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1.  SCL, LMO1 and Notch1 Reprogram Thymocytes into Self-Renewing Cells 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004768.
The molecular determinants that render specific populations of normal cells susceptible to oncogenic reprogramming into self-renewing cancer stem cells are poorly understood. Here, we exploit T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) as a model to define the critical initiating events in this disease. First, thymocytes that are reprogrammed by the SCL and LMO1 oncogenic transcription factors into self-renewing pre-leukemic stem cells (pre-LSCs) remain non-malignant, as evidenced by their capacities to generate functional T cells. Second, we provide strong genetic evidence that SCL directly interacts with LMO1 to activate the transcription of a self-renewal program coordinated by LYL1. Moreover, LYL1 can substitute for SCL to reprogram thymocytes in concert with LMO1. In contrast, inhibition of E2A was not sufficient to substitute for SCL, indicating that thymocyte reprogramming requires transcription activation by SCL-LMO1. Third, only a specific subset of normal thymic cells, known as DN3 thymocytes, is susceptible to reprogramming. This is because physiological NOTCH1 signals are highest in DN3 cells compared to other thymocyte subsets. Consistent with this, overexpression of a ligand-independent hyperactive NOTCH1 allele in all immature thymocytes is sufficient to sensitize them to SCL-LMO1, thereby increasing the pool of self-renewing cells. Surprisingly, hyperactive NOTCH1 cannot reprogram thymocytes on its own, despite the fact that NOTCH1 is activated by gain of function mutations in more than 55% of T-ALL cases. Rather, elevating NOTCH1 triggers a parallel pathway involving Hes1 and Myc that dramatically enhances the activity of SCL-LMO1 We conclude that the acquisition of self-renewal and the genesis of pre-LSCs from thymocytes with a finite lifespan represent a critical first event in T-ALL. Finally, LYL1 and LMO1 or LMO2 are co-expressed in most human T-ALL samples, except the cortical T subtype. We therefore anticipate that the self-renewal network described here may be relevant to a majority of human T-ALL.
Author Summary
Deciphering the initiating events in lymphoid leukemia is important for the development of new therapeutic strategies. In this manuscript, we define oncogenic reprogramming as the process through which non-self-renewing progenitors are converted into pre-leukemic stem cells with sustained self-renewal capacities. We provide strong genetic evidence that this step is rate-limiting in leukemogenesis and requires the activation of a self-renewal program by oncogenic transcription factors, as exemplified by SCL and LMO1. Furthermore, NOTCH1 is a pathway that drives cell fate in the thymus. We demonstrate that homeostatic NOTCH1 levels that are highest in specific thymocyte subsets determine their susceptibilities to oncogenic reprogramming by SCL and LMO1. Our data provide novel insight into the acquisition of self-renewal as a critical first step in lymphoid cell transformation, requiring the synergistic interaction of oncogenic transcription factors with a cellular context controlled by high physiological NOTCH1.
PMCID: PMC4270438  PMID: 25522233
2.  In Vivo Response to Methotrexate Forecasts Outcome of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and Has a Distinct Gene Expression Profile 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(4):e83.
Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common cancer in children, and can now be cured in approximately 80% of patients. Nevertheless, drug resistance is the major cause of treatment failure in children with ALL. The drug methotrexate (MTX), which is widely used to treat many human cancers, is used in essentially all treatment protocols worldwide for newly diagnosed ALL. Although MTX has been extensively studied for many years, relatively little is known about mechanisms of de novo resistance in primary cancer cells, including leukemia cells. This lack of knowledge is due in part to the fact that existing in vitro methods are not sufficiently reliable to permit assessment of MTX resistance in primary ALL cells. Therefore, we measured the in vivo antileukemic effects of MTX and identified genes whose expression differed significantly in patients with a good versus poor response to MTX.
Methods and Findings
We utilized measures of decreased circulating leukemia cells of 293 newly diagnosed children after initial “up-front” in vivo MTX treatment (1 g/m2) to elucidate interpatient differences in the antileukemic effects of MTX. To identify genomic determinants of these effects, we performed a genome-wide assessment of gene expression in primary ALL cells from 161 of these newly diagnosed children (1–18 y). We identified 48 genes and two cDNA clones whose expression was significantly related to the reduction of circulating leukemia cells after initial in vivo treatment with MTX. This finding was validated in an independent cohort of children with ALL. Furthermore, this measure of initial MTX in vivo response and the associated gene expression pattern were predictive of long-term disease-free survival (p < 0.001, p = 0.02).
Together, these data provide new insights into the genomic basis of MTX resistance and interpatient differences in MTX response, pointing to new strategies to overcome MTX resistance in childhood ALL.
Trial registrations: Total XV, Therapy for Newly Diagnosed Patients With Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, (NCT00137111); Total XIIIBH, Phase III Randomized Study of Antimetabolite-Based Induction plus High-Dose MTX Consolidation for Newly Diagnosed Pediatric Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at Intermediate or High Risk of Treatment Failure (NCI-T93-0101D); Total XIIIBL, Phase III Randomized Study of Antimetabolite-Based Induction plus High-Dose MTX Consolidation for Newly Diagnosed Pediatric Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at Lower Risk of Treatment Failure (NCI-T93-0103D).
William Evans and colleagues investigate the genomic determinants of methotrexate resistance and interpatient differences in methotrexate response in patients newly diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Editors' Summary
Every year about 10,000 children develop cancer in the US. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a rapidly progressing blood cancer, accounts for a quarter of these childhood cancers. Normally, cells in the bone marrow (the spongy material inside bones) develop into lymphocytes (white blood cells that fight infections), red blood cells (which carry oxygen round the body), platelets (which prevent excessive bleeding), and granulocytes (another type of white blood cell). However, in ALL, genetic changes in immature lymphocytes (lymphoblasts) mean that these cells divide uncontrollably and fail to mature. Eventually, the bone marrow fills up with these abnormal cells and can no longer make healthy blood cells. As a result, children with ALL cannot fight infections. They also bruise and bleed easily and, because they do not have enough red blood cells, they often complain of tiredness and weakness. With modern chemotherapy protocols (combinations of drugs that kill the fast-dividing cancer cells but leave the normal, nondividing cells in the body largely unscathed), more than 80% of children with ALL live for at least 5 years.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although this survival rate is good, some patients still die because their cancer cells are resistant to one or more chemotherapy drugs. For some drugs, the genetic characteristics of the ALL cells that make them resistant are known. Unfortunately, little is known about why some ALL cells are resistant to methotrexate, a component of most treatment protocols for newly diagnosed ALL. Methotrexate kills dividing cells by interfering with DNA synthesis and repair. Cancer cells can be resistant to methotrexate for many reasons—they may have acquired genetic changes that stop the drug from entering them, for example. These resistance mechanisms need to be understood better before new strategies can be developed for the treatment of methotrexate-resistant ALL. In this study, the researchers have determined the response of newly diagnosed patients to methotrexate and have investigated the gene expression patterns in ALL cells that correlate with good and bad responses to methotrexate.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured the reduction in circulating leukemia cells that followed the first treatment with methotrexate of nearly 300 patients with newly diagnosed ALL. They also used “microarray” analysis to investigate the gene expression patterns in lymphoblast samples taken from the bone marrow of 161 patients before treatment. They found that the expression of 50 genes was significantly related to the reduction in circulating leukemia cells after methotrexate treatment (a result confirmed in an independent group of patients). Of these genes, the expression of 29 was higher in patients who responded poorly to methotrexate than in patients who responded well. A “global analysis test,” which examined the gene expression profile of different cellular pathways in relation to the methotrexate response, found a significant association between the nucleotide biosynthesis pathway (which is needed for DNA synthesis and cellular proliferation) and the methotrexate response. Finally, patients with the best methotrexate response and the 50-gene expression profile indicative of a good response were more likely to be alive after 5 years than patients with the worst methotrexate response and the poor-response gene expression profile.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide important new insights into the genetic basis of methotrexate resistance in newly diagnosed childhood ALL and begin to explain why some patients fail to respond to this drug. They also show that the reduction in circulating leukemic cells shortly after the first methotrexate dose and a specific gene expression profile both predict the long-term survival of patients. These findings also suggest new ways to modulate sensitivity to methotrexate. Down-regulation of the expression of the genes that are expressed more highly in poor responders than in good responders might improve patient responses to methotrexate. Alternatively, it might be possible to find ways to increase the expression of the genes that are underexpressed in methotrexate poor responders and so improve the outlook for at least some of the children with ALL who fail to respond to current chemotherapy protocols.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• The US National Cancer Institute provides a fact sheet for patients and caregivers about ALL in children and information about its treatment(in English and Spanish)
• The UK charity Cancerbackup provides information for patients and caregivers on ALL in children and on methotrexate
• The US Leukemia and Lymphoma Society also provides information for patients and caregivers about ALL
• The Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (a UK charity) provides information for children with cancer and their families
• MedlinePlus provides additional information about methotrexate (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2292747  PMID: 18416598
3.  Cytosine arabinoside transport and metabolism in acute leukemias and T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1985;75(2):632-642.
