Key Points

  • Genetic predisposition to pB-ALL shapes a distinct gut microbiome.

  • Microbiome deprivation by antibiotic treatment can trigger leukemia in predisposed genetic carriers in the absence of infectious stimuli.

The majority of childhood leukemias are precursor B cell-acute lymphoblastic leukemias (pB-ALL) caused by a combination of prenatal genetic predispositions and oncogenic events occurring after birth. Although genetic predispositions are frequent in children (>1-5%), fewer than 1% of genetically predisposed carriers will develop pB-ALL. While infectious stimuli are believed to play a major role in leukemogenesis, the critical determinants are not well defined. Here, employing murine models of pB-ALL, we show that microbiome disturbances incurred by antibiotic treatment early in life were sufficient to induce leukemia in genetically predisposed mice even in the absence of infectious stimuli and independent of T-cells. Using V4 and full-length 16S rRNA sequencing of a series of fecal samples, we found that genetic predisposition to pB-ALL (Pax5 heterozygosity or ETV6-RUNX1 fusion) shaped a distinct gut microbiome. Machine learning accurately (96.8%) predicted genetic predisposition using 40 of 3,983 amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) as proxies for bacterial species. Transplantation of either wild type (WT) or Pax5+/- hematopoietic bone marrow cells into WT recipient mice revealed that the microbiome is shaped and determined in a donor-genotype-specific manner. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometric (GC-MS) analyses of sera from WT and Pax5+/- mice demonstrated the presence of a genotype-specific distinct metabolomic profile. Taken together, our data indicate that it is a lack of commensal microbiota rather than the presence of specific bacteria that promotes leukemia in genetically predisposed mice. Future large-scale longitudinal studies are required to determine whether targeted microbiome modification in children predisposed to pB-ALL could become a successful prevention strategy.

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