SET-PP2A complex as a new therapeutic target in KMT2A (MLL) rearranged AML.

Maria Teresa Esposito

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Background KMT2A-rearranged (KMT2A-R) is an aggressive and chemo-refractory acute leukemia which mostly affects children. Transcriptomics-based characterization and chemical interrogation identified kinases as key drivers of survival and drug resistance in KMT2A-R leukemia. In contrast, the contribution and regulation of phosphatases is unknown. We explored the role of SET, the endogenous inhibitor of SER/THR phosphatase PP2A in KMT2A-R leukemia.

Material and Methods The expression of SET was analysed in a large acute myeloid leukemia (AML)- RNA-seq dataset and in primary KMT2A-R samples and aged matched-controls. Stable SET knockdown (KD) was established by RNA interference in three KMT2A wild-type (wt) and four KMT2A-R leukemic cell lines. Gene and protein expression were analysed by RT-qPCR, ChiP, IP and western blot. RNA-seq and phospho-proteomics were employed to evaluate the effect of the SET-PP2A inhibitor FTY720 on global protein phosphorylation and gene expression. The cellular impact of FTY720 was evaluated by analysing proliferation, cell cycle and apoptosis in leukemic cell lines and by colony formation assay in two patient-derived xenograft (PDX).

Results SET mRNA was found expressed in blasts from KMT2A-R-patients and in leukemic stem cells. SET protein interacted with both KMT2A wt and fusion proteins. Knockdown of SET inhibited the transcription of KMT2A target genes HOXA9 and HOXA10and abolished the self-renewal of KMT2A-R leukemic cells. Pharmacological inhibition of SET by FTY720 disrupted SET-PP2A interaction leading to cell cycle arrest, apoptosis and increased sensitivity to chemotherapy in KMT2A-R-leukemic models. Phospho-proteomic and western blot analyses revealed that FTY720 reduced the activity of kinases regulated by PP2A, including ERK1, GSK3b, ARKB, and led to degradation of MYC, supporting the hypothesis of a feedback loop among SET, PP2A and MYC. The RNA-seq indicated that FTY720 reduced the activity of signalling pathways implicated in gene transcription and it compromised the expression of several genes belonging to the KMT2A-R leukemia signature.

Conclusions Taken together our results identify SET as a novel player in KMT2A-R leukemia and provide evidence that SET antagonism could serve as a novel strategy to treat this aggressive leukemia.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2023


  • SET
  • KMT2A
  • MLL
  • leukemia
  • I2PP2A
  • phosphatase
  • PP2A
  • MYC
  • FTY720

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