Cytosine arabinoside (araC) has proven efficacy in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but its place in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and T lymphoblastic lymphoma is uncertain. The therapeutic potential of araC has been assessed in patients with AML, ALL, and T lymphoblastic lymphoma by measuring the conversion of araC to its active metabolite, the 5'-triphosphate of araC (araCTP), in purified blasts from patients as well as in normal polymorphs and lymphocytes. In all leukemias, araCTP was the major intracellular metabolite of araC. The highest araCTP formation was in blasts from T lymphoblastic lymphoma, which formed threefold more nucleotide than myeloblasts, and in turn myeloblasts formed twofold more araCTP than lymphoblasts from ALL. The mean araCTP formation in myeloblasts was sixfold greater than polymorphs, but in contrast, lymphoblasts and lymphocytes formed low and similar amounts of this nucleotide. Reasons for the sixfold range in araCTP accumulation in the various leukemic blasts were studied. The mean size of myeloblasts was 35-70% larger than lymphoblasts when compared on the basis of protein or intracellular water content, but T lymphoblastic lymphoma blasts and lymphoblasts were the same size. Activities of deoxycytidine kinase, deoxycytidylate deaminase, and pyrimidine nucleoside monophosphate kinase were not different between any of the leukemic cell types. The number of nucleoside transport sites on blasts was estimated by measuring the equilibrium binding of [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine (NBMPR), which binds with high affinity to the transporter. Scatchard analysis yielded mean values of 27,500 sites/cell for T lymphoblastic lymphoma blasts, 10,000 sites/cell for myeloblasts, and 2,300 sites/cell for lymphoblasts. Our previous work has shown that araC influx correlates with the maximum number of 3H-NBMPR binding sites in leukemic and normal white cells. A strong correlation was observed between the number of nucleoside transport sites per leukemic blast cell and the accumulation of intracellular araCTP from extracellular araC at 1 microM. Membrane transport of araC at the low concentrations (approximately 1 microM), which are achieved therapeutically, is a major rate-limiting step in its conversion to araCTP by leukemic blast cells. Myeloblasts form more araCTP than lymphoblasts because of both higher nucleoside transport capacity and larger cell size. The highest nucleoside transport capacity and largest conversion of araC to araCTP is in T lymphoblastic lymphoma, which suggests that araC may be effective in the treatment of this disease.
PMCID: PMC423544  PMID: 3871794
4.  A set of miRNAs that involve in the pathways of drug resistance and leukemic stem-cell differentiation is associated with the risk of relapse and glucocorticoid response in childhood ALL 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(24):4903-4915.
Relapse is a major challenge in the successful treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Despite intensive research efforts, the mechanisms of ALL relapse are still not fully understood. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying treatment outcome, therapy response and the biology of relapse is required. In this study, we carried out a genome-wide microRNA (miRNA) microarray analysis to determine the miRNA expression profiles and relapse-associated miRNA patterns in a panel of matched diagnosis–relapse or diagnosis–complete remission (CR) childhood ALL samples. A set of miRNAs differentially expressed either in relapsed patients or at diagnosis compared with CR was further validated by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction in an independent sample set. Analysis of the predicted functions of target genes based on gene ontology ‘biological process’ categories revealed that the abnormally expressed miRNAs are associated with oncogenesis, classical multidrug resistance pathways and leukemic stem cell self-renewal and differentiation pathways. Several targets of the miRNAs associated with ALL relapse were experimentally validated, including FOXO3, BMI1 and E2F1. We further investigated the association of these dysregulated miRNAs with clinical outcome and confirmed significant associations for miR-708, miR-223 and miR-27a with individual relapse-free survival. Notably, miR-708 was also found to be associated with the in vivo glucocorticoid therapy response and with disease risk stratification. These miRNAs and their targets might be used to optimize anti-leukemic therapy, and serve as novel targets for development of new countermeasures of leukemia. This fundamental study may also contribute to establish the mechanisms of relapse in other cancers.
PMCID: PMC3221537  PMID: 21926415
5.  Innate Immune Response Precedes Mycobacterium leprae–Induced Reprogramming of Adult Schwann Cells 
Cellular Reprogramming  2014;16(1):9-17.
Recently, we showed a natural reprogramming process during infection with Mycobacterium leprae (ML), the causative organism of human leprosy. ML hijacks the notable plasticity of adult Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system (PNS), bacteria's preferred nonimmune niche, to reprogram infected cells to progenitor/stem cell–like cells (pSLCs). Whereas ML appear to use this reprogramming process as a sophisticated bacterial strategy to spread infection to other tissues, understanding the mechanisms may shed new insights into the basic biology of cellular reprogramming and the development of new approaches for generating pSLC for therapeutic purposes as well as targeting bacterial infectious diseases at an early stage. Toward these goals, we extended our studies to identify other players that might be involved in this complex host cell reprogramming. Here we show that ML activates numerous immune-related genes mainly involved in innate immune responses and inflammation during early infection before downregulating Schwann cell lineage genes and reactivating developmental transcription factors. We validated these findings by demonstrating the ability of infected cells to secrete soluble immune factor proteins at early time points and their continued release during the course of reprogramming. By using time-lapse microscopy and a migration assay with reprogrammed Schwann cells (pSLCs) cultured with macrophages, we show that reprogrammed cells possess the ability to attract macrophages, providing evidence for a functional role of immune gene products during reprogramming. These findings suggest a potential role of innate immune response and the related signaling pathways in cellular reprogramming and the initiation of neuropathogenesis during ML infection.
PMCID: PMC3920758  PMID: 24279882
6.  Proteomic profile of pre - B2 lymphoblasts from children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in relation with the translocation (12; 21) 
Clinical Proteomics  2014;11(1):31.
