Infoscience

Thesis

The Cell Differentiation Status Influences the Outcome of Notch-Induced Malignancy

The Notch signaling cascade is a well conserved pathway that regulates many aspects of embryonic development and plays a crucial role in the differentiation process and tissue homeostasis in multiple organs of adult species. Several human pathological disorders, including cancer, arise as a consequence of the deregulation of the Notch signaling pathway. Notch deregulation, up to date, has been best characterized in acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). Indeed, in T-ALL pediatric patients activating Notch1 mutations have been identified in more than 50% of the cases. Increased knowledge of the mechanisms underlying T-ALL development and maintenance is clearly needed as one out of 5 patients with T-ALL has a very poor prognosis. Moreover, the high toxicity of chemotherapeutic regimens has been associated with elevated risks of developing severe secondary health problems. In the present study, we characterized the role of Notch in T-ALL induction and maintenance. Using transgenic mouse models, we could demonstrate that the oncogenic potential of Notch is dependent on RBP-Jκ transcriptional activity. Indeed, the canonical Notch signaling pathway, mediated by the RBP-Jκ transcription factor, is essential for both Notch-mediated T-ALL induction and maintenance, as well as for the induction of a Notch-mediated lymphoproliferative disorder. Moreover, constitutive overexpression of Notch1 at discrete developmental stages within the hematopoietic system, led us to identify a correlation between the differentiation status of a cell, within the hierarchy of the hematopoietic tree, and its sensitivity to Notch1-induced transformation. We demonstrated that forced Notch1 expression in hematopoietic stem cells was not sufficient to induce T-ALL. Nevertheless, aberrant Notch1 expression in the bone marrow resulted in the development of a lethal lymphoproliferative disorder. Overexpression of Notch1 in thmus at the DN2 to DN3 stage of T-cell delvelopment generated an aggressive transplantable T-ALL with important metastatic potential. This suggested that progenitors already committed to the T-cell lineage are highly susceptible to Notch-mediated transformation, which is relevant to the human disease. Nevertheless, forced Notch1 expression after the β-selection checkpoint in the thymys, was no longer sufficient to induce transformation of late DN3 to DN4 thymocytes. We therefore established a murine genetic system that allowed us to dissect the mechanisms of aberrant Notch1 signaling in a lymphoproliferative disorder and a true T-ALL model. We were able to assess the genetic signature that is involved in the transplantability and metastatic potential of leukemic cells and generated a list of candidate genes implicated in these processes. In addition, we correlated genes identified in our murine models with genes associated as well in human T-ALL profiles to identify genes implicated in T-ALL pathogenesis in both mouse and human.

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