Chronic myelogenous leukemia arises from the transformation of hematopoietic stem cells by the BCR-ABL oncogene. Though transformed cells are predominantly BCR-ABL-dependent and sensitive to tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment, some BMPR1B+ leukemic stem cells are treatment-insensitive and rely, among others, on the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) pathway for their survival via a BMP4 autocrine loop. Here, we further studied the involvement of BMP signaling in favoring residual leukemic stem cell persistence in the bone marrow of patients having achieved remission under treatment. We demonstrate by single-cell RNA-Seq analysis that a sub-fraction of surviving BMPR1B+ leukemic stem cells are co-enriched in BMP signaling, quiescence and stem cell signatures, without modulation of the canonical BMP target genes, but enrichment in actors of the Jak2/Stat3 signaling pathway. Indeed, based on a new model of persisting CD34+CD38- leukemic stem cells, we show that BMPR1B+ cells display co-activated Smad1/5/8 and Stat3 pathways. Interestingly, we reveal that only the BMPR1B+ cells adhering to stromal cells display a quiescent status. Surprisingly, this quiescence is induced by treatment, while non-adherent BMPR1B+ cells treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors continued to proliferate. The subsequent targeting of BMPR1B and Jak2 pathways decreased quiescent leukemic stem cells by promoting their cell cycle re-entry and differentiation. Moreover, while Jak2-inhibitors alone increased BMP4 production by mesenchymal cells, the addition of the newly described BMPR1B inhibitor (E6201) impaired BMP4-mediated production by stromal cells. Altogether, our data demonstrate that targeting both BMPR1B and Jak2/Stat3 efficiently impacts persisting and dormant leukemic stem cells hidden in their bone marrow microenvironment.
BMP, Jak/Stat, Bone Marrow Microenvironment, Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, Leukemic Stem Cell, Quiescence