Until now, the major prognostic factors for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), age, white blood cell count and chromosomal alterations are initially taken into account for the risk stratification of patients. In the light of protein marker studies to classify subtypes of Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia efficiently, we have compared the lymphoblastes proteome in Childhood ALL in accordance with the presence of t(12;21), indicator of good prognosis, usually.
Protein expression in pre-B2 lymphoblastic cells, collected from residual bone marrow cells after diagnostic procedures, was analyzed using two dimensional gel electrophoresis protocol. Protein spots whose average normalized volumes were statistically different in the two patients groups (n = 13; student t test p < 0.01), were excised. Tryptic peptides were then analyzed using a nano-LC1200 system coupled to a 6340 Ion Trap mass spectrometer equipped with a HPLC-chip cube interface. The tandem mass spectrometry peak lists extracted using the DataAnalysis program, were compared with the protein database Mascot Daemon.
We focused on twelve spots corresponding to sixteen identified candidate proteins among the 26 found differentially expressed (p ≤ 0.05) regarding the presence of t(12;21). Among over expressed proteins, two proteins were implicated in cellular growth arrest (i.e. calponine 2, p ≤ 0.001 and phosphatidylinositol transfer protein beta, p ≤ 0.001) in accordance with good prognosis, while two other proteins favored cell cycle proliferation (i.e. methionine adenosyl transferase 2β, p ≤ 0.005 and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleo-proteins A2 p ≤ 0.01) and could therefore be good marker candidates of aggressiveness. Level of expression of proteasome subunit beta type-2 (p ≤ 0.01) and protein casein kinase 2α (p ≤ 0.01) which both favored apoptosis, deubiquitinating enzyme OTUB1 (p ≤ 0.05) and MLL septin-like fusion protein MSF-B, septin 9 i4 (p ≤ 0.01) were in accord with a good prognosis related to t(12;21) lymphoblasts.
By drawing up the protein map of leukemic cells, these new data identified marker candidates of leukemic aggressiveness and new t(12;21) patients subgroups. These preliminary results will be in the near future confirmed by using a larger sample of pre-B2 childhood ALLs from national lymphoblastic cell collections.
PMCID: PMC4128613  PMID: 25136288
Childhood ALL; Biomarkers; Calponin; OTUB1; Protein casein kinase CK2α and Ikaros
7.  In silico evidence of signaling pathways of notch mediated networks in leukemia 
Notch signaling plays a critical role in cell fate determination and maintenance of progenitors in many developmental systems. Notch receptors have been shown to be expressed on hematopoietic progenitor cells as well as to various degrees in peripheral blood T and B lymphocytes, monocytes, and neutrophils. Our aim was to understand the protein interaction network, using Notch1 protein name as query in STRING database and we generated a model to assess the significance of Notch1 associated proteins in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). We further analyzed the expression levels of the genes encoding hub proteins, using Oncomine database, to determine their significance in leukemogenesis. Of the forty two hub genes, we observed that sixteen genes were underexpressed and eleven genes were overexpressed in T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic samples in comparison to their expression levels in normal cells. Of these, we found three novel genes which have not been reported earlier- KAT2B, PSEN1 (underexpressed) and CDH2 (overexpressed).These three identified genes may provide new insights into the abnormal hematopoietic process observed in Leukemia as these genes are involved in Notch signaling and cell adhesion processes. It is evident that experimental validation of the protein interactors in leukemic cells could help in the identification of new diagnostic markers for leukemia.
PMCID: PMC3962152  PMID: 24688641
Notch; protein interactors; STRING database; Leukemia; ALL; Oncomine
8.  A Genome-Wide Screen for Promoter Methylation in Lung Cancer Identifies Novel Methylation Markers for Multiple Malignancies  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e486.
Promoter hypermethylation coupled with loss of heterozygosity at the same locus results in loss of gene function in many tumor cells. The “rules” governing which genes are methylated during the pathogenesis of individual cancers, how specific methylation profiles are initially established, or what determines tumor type-specific methylation are unknown. However, DNA methylation markers that are highly specific and sensitive for common tumors would be useful for the early detection of cancer, and those required for the malignant phenotype would identify pathways important as therapeutic targets.
Methods and Findings
In an effort to identify new cancer-specific methylation markers, we employed a high-throughput global expression profiling approach in lung cancer cells. We identified 132 genes that have 5′ CpG islands, are induced from undetectable levels by 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in multiple non-small cell lung cancer cell lines, and are expressed in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells. As expected, these genes were also expressed in normal lung, but often not in companion primary lung cancers. Methylation analysis of a subset (45/132) of these promoter regions in primary lung cancer (n = 20) and adjacent nonmalignant tissue (n = 20) showed that 31 genes had acquired methylation in the tumors, but did not show methylation in normal lung or peripheral blood cells. We studied the eight most frequently and specifically methylated genes from our lung cancer dataset in breast cancer (n = 37), colon cancer (n = 24), and prostate cancer (n = 24) along with counterpart nonmalignant tissues. We found that seven loci were frequently methylated in both breast and lung cancers, with four showing extensive methylation in all four epithelial tumors.
By using a systematic biological screen we identified multiple genes that are methylated with high penetrance in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers. The cross-tumor methylation pattern we observed for these novel markers suggests that we have identified a partial promoter hypermethylation signature for these common malignancies. These data suggest that while tumors in different tissues vary substantially with respect to gene expression, there may be commonalities in their promoter methylation profiles that represent targets for early detection screening or therapeutic intervention.
John Minna and colleagues report that a group of genes are commonly methylated in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Editors' Summary
Tumors or cancers contain cells that have lost many of the control mechanisms that normally regulate their behavior. Unlike normal cells, which only divide to repair damaged tissues, cancer cells divide uncontrollably. They also gain the ability to move round the body and start metastases in secondary locations. These changes in behavior result from alterations in their genetic material. For example, mutations (permanent changes in the sequence of nucleotides in the cell's DNA) in genes known as oncogenes stimulate cells to divide constantly. Mutations in another group of genes—tumor suppressor genes—disable their ability to restrain cell growth. Key tumor suppressor genes are often completely lost in cancer cells. But not all the genetic changes in cancer cells are mutations. Some are “epigenetic” changes—chemical modifications of genes that affect the amount of protein made from them. In cancer cells, methyl groups are often added to CG-rich regions—this is called hypermethylation. These “CpG islands” lie near gene promoters—sequences that control the transcription of DNA into RNA, the template for protein production—and their methylation switches off the promoter. Methylation of the promoter of one copy of a tumor suppressor gene, which often coincides with the loss of the other copy of the gene, is thought to be involved in cancer development.
Why Was This Study Done?
