Homoharringtonine, a plant alkaloid, has been reported to suppress protein synthesis and has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia. Here we show that in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), homoharringtonine potently inhibits cell growth/viability and induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, significantly inhibits disease progression in vivo, and substantially prolongs survival of mice bearing murine or human AML. Strikingly, homoharringtonine treatment dramatically decreases global DNA 5-hydrox-ymethylcytosine abundance through targeting the SP1/TET1 axis, and TET1 depletion mimics homoharringtonine's therapeutic effects in AML. Our further 5hmC-seq and RNA-seq analyses, followed by a series of validation and functional studies, suggest that FLT3 is a critical down-stream target of homoharringtonine/SP1/TET1/5hmC signaling, and suppression of FLT3 and its downstream targets (e.g. MYC) contributes to the high sensitivity of FLT3-mutated AML cells to homoharringtonine. Collectively, our studies uncover a previously unappreciated DNA epigenome-related mechanism underlying the potent antileukemic effect of homoharringtonine, which involves suppression of the SP1/TET1/5hmC/FLT3/MYC signaling pathways in AML. Our work also highlights the particular promise of clinical application of homoharringtonine to treat human AML with FLT3 mutations, which accounts for more than 30% of total cases of AML.
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