Purpose: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) makes up a significant proportion of all pediatric cancers, and relapsed ALL is a leading cause of cancer-associated deaths in children. Identification of risk factors and druggable molecular targets in ALL can lead to a better stratification of treatments and subsequent improvement in prognosis. Patients and Methods: We enrolled 59 children with relapsed or primary refractory ALL who were treated in our institutions. We primarily performed RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) using patients' leukemic cells to comprehensively detect gene fusions and analyze gene expression profiles. On the basis of results obtained by RNA-seq, we performed genetic validation, functional analysis, and in vitro drug sensitivity testing using patients' samples and an exogenous expression model. Results: We identified a total of 26 gene fusions in 22 patients by RNA-seq. Among these, 19 were non-random gene fusions already described in ALL, and four of the remaining seven involved identical combination of MEF2D and BCL9. All MEF2D-BCL9-positive patients had B-cell precursor immunophenotype and were characterized as being older in age, being resistant to chemotherapy, having very early relapse, and having leukemic blasts that mimic morphologically mature B-cell leukemia with markedly high expression of HDAC9. Exogenous expression of MEF2D-BCL9 in a B-cell precursor ALL cell line promoted cell growth, increased HDAC9 expression, and induced resistance to dexamethasone. Using a primary culture of leukemic blasts from a patient, we identified several molecular targeted drugs that conferred inhibitory effects in vitro. Conclusion: A novel MEF2D-BCL9 fusion we identified characterizes a novel subset of pediatric ALL, predicts poor prognosis, and may be a candidate for novel molecular targeting.
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