BCR-ABL expression in different subpopulations of functionally characterized Ph+ CD34+ cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia.Blood 1996; 88(5):1796-804Blood
In patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), the leukemic (BCR-ABL+/Ph+) clone typically includes cells belonging to all of the myeloid lineages and frequently some B cells. From such observations it has been inferred that the initial BCR-ABL gene rearrangement event occurs in a pluripotent hematopoietic stem cell and that the clone subsequently generated is maintained by a subpopulation of neoplastic, BCR-ABL-expressing cells that retain at least some of the defining properties of normal hematopoietic stem cells. To test this hypothesis directly, we isolated various subpopulations of CD34+ cells from fresh or cryopreserved samples of peripheral blood from 5 CML patients with high white blood cell counts, 4 of which were selected because of their exclusive content of Ph+ progenitors (both colony-forming cells and long-term culture-initiating cells [LTC-IC]). Cells in each of the CD34+ subpopulations isolated were examined for the presence of BCR-ABL mRNA using a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction technique that reproducibly gave a positive signal from single K562 cells. BCR-ABL mRNA was detected in 117 of 147 samples (80%) in which actin mRNA was demonstrable. This included 60% to 90% of a large number of individually analyzed CD34+ cells including 46 single CD34+CD71-CD38- cells and 27 single CD34+CD71+CD38+ cells from 3 patients. In 2 of these cases, the same populations also contained a very high frequency of Ph+ LTC-IC. Our findings demonstrate BCR-ABL gene expression in neoplastic cells with functional as well as surface marker characteristics of very primitive normal hematopoietic cells. This implicates the BCR-ABL gene product directly in the acquisition by these cells of properties that alter their interactions with the microenvironment and deregulate their proliferation control.