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Leukemia. 2004 Mar;18(3):375-84.

Acute promyelocytic leukemia: where does it stem from?

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Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, London, UK.


A fundamental issue in cancer biology is the identification of the target cell in which the causative molecular lesion arises. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is thought to reflect the transformation of a primitive stem cell compartment. The resultant 'cancer stem cells' comprise only a minor portion of the leukemic clone but give rise through differentiation to more committed progenitors as well as differentiated blasts that constitute the bulk of the tumor. The maintenance of the leukemic clone is dependent on the self-renewal capacity of the cancer stem cell compartment, which is revealed by its ability to re-initiate leukemia in a transplant setting. The cellular basis of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is however less clear. APL has traditionally been considered to be the most differentiated form of AML and to arise from a committed myeloid progenitor. Here we review apparently conflicting evidence pertaining to the cellular origins of APL and propose that this leukemia may originate in more than one cellular compartment. This view could account for many apparent inconsistencies in the literature to date. An understanding of the nature of the target cell involved in transformation of APL has important implications for biological mechanism and for clinical treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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