Rlf-Mycl Gene Fusion Drives Tumorigenesis and Metastasis in a Mouse Model of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancer Discov. 2021 Dec 1;11(12):3214-3229. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-21-0441.


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) has limited therapeutic options and an exceptionally poor prognosis. Understanding the oncogenic drivers of SCLC may help define novel therapeutic targets. Recurrent genomic rearrangements have been identified in SCLC, most notably an in-frame gene fusion between RLF and MYCL found in up to 7% of the predominant ASCL1-expressing subtype. To explore the role of this fusion in oncogenesis and tumor progression, we used CRISPR/Cas9 somatic editing to generate a Rlf-Mycl-driven mouse model of SCLC. RLF-MYCL fusion accelerated transformation and proliferation of murine SCLC and increased metastatic dissemination and the diversity of metastatic sites. Tumors from the RLF-MYCL genetically engineered mouse model displayed gene expression similarities with human RLF-MYCL SCLC. Together, our studies support RLF-MYCL as the first demonstrated fusion oncogenic driver in SCLC and provide a new preclinical mouse model for the study of this subtype of SCLC.

Significance: The biological and therapeutic implications of gene fusions in SCLC, an aggressive metastatic lung cancer, are unknown. Our study investigates the functional significance of the in-frame RLF-MYCL gene fusion by developing a Rlf-Mycl-driven genetically engineered mouse model and defining the impact on tumor growth and metastasis. This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 2945.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gene Fusion
  • Genes, myc
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Mice
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / genetics
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / pathology
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins


  • Mycl1 protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Rif1 protein, mouse
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins