Calreticulin (CALR), an endoplasmic reticulum-associated chaperone, is frequently mutated in myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). Mutated CALR promotes downstream JAK2/STAT5 signaling through interaction with, and activation of, the thrombopoietin receptor (MPL). Here, we provide evidence of a novel mechanism contributing to CALR-mutated MPNs, represented by abnormal activation of the interleukin 6 (IL-6)-signaling pathway. We found that UT7 and UT7/mpl cells, engineered by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) to express the CALR type 1-like (DEL) mutation, acquired cytokine independence and were primed to the megakaryocyte (Mk) lineage. Levels of IL-6 messenger RNA (mRNA), extracellular-released IL-6, membrane-associated glycoprotein 130 (gp130), and IL-6 receptor (IL-6R), phosphorylated JAK1 and STAT3 (p-JAK1 and p-STAT3), and IL-6 promoter region occupancy by STAT3 all resulted in increased CALR DEL cells in the absence of MPL stimulation. Wild-type, but not mutated, CALR physically interacted with gp130 and IL-6R, downregulating their expression on the cell membrane. Agents targeting gp130 (SC-144), IL-6R (tocilizumab [TCZ]), and cell-released IL-6 reduced proliferation of CALR DEL as well as CALR knockout cells, supporting a mutated CALR loss-of-function model. CD34+ cells from CALR-mutated patients showed increased levels of IL-6 mRNA and p-STAT3, and colony-forming unit-Mk growth was inhibited by either SC144 or TCZ, as well as an IL-6 antibody, supporting cell-autonomous activation of the IL-6 pathway. Targeting IL-6 signaling also reduced colony formation by CD34+ cells of JAK2V617F-mutated patients. The combination of TCZ and ruxolitinib was synergistic at very low nanomolar concentrations. Overall, our results suggest that target inhibition of IL-6 signaling may have therapeutic potential in CALR, and possibly JAK2V617F, mutated MPNs.
© 2021 by The American Society of Hematology.