The presence of rare malignant stem cells supplying a hierarchy of malignant cells has recently been reported. In human acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), the leukemia stem cells (LSCs) have been phenotypically restricted within the CD34+CD38- fraction. To understand the origin of malignant cells in primary human B-precursor acute lymphocytic leukemia (B-ALL), we established a novel in vivo xenotransplantation model. Purified CD34+CD38+CD19+, CD34+CD38-CD19+ and CD34+CD38-CD19- bone marrow (BM) or peripheral blood (PB) cells from three pediatric B-ALL patients were intravenously injected into sublethally irradiated newborn NOD/SCID/IL2rγnull mice. We found that both CD34+CD38+CD19+ and CD34+CD38-CD19+ cells initiate B-ALL in primary recipients, whereas the recipients of CD34+CD38-CD10-CD19- cells showed normal human hematopoietic repopulation. The extent of leukemic infiltration into the spleen, liver and kidney was similar between the recipients transplanted with CD34+CD38+CD19+ cells and those transplanted with CD34+CD38-CD19+ cells. In each of the three cases studied, transplantation of CD34+CD38+CD19+ cells resulted in the development of B-ALL in secondary recipients, demonstrating self-renewal capacity. The identification of CD34+CD38+CD19+ self-renewing B-ALL cells proposes a hierarchy of leukemia-initiating cells (LICs) distinct from that of AML. Recapitulation of patient B-ALL in NOD/SCID/ IL2rγnull recipients provides a powerful tool for directly studying leukemogenesis and for developing therapeutic strategies.
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