Expression of the cytoplasmic NPM1 mutant (NPMc+) causes the expansion of hematopoietic cells in zebrafish.
Mutations in the human nucleophosmin (NPM1) gene are the most frequent genetic alteration in adult acute myeloid leukemias (AMLs) and result in aberrant cytoplasmic translocation of this nucleolar phosphoprotein (NPMc+). However, underlying mechanisms leading to leukemogenesis remain unknown. To address this issue, we took advantage of the zebrafish model organism, which expresses 2 genes orthologous to human NPM1, referred to as npm1a and npm1b. Both genes are ubiquitously expressed, and their knockdown produces a reduction in myeloid cell numbers that is specifically rescued by NPM1 expression. In zebrafish, wild-type human NPM1 is nucleolar while NPMc+ is cytoplasmic, as in human AML, and both interact with endogenous zebrafish Npm1a and Npm1b. Forced NPMc+ expression in zebrafish causes an increase in pu.1(+) primitive early myeloid cells. A more marked perturbation of myelopoiesis occurs in p53(m/m) embryos expressing NPMc+, where mpx(+) and csf1r(+) cell numbers are also expanded. Importantly, NPMc+ expression results in increased numbers of definitive hematopoietic cells, including erythromyeloid progenitors in the posterior blood island and c-myb/cd41(+) cells in the ventral wall of the aorta. These results are likely to be relevant to human NPMc+ AML, where the observed NPMc+ multilineage expression pattern implies transformation of a multipotent stem or progenitor cell.