Research Papers:

The NKL-code for innate lymphoid cells reveals deregulated expression of NKL homeobox genes HHEX and HLX in anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL)

Stefan Nagel _, Claudia Pommerenke, Roderick A.F. MacLeod, Corinna Meyer, Maren Kaufmann and Hans G. Drexler

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Oncotarget. 2020; 11:3208-3226. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.27683

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Stefan Nagel1, Claudia Pommerenke1, Roderick A.F. MacLeod1, Corinna Meyer1, Maren Kaufmann1 and Hans G. Drexler1

1 Department of Human and Animal Cell Lines, Leibniz Institute, DSMZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, Braunschweig, Germany

Correspondence to:

Stefan Nagel,email: [email protected]

Keywords: homeobox; NKL-code; T-ALL; LL-100; Th17

Received: May 19, 2020     Accepted: July 07, 2020     Published: August 25, 2020


NKL homeobox genes encode developmental transcription factors and display an NKL-code according to their physiological expression pattern in hematopoiesis. Here, we analyzed public transcriptome data from primary innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) for NKL homeobox gene activities and found that ILC3 expressed exclusively HHEX while in ILC1 and ILC2 these genes were silenced. Deregulation of the NKL-code promotes hematopoietic malignancies, including anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) which reportedly may derive from ILC3. Accordingly, we analyzed NKL homeobox gene activities in ALCL cell lines and investigated their role in this malignancy. Transcriptome analyses demonstrated low expression levels of HHEX but powerfully activated HLX. Forced expression of HHEX in ALCL cell lines induced genes involved in apoptosis and ILC3 differentiation, indicating tumor suppressor activity. ALCL associated NPM1-ALK and JAK-STAT3-signalling drove enhanced expression of HLX while discounting HHEX. Genomic profiling revealed copy number gains at the loci of HLX and STAT3 in addition to genes encoding both STAT3 regulators (AURKA, BCL3, JAK3, KPNB1, NAMPT, NFAT5, PIM3, ROCK1, SIX1, TPX2, WWOX) and targets (BATF3, IRF4, miR135b, miR21, RORC). Transcriptome data of ALCL cell lines showed absence of STAT3 mutations while MGA was mutated and downregulated, encoding a novel potential STAT3 repressor. Furthermore, enhanced IL17F-signalling activated HLX while TGFbeta-signalling inhibited HHEX expression. Taken together, our data extend the scope of the NKL-code for ILCs and spotlight aberrant expression of NKL homeobox gene HLX in ALCL. HLX represents a direct target of ALCL hallmark factor STAT3 and deregulates cell survival and differentiation in this malignancy.

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