Introduction: Gains affecting chromosome 11 are recurrent events in lymphomas. The 11q24.3 gain occurs in 25% of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), and it is associated with the overexpression of two ETS transcription factors, ETS1 and FLI1 (Blood 2013). Here, we have focused on the latter to identify the network of FLI1 regulated genes in GCB DLBCL.

Methods: GCB and ABC cell lines. Gene expression data were obtained from public datasets GSE98588, phs001444.v2.p1, GSE95013, GSE10846, and EGAS00001002606. Anti-FLI1 antibody - ChIP Grade (ab15289). ChIP-Seq for FLI1 paired with transcriptome analysis (RNA-Seq) after FLI1 silencing (siRNA) was performed. Sequencing was carried out using the NextSeq 500 (Illumina). Detection of peaks was analyzed using HOMER (v2.6); differential expressed genes were identified using moderated t-test (limma R‐package) and functionally annotated with g:Profiler.

Results: The analysis of DLBCL cell lines showed that FLI1 protein levels were higher in GCB (n=12) than ABC (n=8) cell lines and was more commonly expressed at high levels in GCB (n= 414) than ABC (n= 518) DLBCL clinical specimens. Integration of identified binding sites from ChIP-Seq with RNA-Seq from GCB DLBCL cell lines (OCI-Ly1 and VAL) with genetically silenced FLI1 allowed the identification of putative FLI1 direct targets. The FLI1 negatively regulated genes included tumor-suppressor genes involved in negative regulation of cell cycle and p53 cascade. Among the FLI1 positively regulated targets we found genes annotated for immune response, MYC targets and B cell receptor, TNF-alpha and IL2 signaling pathways. Of note, direct targets of FLI1 overlapped with those genes regulated by ETS1, the other transcription factor co-gained in DLBCL, suggesting a functional convergence within the ETS family. ASB2 was downregulated after FLI1 silencing and had FLI1 binding sites in both promoter region and distal enhancer regions. Furthermore, ASB2 is known to promote NF-kB activation in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and might be an essential gene in DLBCL cells according to a genetic screening. Consistently, ASB2 gene silencing was toxic in GCB DLBCL lines. We observed inhibition of NF-kB pathway by a strong protein downregulation of RELB, along with increased IκBα upon ASB2 and FLI1 silencing, although with no differences in NF-kB2 levels. Only FLI1 silencing caused downregulation of NF-kB1 and RELA protein levels, but no effect on these two proteins was observed upon ASB2 silencing. These results indicate that FLI1 regulates either the classic NF-kB pathway at transcriptional level or the alternative pathway, via ASB2, in GCB DLBCL.

Conclusions: FLI1 is expressed at higher levels in GCB than ABC DLBCL and directly regulates a network of biologically crucial genes and processes in DLBCL, contributing to the regulation of NF-kB pathway in GCB DLBCL. ASB2, a subunit of a multimeric E3 ubiquitin ligase complex, is a novel FLI1 direct target, and its inhibition might represent a therapeutic approach for GCB DLBCL.

Citation Format: Giulio Sartori, Sara Napoli, Luciano Cascione, Elaine Y.L. Chung, Valdemar Priebe, Alberto J. Arribas, Andrea Rinaldi, Michela Dall'Angelo, Mattia Forcato, Silvio Bicciato, Margot Thome, Francesco Bertoni. The FLI1 direct target ASB2 promotes NF-KB pathway activation in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma of the germinal center B-cell type [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Virtual Meeting: Advances in Malignant Lymphoma; 2020 Aug 17-19. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Blood Cancer Discov 2020;1(3_Suppl):Abstract nr PO-07.