Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is characterized by a low CD20 expression, in part explained by an epigenetic-driven downregulation triggered by mutations of the NOTCH1 gene. In the present study, by taking advantage of a wide and well-characterized CLL cohort (n=537), we demonstrate that CD20 expression is downregulated in SF3B1-mutated CLL in an extent similar to NOTCH1-mutated CLL. In fact, SF3B1-mutated CLL cells show common features with NOTCH1-mutated CLL cells, including a gene expression profile enriched of NOTCH1-related gene sets and elevated expression of the active intracytoplasmic NOTCH1. Activation of the NOTCH1 signaling and down-regulation of surface CD20 in SF3B1-mutated CLL cells correlate with over-expression of an alternatively spliced form of DVL2, a component of the Wnt pathway and negative regulator of the NOTCH1 pathway. These findings are confirmed by separately analyzing the CD20-dim and CD20-bright cell fractions from SF3B1-mutated cases as well as by DVL2 knock-out experiments in CLL-like cell models. Altogether, the clinical and biological features that characterize NOTCH1-mutated CLL may also be recapitulated in SF3B1-mutated CLL, contributing to explain the poor prognosis of this CLL subset and providing the rationale for expanding novel agents-based therapies to SF3B1-mutated CLL.
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