PERK/NRF2 and autophagy form a resistance mechanism against G9a inhibition in leukemia stem cells

Ji Eun Jang, Ju In Eom, Hoi Kyung Jeung, Haerim Chung, Yu Ri Kim, Jin Seok Kim, June Won Cheong, Yoo Hong Min

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The histone methyltransferase G9a has recently been identified as a potential target for epigenetic therapy of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). However, the effect of G9a inhibition on leukemia stem cells (LSCs), which are responsible for AML drug resistance and recurrence, is unclear. In this study, we investigated the underlying mechanisms of the LSC resistance to G9a inhibition. Methods: We evaluated the effects of G9a inhibition on the unfolded protein response and autophagy in AML and LSC-like cell lines and in primary CD34+CD38- leukemic blasts from patients with AML and investigated the underlying mechanisms. The effects of treatment on cells were evaluated by flow cytometry, western blotting, confocal microscopy, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production assay. Results: The G9a inhibitor BIX-01294 effectively induced apoptosis in AML cell lines; however, the effect was limited in KG1 LSC-like cells. BIX-01294 treatment or siRNA-mediated G9a knockdown led to the activation of the PERK/NRF2 pathway and HO-1 upregulation in KG1 cells. Phosphorylation of p38 and intracellular generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) were suppressed. Pharmacological or siRNA-mediated inhibition of the PERK/NRF2 pathway synergistically enhanced BIX-01294-induced apoptosis, with suppressed HO-1 expression, increased p38 phosphorylation, and elevated ROS generation, indicating that activated PERK/NRF2 signaling suppressed ROS-induced apoptosis in KG1 cells. By contrast, cotreatment of normal hematopoietic stem cells with BIX-01294 and a PERK inhibitor had no significant proapoptotic effect. Additionally, G9a inhibition induced autophagy flux in KG1 cells, while autophagy inhibitors significantly increased the BIX-01294-induced apoptosis. This prosurvival autophagy was not abrogated by PERK/NRF2 inhibition. Conclusions: PERK/NRF2 signaling plays a key role in protecting LSCs against ROS-induced apoptosis, thus conferring resistance to G9a inhibitors. Treatment with PERK/NRF2 or autophagy inhibitors could overcome resistance to G9a inhibition and eliminate LSCs, suggesting the potential clinical utility of these unique targeted therapies against AML.

Original languageEnglish
Article number66
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 15

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported, in part, by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant (NRF-2018R1C1B5047502), funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning, and by Yuhan Corporation. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or manuscript preparation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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