The rules that govern which genes are hypermethylated during the development of different cancer types are not known, but it would be useful to identify any DNA methylation events that occur regularly in common cancers for two reasons. First, specific DNA methylation markers might be useful for the early detection of cancer. Second, identifying these epigenetic changes might reveal cellular pathways that are changed during cancer development and so identify new therapeutic targets. In this study, the researchers have used a systematic biological screen to identify genes that are methylated in many lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers—all cancers that form in “epithelial” tissues.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used microarray expression profiling to examine gene expression patterns in several lung cancer and normal lung cell lines. In this technique, labeled RNA molecules isolated from cells are applied to a “chip” carrying an array of gene fragments. Here, they stick to the fragment that represents the gene from which they were made, which allows the genes that the cells express to be catalogued. By comparing the expression profiles of lung cancer cells and normal lung cells before and after treatment with a chemical that inhibits DNA methylation, the researchers identified genes that were methylated in the cancer cells—that is, genes that were expressed in normal cells but not in cancer cells unless methylation was inhibited. 132 of these genes contained CpG islands. The researchers examined the promoters of 45 of these genes in lung cancer cells taken straight from patients and found that 31 of the promoters were methylated in tumor tissues but not in adjacent normal tissues. Finally, the researchers looked at promoter methylation of the eight genes most frequently and specifically methylated in the lung cancer samples in breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Seven of the genes were frequently methylated in both lung and breast cancers; four were extensively methylated in all the tumor types.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results identify several new genes that are often methylated in four types of epithelial tumor. The observation that these genes are methylated in multiple independent tumors strongly suggests, but does not prove, that loss of expression of the proteins that they encode helps to convert normal cells into cancer cells. The frequency and diverse patterning of promoter methylation in different tumor types also indicates that methylation is not a random event, although what controls the patterns of methylation is not yet known. The identification of these genes is a step toward building a promoter hypermethylation profile for the early detection of human cancer. Furthermore, although tumors in different tissues vary greatly with respect to gene expression patterns, the similarities seen in this study in promoter methylation profiles might help to identify new therapeutic targets common to several cancer types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
US National Cancer Institute, information for patients on understanding cancer
CancerQuest, information provided by Emory University about how cancer develops
Cancer Research UK, information for patients on cancer biology
Wikipedia pages on epigenetics (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Epigenome Network of Excellence, background information and latest news about epigenetics
PMCID: PMC1716188  PMID: 17194187
9.  Isoform-Specific Potentiation of Stem and Progenitor Cell Engraftment by AML1/RUNX1  
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(5):e172.
AML1/RUNX1 is the most frequently mutated gene in leukaemia and is central to the normal biology of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. However, the role of different AML1 isoforms within these primitive compartments is unclear. Here we investigate whether altering relative expression of AML1 isoforms impacts the balance between cell self-renewal and differentiation in vitro and in vivo.
Methods and Findings
The human AML1a isoform encodes a truncated molecule with DNA-binding but no transactivation capacity. We used a retrovirus-based approach to transduce AML1a into primitive haematopoietic cells isolated from the mouse. We observed that enforced AML1a expression increased the competitive engraftment potential of murine long-term reconstituting stem cells with the proportion of AML1a-expressing cells increasing over time in both primary and secondary recipients. Furthermore, AML1a expression dramatically increased primitive and committed progenitor activity in engrafted animals as assessed by long-term culture, cobblestone formation, and colony assays. In contrast, expression of the full-length isoform AML1b abrogated engraftment potential. In vitro, AML1b promoted differentiation while AML1a promoted proliferation of progenitors capable of short-term lymphomyeloid engraftment. Consistent with these findings, the relative abundance of AML1a was highest in the primitive stem/progenitor compartment of human cord blood, and forced expression of AML1a in these cells enhanced maintenance of primitive potential both in vitro and in vivo.
These data demonstrate that the “a” isoform of AML1 has the capacity to potentiate stem and progenitor cell engraftment, both of which are required for successful clinical transplantation. This activity is consistent with its expression pattern in both normal and leukaemic cells. Manipulating the balance of AML1 isoform expression may offer novel therapeutic strategies, exploitable in the contexts of leukaemia and also in cord blood transplantation in adults, in whom stem and progenitor cell numbers are often limiting.
The truncated "a" isoform of AML1 is shown to have the capacity to potentiate stem and progenitor cell engraftment, both of which are required for successful clinical transplantation.
Editors' Summary
Blood contains red blood cells (which carry oxygen round the body), platelets (which help the blood to clot), and white blood cells (which fight off infections). All these cells, which are regularly replaced, are derived from hematopoietic stem cells, blood-forming cells present in the bone marrow. Like all stem cells, hematopoietic stem cells self-renew (reproduce themselves) and produce committed progenitor cells, which develop into mature blood cells in a process called hematopoiesis. Many proteins control hematopoiesis, some of which are called transcription factors; these factors bind to DNA through their DNA-binding domain and then control the expression of genes (that is, how DNA is turned into proteins) through particular parts of the protein (their transcription regulatory domains). An important hematopoietic transcription factor is AML1—a protein first identified because of its involvement in acute myelogenous leukemia (AML, a form of blood cancer). Mutations (changes) in the AML1 gene are now known to be present in other types of leukemia, which are often characterized by overproliferation of immature blood cells.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because of AML1′s crucial role in hematopoiesis, knowing more about which genes it regulates and how its activity is regulated could provide clues to treating leukemia and to improving hematopoietic cell transplantation. Many cancer treatments destroy hematopoietic stem cells, leaving patients vulnerable to infection. Transplants of bone marrow or cord blood (the cord that links mother and baby during pregnancy contains peripheral blood stem cells) can replace the missing cells, but cord blood in particular often contains insufficient stem cells for successful transplantation. It would be useful, therefore, to expand the stem cell content of these tissues before transplantation. In this study, the researchers investigated the effect of AML1 on self-renewal and differentiation of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells in the laboratory (in vitro) and in animals (in vivo). In particular, they have asked how two isoforms (closely related versions) of AML1 affect the ability of these cells to grow and differentiate (engraft) in mice after transplantation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers artificially expressed AML1a and AML1b (both isoforms contain a DNA binding domain, but only AML1b has transcription regulatory domains) in mouse hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and then tested the cells' ability to engraft in mice. AML1a-expressing cells engrafted better than unaltered cells and outgrew unaltered cells when transplanted as a mixture. AML1b-expressing cells, however, did not engraft. In vitro, AML1a-expressing cells grew more than AML1b-expressing cells, whereas differentiation was promoted in AML1b-expressing cells. To investigate whether the isoforms have the same effects in human cells, the researchers measured the amount of AML1a and AML1b mRNA (the template for protein production) made by progenitor cells in human cord blood. Although AML1b (together with AML1c, an isoform with similar characteristics) mRNA predominated in all the progenitor cell types, the relative abundance of AML1a was greatest in the stem and progenitor cells. Furthermore, forced expression of AML1a in these cells improved their ability to divide in vitro and to engraft in mice.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that AML1a expression increases the self-renewal capacity of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and consequently improves their ability to engraft in mice, whereas AML1b expression encourages the differentiation of these cell types. These activities are consistent with the expression patterns of the two isoforms in normal hematopoietic cells and in leukemic cells—the mutated AML made by many leukemic cells resembles AML1a. Because the AML1 isoforms were expressed at higher than normal levels in these experiments, the physiological relevance of these findings needs to be confirmed by showing that normal levels of AML1a and AML1b produce similar results. Nevertheless, these results suggest that manipulating the balance of AML1 isoforms made by hematopoietic cells might be useful clinically. In leukemia, a shift toward AML1b expression might slow the proliferation of leukemic cells and encourage their differentiation. Conversely, in cord blood transplantation, a shift toward AML1a expression might improve patient outcomes by expanding the stem and progenitor cell populations.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Wikipedia has pages on hematopoiesis and hematopoietic stem cells (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The US National Cancer Institute has a fact sheet on bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (in English and Spanish) and information for patients and professionals on leukemia (in English)
The American Society of Hematology provides patient information about blood diseases, including information on bone marrow and stem cell transplantation
PMCID: PMC1868041  PMID: 17503961
10.  A subtype of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia with poor treatment outcome: a genome-wide classification study 
The lancet oncology  2009;10(2):125-134.
In childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) genetic subtypes are recognized that determine the risk-group for further treatment. However, 25% of precursor BALL are currently genetically unclassified and have an intermediate prognosis. The present study used genome-wide strategies to reveal new biological insights and advance the prognostic classification of childhood ALL.
A classifier based on gene expression in ALL cells from 190 newly diagnosed pediatric cases was constructed using a double-loop cross-validation method and next, was validated on an independent cohort of 107 newly diagnosed pediatric ALL cases. Hierarchical cluster analysis using classifying gene probe sets then revealed a novel ALL subtype for which underlying genetic abnormalities were characterized by comparative genomic hybridization-arrays and molecular cytogenetics.
The prediction accuracy of the classifier was median 90% in the discovery cohort and 87.9% in the independent validation cohort. A significant part of the currently genetically unclassified cases clustered with BCR-ABL-positive cases in both the discovery and validation cohort. These BCR-ABL-like cases represent 15–20% of ALL cases and have a highly unfavorable outcome (5-year disease-free survival 59.5%, 95%CI: 37.1%–81.9%) compared to other precursor B-ALL cases (84.4%, 95%CI: 76.8%–92.1%; P=0.012), similar to the poor prognosis of BCR-ABL-positive ALL (51.9%, 95%CI: 23.1%–80.6%), as was confirmed in the validation cohort. Further genetic studies revealed that the BCR-ABL-like subtype is characterized by a high frequency of deletions in genes involved in B-cell development (82%), including IKAROS, E2A, EBF1, PAX5 and VPREB1, compared to other ALL cases (36%, p=0.0002). BCR-ABL-like leukemic cells were median >70-times resistant to L-asparaginase (p=0.001) and 1.6-times more resistant to daunorubicin (p=0.017) compared to other precursor B-ALL cases whereas the toxicity of prednisolone and vincristine did not significantly differ.
Classification by gene expression profiling identified a novel subtype of ALL not detected by current diagnostic procedures but which comprises the largest group of patients with a high-risk of treatment failure. New treatment strategies are needed to improve outcome for this novel high-risk subtype of ALL.
Dutch Cancer Society, Sophia Foundation for Medical Research, Pediatric Oncology Foundation Rotterdam, Center of Medical Systems Biology of the Netherlands Genomics Initiative/Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, American National Institute of Health, American National Cancer Institute and American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.
PMCID: PMC2707020  PMID: 19138562
microarray; gene expression profiling; classification; genotype; novel subtype; class discovery; ALL
11.  Contribution of bone microenvironment to leukemogenesis and leukemia progression 
Leukemia  2009;23(12):2233-2241.
Tumor microenvironment has a major role in cancer progression and resistance to treatment. The bone marrow (BM) is a dynamic network of growth factors, cytokines and stromal cells, providing a permissive environment for leukemogenesis and progression. Both BM stroma and leukemic blasts promote angiogenesis, which is increased in acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia. Growth factors like vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), basic fibroblast growth factor and angiopoietins are the main proangiogenic mediators in acute leukemia. Autocrine proleukemic loops have been described for VEGF and angiopoietin in hematopoietic cells. Interactions of stromal cells and extracellular matrix with leukemic blasts can also generate antiapoptotic signals that contribute to neoplastic progression and persistence of treatment-resistant minimal residual disease. High expression of CXC chemokine ligand 4 (CXCR4) by leukemic blasts and activation of the CXCR4–CXCL12 axis is involved in leukemia progression and disruption of normal hematopoiesis. Leukemia-associated bone microenvironment markers could be used as prognostic or predictive indicators of disease progression and/or treatment outcome. Studies related to bone microenvironment would likely provide a better understanding of the treatment resistance associated with leukemia therapy and design of new treatments.
PMCID: PMC4313556  PMID: 19727127
acute leukemia; microenvironment; angiogenesis; bone marrow; endosteal niche; endovascular niche
12.  Twenty Years of Experience on Stem Cell Transplantation in Iran 
Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is a new window to therapy of many diseases. From March 1991 through April 2011, a total of 3237 HSCT were performed in the Hematology-Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation Research Center, affiliated to Tehran University of Medical Sciences. Here we report 20 years experience of HSCT.
Our strategy and aim include the protraction of cytogenetic and molecular biological diagnostic tests, the expansion of the first Iranian Cord Blood Bank (ICBB) and development of the first Iranian Stem Cell Donor Program (ISCDP), and improvement the researches in new therapeutic fields.
Patients and Methods
Totally, 3237 patients were undergone HSCT. Of these transplants, 2205 were allogeneic stem cell transplantation, 1016 autologous and 16 syngeneic. Among 2205 patients who were undergone allogenic-HSCT, 34 received cord blood stem cells as stem cell source for transplantation. It is important to point out that cord blood bank at our center provides reliable storage of cord blood stem cells for our patients. Stem cell transplantation was performed for treatment of various diseases such as acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, beta-thalassemia major, sickle- cell thalassemia, sickle- cell disease, multiple myeloma, myelodysplasia, mucopolysaccharidosis, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, severe aplastic anemia, plasma cell leukemia, Niemann-Pick disease, Fanconi anemia, severe combined immunodeficiency, congenital neutropenia, leukocyte adhesion deficiencies, Chediak-Higashi syndrome, osteopetrosis, histiocytosis X, Hurler syndrome, amyloidosis, systemic sclerosis, breast cancer, Ewing's sarcoma, testicular cancer, germ cell tumors, neuroblastoma, medulloblastoma, renal cell carcinoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, ovarian cancer, Wilms’ tumor, rhabdomyosarcoma, pancreatoblastoma, and multiple sclerosis. Also, we had 220 cellular therapies for post-myocardial infarction, multiple sclerosis, cirrhosis, head of femur necrosis, Diabetes Mellitus and GvHD treatment. 45 patients were undergone retransplantation in this center.
About 78.2% of the patients (2530 of 3237) remained alive between one to 211 months after stem cell transplantation. Nearly, 21.8% (707) of our patients died after stem cell transplantation. The main causes of death were relapse, infection, hemorrhagic cystitis, graft-versus- host disease and etc.
In Iran, HSCT has been successfully adapted in routine clinical care. Recently, new methods such as double cord blood and haploidentical transplantation have been used to treat many life-threatening diseases.
PMCID: PMC3652510  PMID: 23682320
Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation; Leukemia; Beta-Thalassemia
13.  Glucose transporter 1-mediated glucose uptake is limiting for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia anabolic metabolism and resistance to apoptosis 
Cell Death & Disease  2014;5(10):e1470-.
