Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a clonal disease that is heterogeneous with respect to the pattern of differentiative expression of the leukemic progenitors. In some patients, the involved stem cells manifest pluripotent differentiative expression, whereas in others, the involved progenitors manifest differentiative expression mainly restricted to the granulocytic pathway. This is in contrast to chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) which is a clonal disease known to arise in a pluripotent stem cell. Therefore, we tested whether these leukemias could be distinguished with respect to their involvement of immature precursors by studying colony-forming cells (CFC) and their precursors from four glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) heterozygous patients with AML and five patients with CML. CFC were separated from their precursors by FACS for expression of CD33 and CD34 followed by growth in a long-term culture (LTC) system. The vast majority of CFC express both the CD33 and CD34 antigens, but their less mature precursors, detected by their ability to give rise to CFC in LTC, express only CD34. In three of the four patients with AML, the CD33- CD34+ cells produced CFC in LTC that appeared to be predominantly or completely normal (ie, nonclonal) in origin. In the fourth patient, a significant enrichment of nonclonal progenitors was obtained in the CD33-CD34+ population, but these cells may also have included significant numbers of clonal cells. In contrast, in four of five patients with CML, cultures of both the CD33-CD34+ and CD33+CD34+ populations produced CFC in LTC that were almost entirely clonal in origin, whereas in the fifth patient a substantial number originated from nonclonal stem cells. These data indicate that granulocyte/monocyte progenitors are predominantly clonally derived in CML and AML. In CML, their precursors are also predominantly clonal, but in some cases of AML they are not. These findings may have implications for understanding the success or failure of current therapies of AML and CML.

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