, but its role in B cells is unexplored. Here we examined B cells from monozygotic triplets with an intronic deletion in MKL1, two of whom had been previously treated for Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). To investigate MKL1 and B-cell responses in the pathogenesis of HL, we generated Epstein-Barr virus-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines from the triplets and two controls. While cells from the patients with treated HL had a phenotype close to that of the healthy controls, cells from the undiagnosed triplet had increased MKL1 mRNA, increased MKL1 protein, and elevated expression of MKL1-dependent genes. This profile was associated with elevated actin content, increased cell spreading, decreased expression of CD11a integrin molecules, and delayed aggregation. Moreover, cells from the undiagnosed triplet proliferated faster, displayed a higher proportion of cells with hyperploidy, and formed large tumors in vivo This phenotype was reversible by inhibiting MKL1 activity. Interestingly, cells from the triplet treated for HL in 1985 contained two subpopulations: one with high expression of CD11a that behaved like control cells and the other with low expression of CD11a that formed large tumors in vivo similar to cells from the undiagnosed triplet. This implies that pre-malignant cells had re-emerged a long time after treatment. Together, these data suggest that dysregulated MKL1 activity participates in B-cell transformation and the pathogenesis of HL.
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