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Cell Cycle. 2009 May 1;8(9):1338-43. Epub 2009 May 17.

The CML stem cell: evolution of the progenitor.

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Division of Hematology-Oncology, Department of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, School of Medicine, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


The success of imatinib mesylate (STI571, Gleevec) in treating chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is, to date, the crowning achievement of targeted molecular therapy in cancer. Nearly 90% of newly diagnosed patients treated with imatinib in the chronic phase of the disease achieve a complete cytogenetic response. However, more than 95% of these patients retain detectable levels of BCR-ABL mRNA and patients discontinuing imatinib therapy almost invariably relapse, demonstrating that an imatinib insensitive population of leukemia-initiating cells (LICs) persists in nearly all patients. These findings underscore the need for treatments specifically targeting the leukemia-initiating population of CML cells. While mounting evidence suggests that the LIC in the chronic phase of CML is the BCR-ABL positive hematopoietic stem cell, several recent publications suggest that during CML blast crisis, a granulocyte-macrophage progenitor (GMP) population also acquires LIC properties through activation of the beta-catenin pathway. Characterization of these cells and evaluation of their sensitivity to imatinib is critical to our understanding and treatment of CML blast crisis.

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