Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Cell & Molecular Biology

First Advisor

Nancy A. Speck


RUNX1 and CBFβ, which encode subunits of the core binding factor, are frequent targets of chromosomal aberrations in hematological malignancies. We previously determined that CBFβ (encoded by CBFB) is important for the transforming activity of the chimeric protein AML1-ETO protein (RUNX1-RUNX1T1) generated by the t(8;21), and other studies showed that normal Runx1 functions are essential for survival and maintenance of some leukemias lacking RUNX1 or CBFB mutations. Thus, we hypothesized that we could achieve therapeutic efficacy in multiple leukemias by targeting the Runx1:CBFβinteraction with small molecules. Using the structural information of the DNA binding Runt domain (RD) of Runx1 and its interface with CBFβ, we employed a computational screen for a library of 78,000 drug-like compounds, and further optimized our leads. The Runt domain inhibitors (RDIs) bind directly to the RD and disrupt its interaction with CBFβ. We showed that the RDIs reduced growth and induced apoptosis of t(8;21) acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cell lines, and reduced the progenitor activity of mouse and human leukemia cells harboring the t(8;21), but not normal bone marrow cells. The RDIs had similar effects on murine and human T cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (T-ALL) cell lines that did not harbor the t(8;21). Furthermore, our inclusion of a structurally related and weakly active compound as a control strongly support that the efficacies we observed were due to on target inhibition of RUNX functions. Our results confirmed that the RDIs might prove efficacious in various AMLs, and that a therapeutic window is available to specifically target malignant cells. We developed a pro-drug AI-9-59 with improved solubility and pharmacokinetic properties and assessed whether it has any in vivo efficacies in mouse leukemia models. Our results showed that the pro-drug was toxic to mice at dosage above 50 mg/kg and had no observable growth inhibitory effect on leukemia cells, suggesting that the concentration of the pro-drug necessary to inhibit endogenous core binding factor activity exceeds the maximum tolerated dose in mice. However, the expansion of granulocyte macrophage progenitors, and the gastrointestinal toxicity phenotype we observed suggested that the effects could be from on-target repression of RUNX proteins functions.

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