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Discovery of novel putative tumor suppressors from CRISPR screens reveals rewired lipid metabolism in AML cells

By W. Frank Lenoir, Micaela Morgado, Peter C DeWeirdt, Megan McLaughlin, Audrey L Griffith, Annabel K Sangree, Marissa N Feeley, Nazanin Esmaeili Anvar, Eiru Kim, Medina Colic, Merve Dede, John G Doench, Traver Hart

Posted 08 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.08.332023

CRISPR knockout screens in hundreds of cancer cell lines have revealed a substantial number of context-specific essential genes that, when associated with a biomarker such as lineage or oncogenic mutation, offer candidate tumor-specific vulnerabilities for targeted therapies or novel drug development. Data-driven analysis of knockout fitness screens also yields many other functionally coherent modules that show emergent essentiality or, in rarer cases, the opposite phenotype of faster proliferation. We develop a systematic approach to classify these suppressors of proliferation, which are highly enriched for tumor suppressor genes, and define a network of 145 genes in 22 discrete modules. One surprising module contains several elements of the glycerolipid biosynthesis pathway and operates exclusively in a subset of AML lines, which we call Fatty Acid Synthesis/Tumor Suppressor (FASTS) cells. The proliferation suppressor activity of genes involved in the synthesis of saturated fatty acids, coupled with a more severe fitness phenotype for the desaturation pathway, suggests that these cells operate at the limit of their carrying capacity for saturated fatty acids, which we confirmed biochemically. Overexpression of genes in this module is associated with a survival advantage in an age-matched cohort of AML patients, suggesting the gene cluster driving an in vitro phenotype may be associated with a novel, clinically relevant subtype.

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