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Blood. 2009 Dec 24;114(27):5415-25. doi: 10.1182/blood-2008-10-182071. Epub 2009 Oct 1.

Identification of a myeloid committed progenitor as the cancer-initiating cell in acute promyelocytic leukemia.

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Center for Life Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is characterized by a block in differentiation and accumulation of promyelocytes in the bone marrow and blood. The majority of APL patients harbor the t(15:17) translocation leading to expression of the fusion protein promyelocytic-retinoic acid receptor alpha. Treatment with retinoic acid leads to degradation of promyelocytic-retinoic acid receptor alpha protein and disappearance of leukemic cells; however, 30% of APL patients relapse after treatment. One potential mechanism for relapse is the persistence of cancer "stem" cells in hematopoietic organs after treatment. Using a novel sorting strategy we developed to isolate murine myeloid cells at distinct stages of differentiation, we identified a population of committed myeloid cells (CD34(+), c-kit(+), FcgammaRIII/II(+), Gr1(int)) that accumulates in the spleen and bone marrow in a murine model of APL. We observed that these cells are capable of efficiently generating leukemia in recipient mice, demonstrating that this population represents the APL cancer-initiating cell. These cells down-regulate the transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer binding protein alpha (C/EBPalpha) possibly through a methylation-dependent mechanism, indicating that C/EBPalpha deregulation contributes to transformation of APL cancer-initiating cells. Our findings provide further understanding of the biology of APL by demonstrating that a committed transformed progenitor can initiate and propagate the disease.

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