Leukemia development is a complex process involving both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. While many environmental factors have been studied, the impact of leukemic environment on normal hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) and hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPC) has not been definitively investigated. In this study, we have formally addressed this important issue by examining the potential functional alterations of HSC and HPC in the mice bearing Notch1-induced T acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). The MSCV retrovirus vector containing cDNA encoding oncogenic intracellular domain of Notch1 (ICN1) pseudotyped with VSV-G was used to infect LinSca-1+ cells in order to induce leukemic development. Normal hematopoietic cells from the B6.SJL strain (CD45.1+) were co-transplanted with Notch1 transduced LinSca-1+ cells (CD45.2+) into lethally irradiated recipients. In this robust leukemia model with 100% penetrance, the normal hematopoietic cell compartment marked by CD45.1 in the leukemic marrow was sorted for phenotypic analyses and functional assays at different time points. Same numbers of the normal hematopoietic cells without Notch1-transduced cells were transplanted into the irradiated recipients as controls. As expected, progressive hematopoietic suppression was observed at both HSC and HPC levels in the leukemic mice. The frequency of HSC enriched population (Linc-Kit+Sca-1+, LKS) in the leukemic group was 7 times lower than that in the control at the 4th week of leukemogensis. When normalized to the bone marrow cellularity, the absolute yield of each population was 246 times lower in the leukemic group than that in the control group. These data were highly consistent with significantly lower yields of colony forming unit (CFU) and cobblestone area forming cell (CAFC). To measure the long-term engraftment of HSCs from leukemic environment, we performed the competitive bone marrow transplantation (cBMT), in which equal numbers of CD45.1+ cells isolated from leukemic or control mice and competitor cells (CD45.1/.2) at the 2nd week of leukemogenesis were co-transplanted into lethally irradiated C57BL/6J recipients. Unexpectedly, the multilineage engraftment of the hematopoietic cells isolated from the leukemic mice was 3 times more than that of the control group. Moreover, HSCs from the leukemic environment remained functional in serial transplant recipients. Finally, to explore the underlying molecular mechanisms for the enhanced function of normal HSC in the cBMT model, we examined a number of cell cycle and self-renewal regulators in HSC and HPC from leukemic marrow and control group at the time of harvest prior to transplantation by qRT-PCR. There was a significant decrease in p18 expression when compared with the control, whereas p21 expression was significantly increased. Notch1, Gfi1 and c-myc signalings were also elevated in the HSCs from leukemic environment. In summary, our current work provides the first definitive evidence for the reversible inhibition of normal HSC growth by the leukemic environment, thereby having important implications for HSC transplantation as well as leukemogenesis.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.