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Blood. 2012 May 3;119(18):4253-63. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-10-385658. Epub 2012 Mar 12.

Rac2-MRC-cIII-generated ROS cause genomic instability in chronic myeloid leukemia stem cells and primitive progenitors.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Temple University School of Medicine, 3400 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19140, USA.


Chronic myeloid leukemia in chronic phase (CML-CP) is induced by BCR-ABL1 oncogenic tyrosine kinase. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors eliminate the bulk of CML-CP cells, but fail to eradicate leukemia stem cells (LSCs) and leukemia progenitor cells (LPCs) displaying innate and acquired resistance, respectively. These cells may accumulate genomic instability, leading to disease relapse and/or malignant progression to a fatal blast phase. In the present study, we show that Rac2 GTPase alters mitochondrial membrane potential and electron flow through the mitochondrial respiratory chain complex III (MRC-cIII), thereby generating high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in CML-CP LSCs and primitive LPCs. MRC-cIII-generated ROS promote oxidative DNA damage to trigger genomic instability, resulting in an accumulation of chromosomal aberrations and tyrosine kinase inhibitor-resistant BCR-ABL1 mutants. JAK2(V617F) and FLT3(ITD)-positive polycythemia vera cells and acute myeloid leukemia cells also produce ROS via MRC-cIII. In the present study, inhibition of Rac2 by genetic deletion or a small-molecule inhibitor and down-regulation of mitochondrial ROS by disruption of MRC-cIII, expression of mitochondria-targeted catalase, or addition of ROS-scavenging mitochondria-targeted peptide aptamer reduced genomic instability. We postulate that the Rac2-MRC-cIII pathway triggers ROS-mediated genomic instability in LSCs and primitive LPCs, which could be targeted to prevent the relapse and malignant progression of CML.

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