Our understanding of the perturbation of normal cellular differentiation hierarchies to create tumor-propagating stem cell populations is incomplete. In human acute myeloid leukemia (AML), current models suggest transformation creates leukemic stem cell (LSC) populations arrested at a progenitor-like stage expressing cell surface CD34. We show that in ∼25% of AML, with a distinct genetic mutation pattern where >98% of cells are CD34(-), there are multiple, nonhierarchically arranged CD34(+) and CD34(-) LSC populations. Within CD34(-) and CD34(+) LSC-containing populations, LSC frequencies are similar; there are shared clonal structures and near-identical transcriptional signatures. CD34(-) LSCs have disordered global transcription profiles, but these profiles are enriched for transcriptional signatures of normal CD34(-) mature granulocyte-macrophage precursors, downstream of progenitors. But unlike mature precursors, LSCs express multiple normal stem cell transcriptional regulators previously implicated in LSC function. This suggests a new refined model of the relationship between LSCs and normal hemopoiesis in which the nature of genetic/epigenetic changes determines the disordered transcriptional program, resulting in LSC differentiation arrest at stages that are most like either progenitor or precursor stages of hemopoiesis.
J Exp Med
1513 - 1535