The interconnected Insulin/IGF signaling (IlS) and Target of Rapamycin (TOR) signaling pathways constitute the main branches of the nutrient-sensing system that couples growth to nutritional conditions in Drosophila. Here, we addressed the influence of these pathways and of diet restriction on the balance between the maintenance of multipotent hematopoietic progenitors and their differentiation in the Drosophila lymph gland. In this larval hematopoietic organ, a pool of stem-like progenitor blood cells (prohemocytes) is kept undifferentiated in response to signaling from a specialized group of cells forming the posterior signaling center (PSC), which serves as a stem cell niche. We show that, reminiscent of the situation in human, loss of the negative regulator of IIS Pten results in lymph gland hyperplasia, aberrant blood cell differentiation and hematopoietic progenitor exhaustion. Using site-directed loss- and gain-of-function analysis, we demonstrate that components of the IIS/TOR pathways control lymph gland homeostasis at two levels. First, they cell-autonomously regulate the size and activity of the hematopoietic niche. Second, they are required within the prohemocytes to control their growth and maintenance. Moreover, we show that diet restriction or genetic alteration mimicking amino acid deprivation triggers progenitor cell differentiation. Hence, our study highlights the role of the IIS/TOR pathways in orchestrating hematopoietic progenitor fate and links blood cell fate to nutritional status.
Defining the function of the genes that, like RUNX1, are deregulated in blood cell malignancies represents an important challenge. Myeloid leukemia factors (MLFs) constitute a poorly characterized family of conserved proteins whose founding member, MLF1, has been associated with acute myeloid leukemia in humans. To gain insight into the functions of this family, we investigated the role of the Drosophila MLF homolog during blood cell development. Here we report that mlf controls the homeostasis of the Drosophila hematopoietic system. Notably, mlf participates in a positive feedback loop to fine tune the activity of the RUNX transcription factor Lozenge (LZ) during development of the crystal cells, one of the two main blood cell lineages in Drosophila. At the molecular level, our data in cell cultures and in vivo strongly suggest that MLF controls the number of crystal cells by protecting LZ from degradation. Remarkably, it appears that the human MLF1 protein can substitute for MLF in the crystal cell lineage. In addition, MLF stabilizes the human oncogenic fusion protein RUNX1-ETO and is required for RUNX1-ETO-induced blood cell disorders in a Drosophila model of leukemia. Finally, using the human leukemic blood cell line Kasumi-1, we show that MLF1 depletion impairs RUNX1-ETO accumulation and reduces RUNX1-ETO-dependent proliferation. Thus, we propose that the regulation of RUNX protein levels is a conserved feature of MLF family members that could be critical for normal and pathological blood cell development.
The basic cellular processes deregulated during carcinogenesis and the vast majority of the genes implicated in cancer appear conserved from humans to flies. This conservation, together with an ever-expanding fly genetic toolbox, has made of Drosophila melanogaster a remarkably profitable model to study many fundamental aspects of carcinogenesis. In particular, Drosophila has played a major role in the identification of genes and pathways implicated in cancer and in disclosing novel functional relationships between cancer genes. It has also proved to be a genetically tractable system where to mimic cancer-like situations and characterize the mode of action of human oncogenes. Here, we outline some advances in the study of cancer, both at the basic and more translational levels, which have benefited from research carried out in flies.
Transcription factors of the RUNX and GATA families play key roles in the control of cell fate choice and differentiation, notably in the hematopoietic system. During Drosophila hematopoiesis, the RUNX factor Lozenge and the GATA factor Serpent cooperate to induce crystal cell differentiation. We used Serpent/Lozenge-activated transcription as a paradigm to identify modulators of GATA/RUNX activity by a genome-wide RNA interference screen in cultured Drosophila blood cells. Among the 129 factors identified, several belong to the Mediator complex. Mediator is organized in three modules plus a regulatory "CDK8 module," composed of Med12, Med13, CycC, and Cdk8, which has long been thought to behave as a single functional entity. Interestingly, our data demonstrate that Med12 and Med13 but not CycC or Cdk8 are essential for Serpent/Lozenge-induced transactivation in cell culture. Furthermore, our in vivo analysis of crystal cell development show that, while the four CDK8 module subunits control the emergence and the proliferation of this lineage, only Med12 and Med13 regulate its differentiation. We thus propose that Med12/Med13 acts as a coactivator for Serpent/Lozenge during crystal cell differentiation independently of CycC/Cdk8. More generally, we suggest that the set of conserved factors identified herein may regulate GATA/RUNX activity in mammals.
In metazoans, the hematopoietic system plays a key role both in normal development and in defense of the organism. In Drosophila, the cellular immune response involves three types of blood cells: plasmatocytes, crystal cells and lamellocytes. This last cell type is barely present in healthy larvae, but its production is strongly induced upon wasp parasitization or in mutant contexts affecting larval blood cell homeostasis. Notably, several zygotic mutations leading to melanotic mass (or "tumor") formation in larvae have been associated to the deregulated differentiation of lamellocytes. To gain further insights into the gene regulatory network and the mechanisms controlling larval blood cell homeostasis, we conducted a tissue-specific loss of function screen using hemocyte-specific Gal4 drivers and UAS-dsRNA transgenic lines.
By targeting around 10% of the Drosophila genes, this in vivo RNA interference screen allowed us to recover 59 melanotic tumor suppressor genes. In line with previous studies, we show that melanotic tumor formation is associated with the precocious differentiation of stem-cell like blood progenitors in the larval hematopoietic organ (the lymph gland) and the spurious differentiation of lamellocytes. We also find that melanotic tumor formation can be elicited by defects either in the fat body, the embryo-derived hemocytes or the lymph gland. In addition, we provide a definitive confirmation that lymph gland is not the only source of lamellocytes as embryo-derived plasmatocytes can differentiate into lamellocytes either upon wasp infection or upon loss of function of the Friend of GATA cofactor U-shaped.
In this study, we identify 55 genes whose function had not been linked to blood cell development or function before in Drosophila. Moreover our analyses reveal an unanticipated plasticity of embryo-derived plasmatocytes, thereby shedding new light on blood cell lineage relationship, and pinpoint the Friend of GATA transcription cofactor U-shaped as a key regulator of the plasmatocyte to lamellocyte transformation.
The t(8:21)(q22;q22) translocation is 1 of the most common chromosomal abnormalities linked to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML1-ETO, the product of this translocation, fuses the N-terminal portion of the RUNX transcription factor AML1 (also known as RUNX1), including its DNA-binding domain, to the almost entire transcriptional corepressor ETO (also known as MTG8 or RUNX1T1). This fusion protein acts primarily by interfering with endogenous AML1 function during myeloid differentiation, although relatively few genes are known that participate with AML1-ETO during leukemia progression. Here, we assessed the consequences of expressing this chimera in Drosophila blood cells. Reminiscent of what is observed in AML, AML1-ETO specifically inhibited the differentiation of the blood cell lineage whose development depends on the RUNX factor Lozenge (LZ) and induced increased numbers of LZ(+) progenitors. Using an in vivo RNAi-based screen for suppressors of AML1-ETO, we identified calpainB as required for AML1-ETO-induced blood cell disorders in Drosophila. Remarkably, calpain inhibition triggered AML1-ETO degradation and impaired the clonogenic potential of the human t(8;21) leukemic blood cell line Kasumi-1. Therefore Drosophila provides a promising genetically tractable model to investigate the conserved basis of leukemogenesis and to open avenues in AML therapy.