The metabolic profiles of cancer cells have long been acknowledged to be altered and to provide new therapeutic opportunities. In particular, a wide range of both solid and liquid tumors use aerobic glycolysis to supply energy and support cell growth. This metabolic program leads to high rates of glucose consumption through glycolysis with secretion of lactate even in the presence of oxygen. Identifying the limiting events in aerobic glycolysis and the response of cancer cells to metabolic inhibition is now essential to exploit this potential metabolic dependency. Here, we examine the role of glucose uptake and the glucose transporter Glut1 in the metabolism and metabolic stress response of BCR-Abl+ B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells (B-ALL). B-ALL cells were highly glycolytic and primary human B-ALL samples were dependent on glycolysis. We show B-ALL cells express multiple glucose transporters and conditional genetic deletion of Glut1 led to a partial loss of glucose uptake. This reduced glucose transport capacity, however, was sufficient to metabolically reprogram B-ALL cells to decrease anabolic and increase catabolic flux. Cell proliferation decreased and a limited degree of apoptosis was also observed. Importantly, Glut1-deficient B-ALL cells failed to accumulate in vivo and leukemic progression was suppressed by Glut1 deletion. Similarly, pharmacologic inhibition of aerobic glycolysis with moderate doses of 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) slowed B-ALL cell proliferation, but extensive apoptosis only occurred at high doses. Nevertheless, 2-DG induced the pro-apoptotic protein Bim and sensitized B-ALL cells to the tyrosine kinase inhibitor Dasatinib in vivo. Together, these data show that despite expression of multiple glucose transporters, B-ALL cells are reliant on Glut1 to maintain aerobic glycolysis and anabolic metabolism. Further, partial inhibition of glucose metabolism is sufficient to sensitize cancer cells to specifically targeted therapies, suggesting inhibition of aerobic glycolysis as a plausible adjuvant approach for B-ALL therapies.
PMCID: PMC4237255  PMID: 25321477
14.  Induction of human B cell antigens in non-T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1982;70(2):433-442.
Leukemic cells from 70% of patients with Ia+CALLA+ non-T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) express an antigen (B1) found on all normal B lymphocytes. In this study, ALL cells that do not express the B1 antigen were studied in an attempt to further elucidate the cellular lineage of these tumors. Non-T cell ALL lines and tumor cells isolated from patients with non-T cell ALL that are Ia + CALLA + B1- were studied in vitro with a variety of agents known to promote cellular differentiation. Phorbol diester (TPA) or phytohemagglutinin conditioned leukocyte culture media were capable of inducing the expression of B1 on all four non-T cell ALL lines tested. In contrast, B1 could not be induced under the identical conditions on a promyelocytic leukemia line or a T cell lymphoblastic leukemia line. With the induction of B1 on non-T cell ALL lines, cytoplasmic mu-heavy chain (c mu) became undetectable, whereas the expression of CALLA and Ia were unchanged. The expression of B1 was accompanied by a decrease of cellular proliferation and DNA synthesis, but not significant morphologic changes were noted. In addition, no other B or T cell antigens were detected. The cellular origin of non-T cell ALL was further investigated using tumor cells isolated from leukemic patients. Tumor cells from eight patients with Ia + CALLA + B1-c mu- ALL could be induced in vitro with TPA to express both B1 and c mu. In contrast, cells from five patients with Ia + CALLA-B1-c mu- non-T cell ALL could not be induced with TPA to express CALLA, B1 or c mu. These studies suggest that the non-T cell ALL are heterogeneous and represent a spectrum of early B cell differentiation including the pre- pre-B cell (Ia + CALLA + B1-c mu-), the intermediate pre-B cell (Ia + CALLA +B1 + c mu-), and finally the "true" pre-B cell (Ia + CALLA + B1 + c mu+). The cellular origin of the remaining Ia + CALLA-B1-c mu- form of non-T cell ALL (20%) is still unknown.
PMCID: PMC371252  PMID: 6980230
15.  Impact on cell to plasma ratio of miR-92a in patients with acute leukemia: in vivo assessment of cell to plasma ratio of miR-92a 
BMC Research Notes  2010;3:347.
Plasma microRNA (miRNA) has become a promising biomarker for detecting cancer; however, it remains uncertain whether miRNA expression levels in plasma reflect those in tumor cells. Our aim was to determine the biological relevance of miR-92a, which has been implicated as an oncomiR in both plasma and leukemia cells in patients with acute leukemia and to evaluate whether it could be a novel biomarker for monitoring these patients.
We quantified the expression level of miR-92a in both cells and plasma by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction in 91 patients with acute leukemia. We also determined miR-92a expression levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC) from normal controls. We compared miR-92a expression in plasma with its expression in leukemia cells. Synthetic anti-miR-92a inhibitor was transfected into Raji and OM9;22 cells, and apoptosis was assessed. For in vivo assessment, 6-week-old female nude mice were injected with U937 cells, and miR-92a expression in plasma and tumors was measured. The level of miR-92a expression in fresh leukemia cells was highly variable compared with PBMNC, but significantly lower compared with CD34-positive cells obtained from healthy volunteers. We also noticed that miR-92a was preferentially expressed in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells in comparison with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells. More specifically, cellular miR-92a expression was significantly increased in a subset of ALL cells, and ALL patients with overexpressed miR-92a had poor prognoses. The anti-miR-92a inhibitor-treated Raji and OM9;22 cells revealed an increase of apoptotic cells. Notably, the cell to plasma ratio of miR-92a expression was significantly higher in both AML and ALL cells compared with PBMNC from healthy volunteers. In tumor-bearing mice, the plasma miR-92a level was significantly decreased in accordance with tumor growth, while tumor tissue was strongly positive for miR-92a.
The miR-92a expression in leukemia cells could be a prognostic factor in ALL patients. The inverse correlation of miR-92a expression between cells and plasma and the cell to plasma ratio may be important to understanding the clinical and biological relevance of miR-92a in acute leukemia.
PMCID: PMC3022817  PMID: 21182798
16.  Cytosine Arabinoside Influx and Nucleoside Transport Sites in Acute Leukemia 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1982;69(2):479-489.
Although cytosine arabinoside (araC) can induce a remission in a majority of patients presenting with acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML), a minority fail to respond and moreover the drug has less effect in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The carrier-mediated influx of araC into purified blasts from patients with AML, ALL, and acute undifferentiated leukemia (AUL) has been compared to that of normal lymphocytes and polymorphs. Blasts showed a larger mediated influx of araC than mature cells, since mean influxes for myeloblasts and lymphoblasts were 6- and 2.3-fold greater than polymorphs and lymphocytes, respectively. Also, the mean influx for myeloblasts was fourfold greater than the mean for lymphoblasts. The number of nucleoside transport sites was estimated for each cell type by measuring the equilibrium binding of [3H]nitrobenzylthioinosine (NBMPR), which inhibits nucleoside fluxes by binding with high affinity to specific sites on the transport mechanism. The mean binding site numbers for myeloblasts and lymphoblasts were 5- and 2.8-fold greater, respectively, than for the mature cells of the same maturation series. The mean number of NBMPR binding sites for myeloblasts was fourfold greater than for lymphoblasts. Patients with AUL were heterogeneous since blasts from some gave values within the myeloblastic range and others within the lymphoblastic range. The araC influx correlated closely with the number of NBMPR binding sites measured in the same cells on the same day. Transport parameters were measured on blasts from 15 patients with AML or AUL who were then treated with standard induction therapy containing araC. Eight patients entered complete remission, while seven failed therapy, among whom were the three patients with the lowest araC influx (<0.4 pmol/107 cells per min) and NBMPR binding (<3,000 sites/cell) for the treated group. In summary, myeloblasts have both higher araC transport rates and more nucleoside transport sites than lymphoblasts and this factor may contribute to the greater sensitivity of AML to this drug. AraC transport varied >10-fold between leukemic blasts and normal leukocytes, but transport capacity related directly to the number of nucleoside transport sites on the cell. Finally, low araC transport rates or few NBMPR binding sites on blasts were observed in a subset of patients with acute leukemia who failed to achieve remission with drug combinations containing araC.
