Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is driven and sustained by leukemia stem cells (LSCs) with unlimited self-renewal capacity and resistance to chemotherapy. Mutation in the TP53 tumor suppressor is relatively rare in de novo AML; however, p53 can be regulated through post-translational mechanisms. Here, we show that p53 activity is inhibited in inv(16)+ AML LSCs via interactions with the CBFβ-SMMHC (CM) fusion protein and histone deacetylase 8 (HDAC8). HDAC8 aberrantly deacetylates p53 and promotes LSC transformation and maintenance. HDAC8 deficiency or inhibition using HDAC8-selective inhibitors (HDAC8i) effectively restores p53 acetylation and activity. Importantly, HDAC8 inhibition induces apoptosis in inv(16)+ AML CD34+ cells, while sparing the normal hematopoietic stem cells. Furthermore, in vivo HDAC8i administration profoundly diminishes AML propagation and abrogates leukemia-initiating capacity of both murine and patient-derived LSCs. This study elucidates an HDAC8-mediated p53-inactivating mechanism promoting LSC activity and highlights HDAC8 inhibition as a promising approach to selectively target inv(16)+ LSCs.
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