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EGR1 Haploinsufficiency Confers a Fitness Advantage to Hematopoietic Stem Cells Following Chemotherapy

      Highlights

      • Loss of del(5q) gene, EGR1, imparts a clonal advantage to stem cells under stress.
      • Complete loss of EGR1 function is incompatible with malignant transformation.
      • EGR1 binds differentiation, inflammation, and DNA damage response genes.
      • Loss of EGR1 counteracts detrimental effects of inflammation on stem cells.
      • Enrichment of inflammatory genes within del(5q) region may confer fitness advantage.
      Therapy-related myeloid neoplasms (t-MNs) share many clinical and molecular characteristics with AML de novo in the elderly. One common factor is that they arise in the setting of chronic inflammation, likely because of advanced age or chemotherapy-induced senescence. Here, we examined the effect of haploinsufficient loss of the del(5q) tumor suppressor gene, EGR1, commonly deleted in high-risk MNs. In mice, under the exogenous stress of either serial transplant or successive doses of the alkylating agent N-ethyl-nitrosourea (ENU), Egr1-haploinsufficient hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) exhibit a clonal advantage. Complete loss of EGR1 function is incompatible with transformation; mutations of EGR1 are rare and are not observed in the remaining allele in del(5q) patients, and complete knockout of Egr1 in mice leads to HSC exhaustion. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq), we identified EGR1 binding sites in human CD34+ cord blood-derived stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) and found that EGR1 binds genes critical for stem cell differentiation, inflammatory signaling, and the DNA damage response. Notably, in the chromosome 5 sequences frequently deleted in patients, there is a significant enrichment of innate and inflammatory genes, which may confer a fitness advantage in an inflammatory environment. Short hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated silencing of EGR1 biases HSPCs toward a self-renewal transcriptional signature. In the absence of EGR1, HSPCs are characterized by upregulated MYC-driven proliferative signals, downregulated CDKN1A (p21), disrupted DNA damage response, and downregulated inflammation—adaptations anticipated to confer a relative fitness advantage for stem cells especially in an environment of chronic inflammation.
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