PMCID: PMC370998  PMID: 6948829
17.  Construction of doxycyline-dependent mini-HIV-1 variants for the development of a virotherapy against leukemias 
Retrovirology  2006;3:64.
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is a high-risk type of blood-cell cancer. We describe the improvement of a candidate therapeutic virus for virotherapy of leukemic cells. Virotherapy is based on the exclusive replication of a virus in leukemic cells, leading to the selective removal of these malignant cells. To improve the safety of such a virus, we constructed an HIV-1 variant that replicates exclusively in the presence of the nontoxic effector doxycycline (dox). This was achieved by replacement of the viral TAR-Tat system for transcriptional activation by the Escherichia coli-derived Tet system for inducible gene expression. This HIV-rtTA virus replicates in a strictly dox-dependent manner. In this virus, additional deletions and/or inactivating mutations were introduced in the genes for accessory proteins. These proteins are essential for virus replication in untransformed cells, but dispensable in leukemic T cells. These minimized HIV-rtTA variants contain up to 7 deletions/inactivating mutations (TAR, Tat, vif, vpR, vpU, nef and U3) and replicate efficiently in the leukemic SupT1 T cell line, but do not replicate in normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells. These virus variants are also able to efficiently remove leukemic cells from a mixed culture with untransformed cells. The therapeutic viruses use CD4 and CXCR4 for cell entry and could potentially be used against CXCR4 expressing malignancies such as T-lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma, NK leukemia and some myeloid leukemias.
PMCID: PMC1592508  PMID: 17005036
18.  What Are the Endpoints of Therapy for Acute Leukemias? Old Definitions and New Challenges 
Clinical lymphoma & myeloma  2009;9(Suppl 3):S296-S301.
Acute leukemias are complex diseases on multiple levels, and laboratory efforts over the past 3 decades have focused on better understanding of the molecular underpinnings and their stem cell biology. We now have a panoply of technologic advances that allow us to characterize individual leukemias by molecular profiles that relate directly to clinical behavior, to detect minimal residual disease, and to begin to develop “targeted” therapeutic strategies based on molecular considerations. There are a number of challenges surrounding this task: first, how to combine these agents with traditional chemotherapeutics and/or with each other to maximize leukemic cell kill and increase the cure rate; second, how to use these targeted agents in the minimal residual disease with potential curative intent; third, for patients unable to tolerate or unlikely to benefit from aggressive approaches, how to use one or more of these agents to reduce tumor bulk and either permit some restoration of normal marrow function or induce morphologic and functional differentiation of the leukemic clone to overcome the leukemia-associated bone marrow failure; and lastly, how to measure the effects of these agents on the molecular and cellular biologic levels in ways that correlate with and might even predict overall clinical outcome. These challenges are further complicated by the inherent heterogeneity in host biology; disease etiology and biology; and interactions among host, disease, and treatment that ultimately determine individual clinical outcomes. Toward this end, we will discuss selected issues surrounding new clinical trial designs and the development of clinically relevant molecular endpoints that might facilitate the development of new treatment approaches that will improve the outlook for adults with acute leukemias.
PMCID: PMC2851207  PMID: 19778856
Clinical endpoints; Drug development; Pharmacodynamic endpoints
19.  Reprogramming multipotent tumor cells with the embryonic neural crest microenvironment 
The embryonic microenvironment is an important source of signals that program multipotent cells to adopt a particular fate and migratory path, yet its potential to reprogram and restrict multipotent tumor cell fate and invasion is unrealized. Aggressive tumor cells share many characteristics with multipotent, invasive embryonic progenitors, contributing to the paradigm of tumour cell plasticity. In the vertebrate embryo, multiple cell types originate from a highly invasive cell population called the neural crest. The neural crest and the embryonic microenvironments they migrate through represent an excellent model system to study cell diversification during embryogenesis and phenotype determination. Recent exciting studies of tumor cells transplanted into various embryo models, including the neural crest rich chick microenvironment, have revealed the potential to control and revert the metastatic phenotype, suggesting further work may help to identify new targets for therapeutic intervention derived from a convergence of tumorigenic and embryonic signals. In this mini-review, we summarize markers that are common to the neural crest and highly aggressive human melanoma cells. We highlight advances in our understanding of tumor cell behaviors and plasticity studied within the chick neural crest rich microenvironment. In so doing, we honor the tremendous contributions of Professor Elizabeth D. Hay towards this important interface of developmental and cancer biology.
PMCID: PMC2570047  PMID: 18629870
20.  Mesenchymal cells regulate the response of acute lymphoblastic leukemia cells to asparaginase 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(4):1049-1057.
Because of their low asparagine synthetase (ASNS) expression and asparagine biosynthesis, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cells are exquisitely sensitive to asparagine depletion. Consequently, asparaginase is a major component of ALL therapy, but the mechanisms regulating the susceptibility of leukemic cells to this agent are unclear. In 288 children with ALL, cellular ASNS expression was more likely to be high in T-lineage ALL and low in B-lineage ALL with TEL-AML1 or hyperdiploidy. However, ASNS expression levels in bone marrow–derived mesenchymal cells (MSCs), which form the microenvironment where leukemic cells grow, were on average 20 times higher than those in ALL cells. MSCs protected ALL cells from asparaginase cytotoxicity in coculture experiments. This protective effect correlated with levels of ASNS expression: downregulation by RNA interference decreased the capacity of MSCs to protect ALL cells from asparaginase, whereas enforced ASNS expression conferred enhanced protection. Asparagine secretion by MSCs was directly related to their ASNS expression levels, suggesting a mechanism — increased concentrations of asparagine in the leukemic cell microenvironment — for the protective effects we observed. These results provide what we believe to be a new basis for understanding asparaginase resistance in ALL and indicate that MSC niches in the bone marrow can form a safe haven for leukemic cells.
PMCID: PMC1821067  PMID: 17380207
21.  Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells from infants with MLL-AF4+ acute leukemia harbor and express the MLL-AF4 fusion gene 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2009;206(13):3131-3141.
MLL-AF4 fusion is a hallmark genetic abnormality in infant B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) known to arise in utero. The cellular origin of leukemic fusion genes during human development is difficult to ascertain. The bone marrow (BM) microenvironment plays an important role in the pathogenesis of several hematological malignances. BM mesenchymal stem cells (BM-MSC) from 38 children diagnosed with cytogenetically different acute leukemias were screened for leukemic fusion genes. Fusion genes were absent in BM-MSCs of childhood leukemias carrying TEL-AML1, BCR-ABL, AML1-ETO, MLL-AF9, MLL-AF10, MLL-ENL or hyperdiploidy. However, MLL-AF4 was detected and expressed in BM-MSCs from all cases of MLL-AF4+ B-ALL. Unlike leukemic blasts, MLL-AF4+ BM-MSCs did not display monoclonal Ig gene rearrangements. Endogenous or ectopic expression of MLL-AF4 exerted no effect on MSC culture homeostasis. These findings suggest that MSCs may be in part tumor-related, highlighting an unrecognized role of the BM milieu on the pathogenesis of MLL-AF4+ B-ALL. MLL-AF4 itself is not sufficient for MSC transformation and the expression of MLL-AF4 in MSCs is compatible with a mesenchymal phenotype, suggesting a differential impact in the hematopoietic system and mesenchyme. The absence of monoclonal rearrangements in MLL-AF4+ BM-MSCs precludes the possibility of cellular plasticity or de-differentiation of B-ALL blasts and suggests that MLL-AF4 might arise in a population of prehematopoietic precursors.
