IRAK1-regulated IFN-γ signaling induces MDSC to facilitate immune evasion in FGFR1-driven hematological malignancies

Baohuan Cai, Yun Liu, Yating Chong, Hualei Zhang, Atsuko Matsunaga, Xuexiu Fang, Rafal Pacholczyk, Gang Zhou, John K. Cowell, Tianxiang Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Stem Cell leukemia/lymphoma syndrome (SCLL) presents as a myeloproliferative disease which can progress to acute myeloid leukemia and is associated with the coincident development of B-cell and T-cell lymphomas. SCLL is driven by the constitutive activation of fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 (FGFR1) as a result of chromosome translocations with poor outcome. Mouse models have been developed which faithfully recapitulate the human disease and have been used to characterize the molecular genetic events that are associated with development and progression of the disease. Methods: CRISPR/Cas9 approaches were used to generate SCLL cells null for Interleukin receptor associated kinase 1 (IRAK1) and interferon gamma (IFNG) which were introduced into syngeneic hosts through tail vein injection. Development of the disease and changes in immune cell composition and activity were monitored using flow cytometry. Bead-based immunoassays were used to compare the cytokine and chemokine profiles of control and knock out (KO) cells. Antibody mediated, targeted depletion of T cell and MDSCs were performed to evaluate their role in antitumor immune responses. Results: In SCLL, FGFR1 activation silences miR-146b-5p through DNMT1-mediated promoter methylation, which derepresses the downstream target IRAK1. IRAK1 KO SCLL cells were xenografted into immunocompetent syngeneic mice where the typical rapid progression of disease was lost and the mice remained disease free. IRAK1 in this system has no effect on cell cycle progression or apoptosis and robust growth of the KO cells in immunodeficient mice suggested an effect on immune surveillance. Depletion of T-cells in immunocompetent mice restored leukemogenesis of the KO cells, and tumor killing assays confirmed the role of T cells in tumor clearance. Analysis of the immune cell profile in mice transplanted with the IRAK1 expressing mock control (MC) cells shows that there is an increase in levels of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) with a concomitant decrease in CD4+/CD8+ T-cell levels. MDSC suppression assays and depletion experiments showed that these MDSCs were responsible for suppression of the T cell mediated leukemia cell elimination. Immuno-profiling of a panel of secreted cytokines and chemokines showed that activation of IFN-γ is specifically impaired in the KO cells. In vitro and in vivo expression assays and engraftment with interferon gamma receptor-1 (IFNGR1) null mice and IFNG KO SCLL cells, showed the leukemia cells produced IFN-γ directly participating in the induction of MDSCs to establish immune evasion. Inhibition of IRAK1 using pacritinib suppresses leukemogenesis with impaired induction of MDSCs and attenuated suppression of CD4+/CD8+ T-cells. Conclusions: IRAK1 orchestrates a previously unknown FGFR1-directed immune escape mechanism in SCLL, through induction of MDSCs via regulation of IFN-γ signaling from leukemia cells, and targeting IRAK1 may provide a means of suppressing tumor growth in this syndrome by restoring immune surveillance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number165
JournalMolecular cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • IFN-γ
  • IRAK1
  • Immune surveillance
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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