All-trans retinoic acid enhances, and a pan-RAR antagonist counteracts, the stem cell promoting activity of EVI1 in acute myeloid leukemia

Cell Death Dis. 2019 Dec 10;10(12):944. doi: 10.1038/s41419-019-2172-2.


Ecotropic virus integration site 1 (EVI1), whose overexpression characterizes a particularly aggressive subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), enhanced anti-leukemic activities of all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) in cell lines and patient samples. However, the drivers of leukemia formation, therapy resistance, and relapse are leukemic stem cells (LSCs), whose properties were hardly reflected in these experimental setups. The present study was designed to address the effects of, and interactions between, EVI1 and retinoids in AML LSCs. We report that Evi1 reduced the maturation of leukemic cells and promoted the abundance, quiescence, and activity of LSCs in an MLL-AF9-driven mouse model of AML. atRA further augmented these effects in an Evi1 dependent manner. EVI1 also strongly enhanced atRA regulated gene transcription in LSC enriched cells. One of their jointly regulated targets, Notch4, was an important mediator of their effects on leukemic stemness. In vitro exposure of leukemic cells to a pan-RAR antagonist caused effects opposite to those of atRA. In vivo antagonist treatment delayed leukemogenesis and reduced LSC abundance, quiescence, and activity in Evi1high AML. Key results were confirmed in human myeloid cell lines retaining some stem cell characteristics as well as in primary human AML samples. In summary, our study is the first to report the importance of EVI1 for key properties of AML LSCs. Furthermore, it shows that atRA enhances, and a pan-RAR antagonist counteracts, the effects of EVI1 on AML stemness, thus raising the possibility of using RAR antagonists in the therapy of EVI1high AML.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Leukemic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • MDS1 and EVI1 Complex Locus Protein / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Myeloid Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Receptor, Notch4 / genetics*
  • Tretinoin / metabolism*


  • MDS1 and EVI1 Complex Locus Protein
  • MECOM protein, human
  • Mecom protein, mouse
  • Receptor, Notch4
  • Notch4 protein, mouse
  • Tretinoin