PMCID: PMC2806455  PMID: 19995953
22.  Lineage Switching in Acute Leukemias: A Consequence of Stem Cell Plasticity? 
Bone Marrow Research  2012;2012:406796.
Acute leukemias are the most common cancer in childhood and characterized by the uncontrolled production of hematopoietic precursor cells of the lymphoid or myeloid series within the bone marrow. Even when a relatively high efficiency of therapeutic agents has increased the overall survival rates in the last years, factors such as cell lineage switching and the rise of mixed lineages at relapses often change the prognosis of the illness. During lineage switching, conversions from lymphoblastic leukemia to myeloid leukemia, or vice versa, are recorded. The central mechanisms involved in these phenomena remain undefined, but recent studies suggest that lineage commitment of plastic hematopoietic progenitors may be multidirectional and reversible upon specific signals provided by both intrinsic and environmental cues. In this paper, we focus on the current knowledge about cell heterogeneity and the lineage switch resulting from leukemic cells plasticity. A number of hypothetical mechanisms that may inspire changes in cell fate decisions are highlighted. Understanding the plasticity of leukemia initiating cells might be fundamental to unravel the pathogenesis of lineage switch in acute leukemias and will illuminate the importance of a flexible hematopoietic development.
PMCID: PMC3407598  PMID: 22852088
23.  Systematic Search for Recipes to Generate Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002300.
Generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) opens a new avenue in regenerative medicine. One of the major hurdles for therapeutic applications is to improve the efficiency of generating iPSCs and also to avoid the tumorigenicity, which requires searching for new reprogramming recipes. We present a systems biology approach to efficiently evaluate a large number of possible recipes and find those that are most effective at generating iPSCs. We not only recovered several experimentally confirmed recipes but we also suggested new ones that may improve reprogramming efficiency and quality. In addition, our approach allows one to estimate the cell-state landscape, monitor the progress of reprogramming, identify important regulatory transition states, and ultimately understand the mechanisms of iPSC generation.
Author Summary
Converting somatic cells back to the stem cell state (called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs) exemplifies the recent advancement of cellular reprogramming that holds great promise for developing regenerative medicine. Generation of iPSCs is often achieved by overexpressing three to four genes in somatic cells that are critical for regulating pluripotency. Developing optimal reprogramming recipe is a non-trivial task that requires significant effort. We present here a computational method that can facilitate discovery of effective recipes to generate iPSCs with high efficiency and better quality. In addition, our approach provides a new way to estimate the landscape in the cell-state space and monitor the trajectory of cellular reprogramming from a differentiated cell to an iPS cell. This work provides not only practical recipes for iPSC generation but also theoretical understanding of the reprogramming process.
PMCID: PMC3245295  PMID: 22215993
24.  Comprehensive Analysis of Transcriptome Variation Uncovers Known and Novel Driver Events in T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003997.
RNA-seq is a promising technology to re-sequence protein coding genes for the identification of single nucleotide variants (SNV), while simultaneously obtaining information on structural variations and gene expression perturbations. We asked whether RNA-seq is suitable for the detection of driver mutations in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). These leukemias are caused by a combination of gene fusions, over-expression of transcription factors and cooperative point mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. We analyzed 31 T-ALL patient samples and 18 T-ALL cell lines by high-coverage paired-end RNA-seq. First, we optimized the detection of SNVs in RNA-seq data by comparing the results with exome re-sequencing data. We identified known driver genes with recurrent protein altering variations, as well as several new candidates including H3F3A, PTK2B, and STAT5B. Next, we determined accurate gene expression levels from the RNA-seq data through normalizations and batch effect removal, and used these to classify patients into T-ALL subtypes. Finally, we detected gene fusions, of which several can explain the over-expression of key driver genes such as TLX1, PLAG1, LMO1, or NKX2-1; and others result in novel fusion transcripts encoding activated kinases (SSBP2-FER and TPM3-JAK2) or involving MLLT10. In conclusion, we present novel analysis pipelines for variant calling, variant filtering, and expression normalization on RNA-seq data, and successfully applied these for the detection of translocations, point mutations, INDELs, exon-skipping events, and expression perturbations in T-ALL.
Author Summary
The quest for somatic mutations underlying oncogenic processes is a central theme in today's cancer research. High-throughput genomics approaches including amplicon re-sequencing, exome re-sequencing, full genome re-sequencing, and SNP arrays have contributed to cataloguing driver genes across cancer types. Thus far transcriptome sequencing by RNA-seq has been mainly used for the detection of fusion genes, while few studies have assessed its value for the combined detection of SNPs, INDELs, fusions, gene expression changes, and alternative transcript events. Here we apply RNA-seq to 49 T-ALL samples and perform a critical assessment of the bioinformatics pipelines and filters to identify each type of aberration. By comparing to exome re-sequencing, and by exploiting the catalogues of known cancer drivers, we identified many known and several novel driver genes in T-ALL. We also determined an optimal normalization strategy to obtain accurate gene expression levels and used these to identify over-expressed transcription factors that characterize different T-ALL subtypes. Finally, by PCR, cloning, and in vitro cellular assays we uncover new fusion genes that have consequences at the level of gene expression, oncogenic chimaeras, and tumor suppressor inactivation. In conclusion, we present the first RNA-seq data set across T-ALL patients and identify new driver events.
PMCID: PMC3868543  PMID: 24367274
25.  Gene expression signatures in childhood acute leukemias are largely unique and distinct from those of normal tissues and other malignancies 
Childhood leukemia is characterized by the presence of balanced chromosomal translocations or by other structural or numerical chromosomal changes. It is well know that leukemias with specific molecular abnormalities display profoundly different global gene expression profiles. However, it is largely unknown whether such subtype-specific leukemic signatures are unique or if they are active also in non-hematopoietic normal tissues or in other human cancer types.
Using gene set enrichment analysis, we systematically explored whether the transcriptional programs in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and myeloid leukemia (AML) were significantly similar to those in different flow-sorted subpopulations of normal hematopoietic cells (n = 8), normal non-hematopoietic tissues (n = 22) or human cancer tissues (n = 13).
This study revealed that e.g., the t(12;21) [ETV6-RUNX1] subtype of ALL and the t(15;17) [PML-RARA] subtype of AML had transcriptional programs similar to those in normal Pro-B cells and promyelocytes, respectively. Moreover, the 11q23/MLL subtype of ALL showed similarities with non-hematopoietic tissues. Strikingly however, most of the transcriptional programs in the other leukemic subtypes lacked significant similarity to ~100 gene sets derived from normal and malignant tissues.
This study demonstrates, for the first time, that the expression profiles of childhood leukemia are largely unique, with limited similarities to transcriptional programs active in normal hematopoietic cells, non-hematopoietic normal tissues or the most common forms of human cancer. In addition to providing important pathogenetic insights, these findings should facilitate the identification of candidate genes or transcriptional programs that can be used as unique targets in leukemia.
PMCID: PMC2845086  PMID: 20211010

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