We have identified a new recurrent chromosomal translocation, targeting the major homeobox gene cluster HOXA in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). Four cases were characterized using a combination of FISH, Southern blot, breakpoint region sequencing, and a large scale expression analysis of a series of T-ALL. Specific RQ-PCR analysis of the HOXA1 to HOXA13 transcripts showed that the whole HOXA gene cluster expression was dramatically deregulated in the HOXA-rearranged cases, and also in the MLL and CALM-AF10-related T-ALL, strongly suggesting that HOXA genes are oncogenic in these types of leukemia. The HOXA-rearranged cases were included in a general portrait of T-ALL based on large scale expression analysis, showing that a new homogeneous T-ALL subgroup is defined by this chromosomal rearrangement. Moreover, patterns of gene expression associated to the distinct T-ALL oncogenic subgroups were compared with gene expression in normal human thymic sub-populations (11 purified sub-populations). Inappropriate use or perturbation of some specific molecular networks involved in thymic differentiation could be detected in the T-ALL cells. Also, we found that abnormal, frequently ectopic, expression of at least one developmental gene, including HOXA, TLX1/HOX11, TLX3/HOX11L2 and a few more, could be identified in most of the T-ALL cases. Our data strongly support the view that the abnormal expression of developmental genes, including the prototypical major homeobox genes HOXA in some cases, is critical in T-ALL oncogenesis.

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