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Wiskott Aldrich syndrome protein (WASp)-deficient Th1 cells promote R-loop-driven transcriptional insufficiency and transcription-coupled nucleotide excision repair factor (TC-NER)-driven genome-instability in the pathogenesis of T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

BACKGROUND: T-ALL is an aggressive hematological tumor that develops as the result of a multi-step oncogenic process which causes expansion of hematopoietic progenitors that are primed for T cell development to undergo malignant transformation and growth. Even though first-line therapy has a significant response rate, 40% of adult patients and 20% of pediatric patients will relapse. Therefore, there is an unmet need for treatment for relapsed/refractory T-ALL to develop potential targeted therapies.

METHODS: Pediatric T-ALL patient derived T cells were grown under either nonskewingTh0 or Th1-skewing conditions to further process for ChIP-qPCR, RDIP-qPCR and other RT-PCR assays. Endogenous WASp was knocked out using CRISPR-Cas9 and was confirmed using flow cytometry and western blotting. LC-MS/MS was performed to find out proteomic dataset of WASp-interactors generated from Th1-skewed, human primary Th-cells. DNA-damage was assessed by immunofluorescence confocal-imaging and single-cell gel electrophoresis (comet assay). Overexpression of RNaseH1 was also done to restore normal Th1-transcription in WASp-deficient Th1-skewed cells.

RESULTS: We discovered that nuclear-WASp is required for suppressing R-loop production (RNA/DNA-hybrids) at Th1-network genes by ribonucleaseH2 (RNH2) and topoisomerase1. Nuclear-WASp is associated with the factors involved in preventing and dissolving R-loops in Th1 cells. In nuclear- WASp-reduced malignant Th1-cells, R-loops accumulate in vivo and are processed into DNA-breaks by transcription-coupled-nucleotide-excision repair (TC-NER). Several epigenetic modifications were also found to be involved at Th1 gene locus which are responsible for active/repressive marks of particular genes. By demonstrating WASp as a physiologic regulator of programmed versus unprogrammed R-loops, we suggest that the transcriptional role of WASp in vivo extends also to prevent transcription-linked DNA damage during malignancy and through modification of epigenetic dysregulations.

CONCLUSION: Our findings present a provocative possibility of resetting R-loops as a therapeutic intervention to correct both immune deficiency and malignancy in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients and a novel role of WASp in the epigenetic regulation of T helper cell differentiation in T-ALL patients, anticipating WASp's requirement for the suppression of T-ALL progression.

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