Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a malignancy of myeloid progenitor cells that are blocked in differentiation. Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is a rare form of AML, which generally presents with a t(15;17) translocation causing expression of the fusion protein PML-RARA. Pharmacological doses of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) induce granulocytic differentiation of APL cells leading to cure rates of >80% if combined with conventional chemotherapy. Autophagy is a lysosomal degradation pathway for the removal of cytoplasmic content and recycling of macromolecules. ATRA induces autophagy in ATRA-sensitive AML and APL cells and autophagy inhibition attenuates ATRA-triggered differentiation. In this study, we aimed at identifying if the autophagy-linked FYVE-domain containing protein (ALFY/WDFY3) is involved in autophagic degradation of protein aggregates contributes to ATRA therapy-induced autophagy. We found that ALFY mRNA levels increase significantly during the course of ATRA-induced differentiation of APL and AML cell lines. Importantly ALFY depletion impairs ATRA-triggered granulocytic differentiation of these cells. In agreement with its function in aggrephagy, knockdown of ALFY results in reduced ATRA-induced proteolysis. Our data further suggest that PML-RARα is an autophagy substrate degraded with the help of ALFY. In summary, we present a crucial role for ALFY in retinoid triggered maturation of AML cells.
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