Leukemia stem cells (LSCs) are a rare population capable of limitless self-renewal and are responsible for the initiation, maintenance, and relapse of leukemia. Elucidation of the mechanisms underlying the regulation of LSC function could provide novel treatment strategies. Here, we show that TWIST1 is extremely highly expressed in the LSCs of MLL-AF9+ acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and its upregulation is positively regulated by KDM4C in an H3K9me3 demethylation-dependent manner. We further demonstrate that TWIST1 is essential for the viability, dormancy, and self-renewal capacities of LSCs, and it promotes the initiation and maintenance of MLL-AF9-mediated AML. In addition, TWIST1 directly interacts and collaborates with HOXA9 in inducing AML in mice. Mechanistically, TWIST1 exerts its oncogenic function by activating the WNT5a/RAC1 axis. Collectively, our study uncovers a critical role of TWIST1 in LSC function and provides new mechanistic insights into the pathogenesis of MLL-AF9+ AML.
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