Early T-cell development is precisely controlled by E proteins, that indistinguishably include HEB/TCF12 and E2A/TCF3 transcription factors, together with NOTCH1 and pre-T cell receptor (TCR) signalling. Importantly, perturbations of early T-cell regulatory networks are implicated in leukemogenesis. NOTCH1 gain of function mutations invariably lead to T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), whereas inhibition of E proteins accelerates leukemogenesis. Thus, NOTCH1, pre-TCR, E2A and HEB functions are intertwined, but how these pathways contribute individually or synergistically to leukemogenesis remain to be documented. To directly address these questions, we leveraged Cd3e-deficient mice in which pre-TCR signaling and progression through β-selection is abrogated to dissect and decouple the roles of pre-TCR, NOTCH1, E2A and HEB in SCL/TAL1-induced T-ALL, via the use of Notch1 gain of function transgenic (Notch1IC tg) and Tcf12 +/- or Tcf3 +/- heterozygote mice. As a result, we now provide evidence that both HEB and E2A restrain cell proliferation at the β-selection checkpoint while the clonal expansion of SCL-LMO1-induced pre-leukemic stem cells in T-ALL is uniquely dependent on Tcf12 gene dosage. At the molecular level, HEB protein levels are decreased via proteasomal degradation at the leukemic stage, pointing to a reversible loss of function mechanism. Moreover, in SCL-LMO1-induced T-ALL, loss of one Tcf12 allele is sufficient to bypass pre-TCR signaling which is required for Notch1 gain of function mutations and for progression to T-ALL. In contrast, Tcf12 monoallelic deletion does not accelerate Notch1IC-induced T-ALL, indicating that Tcf12 and Notch1 operate in the same pathway. Finally, we identify a tumor suppressor gene set downstream of HEB, exhibiting significantly lower expression levels in pediatric T-ALL compared to B-ALL and brain cancer samples, the three most frequent pediatric cancers. In summary, our results indicate a tumor suppressor function of HEB/TCF12 in T-ALL to mitigate cell proliferation controlled by NOTCH1 in pre-leukemic stem cells and prevent NOTCH1-driven progression to T-ALL.
Keywords: E2A/TCF3; HEB/TCF12; LMO1; NOTCH1; SCL/TAL1; T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; tumor suppressor genes.
Copyright © 2022 Veiga, Tremblay, Gerby, Herblot, Haman, Gendron, Lemieux, Zúñiga-Pflücker, Hébert, Cohen and Hoang.