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Unfavorable patient survival coincides with lineage plasticity observed in human acute leukemias. These cases are assumed to arise from hematopoietic stem cells, which have stable multipotent differentiation potential. However, here we report that plasticity in leukemia can result from instable lineage identity states inherited from differentiating progenitor cells. Using mice with enhanced c-Myc expression, we show, at the single-cell level, that T-lymphoid progenitors retain broad malignant lineage potential with a high capacity to differentiate into myeloid leukemia. These T-cell-derived myeloid blasts retain expression of a defined set of T-cell transcription factors, creating a lymphoid epigenetic memory that confers growth and propagates myeloid/T-lymphoid plasticity. Based on these characteristics, we identified a correlating human leukemia cohort and revealed targeting of Jak2/Stat3 signaling as a therapeutic possibility. Collectively, our study suggests the thymus as a source for myeloid leukemia and proposes leukemic plasticity as a driving mechanism. Moreover, our results reveal a pathway-directed therapy option against thymus-derived myeloid leukemogenesis and propose a model in which dynamic progenitor differentiation states shape unique neoplastic identities and therapy responses.

Original publication

DOI

10.15252/embj.201693927

Type

Journal article

Journal

EMBO J

Publication Date

15/11/2016

Volume

35

Pages

2399 - 2416

Keywords

T‐cell progenitors, leukemia, lineage plasticity, myeloid differentiation, Animals, Cell Transdifferentiation, Humans, Leukemia, Myeloid, Lymphoid Progenitor Cells, Mice, T-Lymphocytes