Prenatal and postnatal myeloid cells demonstrate stepwise progression in the pathogenesis of MLL fusion gene leukemia.
Johnson JJ., Chen W., Hudson W., Yao Q., Taylor M., Rabbitts TH., Kersey JH.
The steps to leukemia following an in utero fusion of MLL (HRX, ALL-1) to a partner gene in humans are not known. Introduction of the Mll-AF9 fusion gene into embryonic stem cells results in leukemia in mice with cell-type specificity similar to humans. In this study we used myeloid colony assays, immunophenotyping, and transplantation to evaluate myelopoiesis in Mll-AF9 mice. Colony assays demonstrated that both prenatal and postnatal Mll-AF9 tissues have significantly increased numbers of CD11b(+)/CD117(+)/Gr-1(+/-) myeloid cells, often in compact clusters. The self-renewal capacity of prenatal myeloid progenitors was found to decrease following serial replating of colony-forming cells. In contrast, early postnatal myeloid progenitors increased following replating; however, the enhanced self-renewal of early postnatal myeloid progenitor cells was limited and did not result in long-term cell lines or leukemia in vivo. Unlimited replating, long-term CD11b/Gr-1(+) myeloid cell lines, and the ability to produce early leukemia in vivo in transplantation experiments, were found only in mice with overt leukemia. Prenatal Mll-AF9 tissues had reduced total (mature and progenitor) CD11b/Gr-1(+) cells compared with wild-type tissues. Colony replating, immunophenotyping, and cytochemistry suggest that any perturbation of cellular differentiation from the prenatal stage onward is partial and largely reversible. We describe a novel informative in vitro and in vivo model system that permits study of the stages in the pathogenesis of Mll fusion gene leukemia, beginning in prenatal myeloid cells, progressing to a second stage in the postnatal period and, finally, resulting in overt leukemia in adult animals.