Patients with primary refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML) have a dismal long-term prognosis. Elucidating the resistance mechanisms to induction chemotherapy could help identify strategies to improve AML patient outcomes. Herein, we retrospectively analyzed the multiomics data of more than 1,500 AML cases and found that patients with spliceosome mutations had a higher risk of developing refractory disease. RNA splicing analysis revealed that the mis-spliced genes in refractory patients converged on translation-associated pathways, promoted mainly by U2AF1 mutations. Integrative analyses of binding and splicing in AML cell lines substantiated that the splicing perturbations of mRNA translation genes originated from both the loss and gain of mutant U2AF1 binding. In particular, the U2AF1S34F and U2AF1Q157R mutants orchestrated the inclusion of exon 11 (encoding a premature termination codon) in the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4A2 (EIF4A2). This aberrant inclusion led to reduced eIF4A2 protein expression via nonsense-mediated mRNA decay. Consequently, U2AF1 mutations caused a net decrease in global mRNA translation that induced the integrated stress response (ISR) in AML cells, which was confirmed by single-cell RNA sequencing. The induction of ISR enhanced the ability of AML cells to respond and adapt to stress, contributing to chemoresistance. A pharmacologic inhibitor of ISR, ISRIB, sensitized U2AF1 mutant cells to chemotherapy. These findings highlight a resistance mechanism by which U2AF1 mutations drive chemoresistance and provide a therapeutic approach for AML through targeting the ISR pathway.

Significance:

U2AF1 mutations induce the integrated stress response by disrupting splicing of mRNA translation genes that improves AML cell fitness to enable resistance to chemotherapy, which can be targeted to improve AML treatment.

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