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Blood. 1996 Sep 15;88(6):2162-71.

Characterization of primitive subpopulations of normal and leukemic cells present in the blood of patients with newly diagnosed as well as established chronic myeloid leukemia.

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Terry Fox Laboratory, British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, Canada.


Elevated numbers of primitive Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) progenitors, including long-term culture-initiating cells (LTC-IC) as well as colony-forming cells (CFC), have been previously described in the blood of patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in chronic phase with high white blood cell counts. In the present study, which focused primarily on an analysis of circulating progenitors present in such patients at diagnosis, we discovered the frequent and occasionally exclusive presence of circulating normal (Ph-) LTC-IC, often at levels above those seen for LTC-IC in the blood of normal individuals. The presence of detectable numbers of circulating Ph- LTC-IC was independent of the fact that the same peripheral blood samples also contained elevated numbers of predominantly or exclusively Ph+ CFC. Interestingly, both the Ph+ and Ph- LTC-IC in these samples were CD34+CD71- and variably CD38- and Thy-1+, as previously documented for LTC-IC in normal marrow. Thus, neither CD38 nor Thy-1 expression was useful for discriminating between Ph+ and Ph- LTC-IC in mixed populations. Nevertheless, an association of these phenotypes with LTC-IC function did allow highly enriched (> 5% pure) suspensions of either Ph+ or Ph- LTC-IC to be obtained from selected samples of CML blood in which the initial LTC-IC population was either predominantly Ph+ or Ph-, respectively. These findings suggest that the mechanisms causing mobilization of leukemic stem cells in untreated CML patients may affect their normal counterparts. They also indicate a possible new source of autologous cells for the support of intensive therapy of CML patients. Finally, they provide a method for obtaining the most highly purified populations of Ph+ LTC-IC described to date. This method should be useful for further analyses of the molecular activities of these very primitive neoplastic cells.

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