Recent advances in cancer biology have revealed that many malignancies possess a hierarchal system, and leukemic stem cells (LSC) or leukemia-initiating cells (LIC) appear to be obligatory for disease progression. Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia characterized by the formation of a PML-RARa fusion protein, leads to the accumulation of abnormal promyelocytes. In order to understand the precise mechanisms involved in human APL leukemogenesis, we established a humanized in vivo APL model involving retroviral transduction of PML-RARA into CD34+ hematopoietic cells from human cord blood and transplantation of these cells into immunodeficient mice. The leukemia well recapitulated human APL, consisting of leukemic cells with abundant azurophilic abnormal granules in the cytoplasm, which expressed CD13, CD33 and CD117, but not HLA-DR and CD34, were clustered in the same category as human APL samples in the gene expression analysis, and demonstrated sensitivity to ATRA. As seen in human APL, the induced APL cells showed a low transplantation efficiency in the secondary recipients, which was also exhibited in the transplantations that were carried out using the sorted CD342 fraction. In order to analyze the mechanisms underlying APL initiation and development, fractionated human cord blood was transduced with PML-RARA. Common myeloid progenitors (CMP) from CD34+/CD38+ cells developed APL. These findings demonstrate that CMP are a target fraction for PML-RARA in APL, whereas the resultant CD342 APL cells may share the ability to maintain the tumor.
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