The role of Notch signaling in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is still under investigation. We have previously shown that high levels of Notch receptors and ligands could interfere with drug response. In this study, the protein expression of 79 AML blast samples collected from newly diagnosed patients was examined through flow cytometry. Gamma-secretase inhibitors were used in AML mouse xenograft models to evaluate the contribution of Notch pharmacological inhibition to mouse survival. We used univariate analysis for testing the correlation and/or association between protein expression and well-known prognostics markers. All the four receptors (Notch1-4) and some ligands (Jagged2, DLL-3) were highly expressed in less mature subtypes (M0-M1). Notch3, Notch4, and Jagged2 were overexpressed in an adverse cytogenetic risk group compared to good cytogenetic risk patients. Chi-square analysis revealed a positive association between the complete remission rate after induction therapy and weak expression of Notch2 and Notch3. We also found an association between low levels of Notch4 and Jagged2 and three-year remission following allogeneic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Accordingly, Kaplan-Meier analysis showed improved OS for patients lacking significant expression of Notch4, Jagged2, and DLL3. In vivo experiments in an AML mouse model highlighted both improved survival and a significant reduction of leukemia cell burden in the bone marrow of mice treated with the combination of Notch pan-inhibitors (GSIs) plus chemotherapy (Ara-C). Our results suggest that Notch can be useful as a prognostic marker and therapeutic target in AML.
Keywords: AML; Notch signaling; biomarkers.