Reduced SLIT2 is Associated with Increased Cell Proliferation and Arsenic Trioxide Resistance in Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia

Isabel Weinhauser, Diego A. Pereira-Martins, Cesar Ortiz, Douglas R. Silveira, Luise A. A. Simoes, Thiago M. Bianco, Cleide L. Araujo, Luisa C. Koury, Raul A. M. Melo, Rosane I. Bittencourt, Katia Pagnano, Ricardo Pasquini, Elenaide C. Nunes, Evandro M. Fagundes, Ana B. Gloria, Fabio Kerbauy, Maria de Lourdes Chauffaille, Armand Keating, Martin S. Tallman, Raul C. RibeiroRichard Dillon, Arnold Ganser, Bob Lowenberg, Peter Valk, Francesco Lo-Coco, Miguel A. Sanz, Nancy Berliner, Emanuele Ammatuna, Antonio R. Lucena-Araujo, Jan Jacob Schuringa, Eduardo M. Rego

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Simple Summary

In solid tumors, the altered expression of embryonic genes such as the SLIT-ROBO family has been associated with poor prognosis, while little is known about their role in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Previous studies reported frequent hypermethylation of SLIT2 mediated by the methyltransferase enzyme EZH2 and more recently the PML protein, which are commonly found to be aberrantly expressed in AML. Here, we aim to assess retrospectively the clinical relevance of the SLIT2 gene in acute promyelocytic leukemia, a homogenous subtype of AML. We demonstrated that reduced SLIT2 expression was associated with high leukocyte counts and reduced overall survival in different APL cohorts. STLI2 treatment decreased APL growth, while SLIT2 knockdown accelerated cell cycle progression and proliferation. Finally, reduced expression of SLIT2 in murine APL blasts resulted in fatal leukemia associated with increased leukocyte counts in vivo. These findings demonstrate that SLIT2 can be considered as a prognostic marker in APL, and a potential candidate for clinical studies of a more heterogeneous disease, such as AML.

The SLIT-ROBO axis plays an important role in normal stem-cell biology, with possible repercussions on cancer stem cell emergence. Although the Promyelocytic Leukemia (PML) protein can regulate SLIT2 expression in the central nervous system, little is known about SLIT2 in acute promyelocytic leukemia. Hence, we aimed to investigate the levels of SLIT2 in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) and assess its biological activity in vitro and in vivo. Our analysis indicated that blasts with SLIT2(high) transcript levels were associated with cell cycle arrest, while SLIT2(low) APL blasts displayed a more stem-cell like phenotype. In a retrospective analysis using a cohort of patients treated with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and anthracyclines, high SLIT2 expression was correlated with reduced leukocyte count (p = 0.024), and independently associated with improved overall survival (hazard ratio: 0.94; 95% confidence interval: 0.92-0.97; p <0.001). Functionally, SLIT2-knockdown in primary APL blasts and cell lines led to increased cell proliferation and resistance to arsenic trioxide induced apoptosis. Finally, in vivo transplant of Slit2-silenced primary APL blasts promoted increased leukocyte count (p = 0.001) and decreased overall survival (p = 0.002) compared with the control. In summary, our data highlight the tumor suppressive function of SLIT2 in APL and its deteriorating effects on disease progression when downregulated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3134
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2020


  • acute promyelocytic leukemia
  • SLIT2
  • treatment outcomes
  • ATRA
  • APL

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