Atypical Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (aCML) is a clonal disorder belonging to the myelodisplastic-myeloproliferative neoplasms, according to the WHO-2008 classification. From a clinical point of view it closely resembles the classical Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), however it lacks the presence of the Philadelphia chromosome and of the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene.

In recent works, we and others characterized the somatic lesions present in the aCML genome, mainly by using Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies, demonstrating the presence of a large set of recurrent somatic mutations involving, among the others, SETBP1, ETNK1, ASXL1, EZH2, CBL, TET2, NRAS and U2AF1 genes. The identification of somatic variants occurring in a large number of genes clearly indicates that the genetic bases of aCML are very heterogeneous, in striking contrast with classical CML.

This heterogeneity poses a great challenge to the dissection of the molecular steps required for aCML leukemogenesis. The hierarchical reconstruction of the different mutations occurring in a clonal disorder can have important biological, prognostic and therapeutic repercussions; therefore we started a project focused on the dissection of the aCML clonal evolution steps through the analysis of individual leukemic clones by methylcellulose assays in samples whose mutational status has been previously characterized by matched whole-exome sequencing.

Patient CMLPh-019 was characterized by the presence of a complex mutational status, with somatic variants occurring in SETBP1, ETNK1, ASXL1 and CBL genes (Fig. 1a). Targeted resequencing analysis of individual clones revealed the presence of all the 4 variants in 44/60 (73.3%) clones; in 15/60 (25%) we detected the presence of mutated ETNK1, ASXL1 and CBL and wild-type (WT) SETBP1. Of these 15 clones, 33% carried heterozygous and 67% homozygous CBL mutations. In one clone (1.7%) we detected heterozygous ETNK1, homozygous CBL and WT sequences for ASXL1 and SETBP1, suggesting a strong selective pressure towards the acquisition of homozygous CBL mutations. Identification of homozygous CBL mutations in all the main clonal phases suggests that a significant positive selective pressure is associated with this event. Allelic imbalance analysis of CMLPh-019 exome using CEQer revealed that CBL homozygosity is caused by a somatic uniparental disomy event occurring in the telomeric region of the long arm of chromosome 11.

Patient CMLPh-005 (Fig. 1b) was mutated in ASXL1, CBL and SETBP1. Targeted analysis done on 68 clones revealed a complex, branching evolution, with 63 clones carrying all the 3 variants. Of them, 47 (74.6%) had a heterozygous and 16 (25.4%) a homozygous CBL variant. Four clones (4.2%) carried ASXL1 and SETBP1 but not CBL mutations, while 1 clone was mutated in ASXL1 and CBL in absence of SETBP1 mutations, which suggests that CBL mutations occurred independently in two different subclones. Also in this case, allelic imbalance analysis of exome data revealed that CBL homozygosity was caused by a telomeric somatic uniparental disomy event.

According to exome sequencing, patient CMLPh-003 carried SETBP1 mutation G870S and NRAS variant G12R. Clonal analysis confirmed the presence of SETBP1 G870S in all the clones analyzed, while heterozygous NRAS G12R mutation was detected in 67% (Fig. 1c). Notably in the remaining 33% another heterozygous NRAS variant, G12D, was detected. Retrospective reanalysis of exome data confirmed the presence of the newly identified variant, which had been previously filtered-out from exome data because of the low frequency.

Patient CMLPh-013 was mutated in ASXL1, ETNK1, NRAS and SETBP1. Of the 39 clones analyzed, 34 (82.9%) showed the coexistence of ASXL1, ETNK1, NRAS and SETBP1, 4 were mutated in ASXL1, ETNK1 and NRAS and 1 in ETNK1 and NRAS, suggesting that ETNK1 and NRAS were early events, ASXL1 an intermediate one and SETBP1 a late variant (Fig. 1d).

Taken globally, these data indicate that ETNK1 variants occur very early in the clonal evolution history of aCML, while ASXL1 represents an early/intermediate event and SETBP1 is often a late event. They also suggest that, in the context of aCML, there is a strong selective pressure towards the accumulation of homozygous CBL variants, as already shown in other leukemias.

Figure 1.

Clonal analysis of four aCML cases. The asterisks indicate hypothetical clones.

Figure 1.

Clonal analysis of four aCML cases. The asterisks indicate hypothetical clones.


Rea:Novartis: Honoraria; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Honoraria; Pfizer: Honoraria; Ariad: Honoraria.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.