Introduction: The oncoprotein Bcr-Abl has two major isoforms, depending on the breakpoint in BCR gene, p190 and p210. While p210 is the hallmark of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), p190 occurs in the majority of Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL) patients. p190 occurs as a sole transcript in 1-2% CML patients, associated with distinct features like monocytosis and frequent additional cytogenetic abnormalities (ACA) at diagnosis. It also confers a risk of treatment failure and progression in chronic phase (CP) CML patients. However, the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown. Here we explore the characteristics of p190 and p210 in CML and ALL patients using next generation sequencing, phospho-flowcytometry and high throughput drug testing.

Patients and methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PMNC) were collected at diagnosis from four CP-CML patients harboring p190 isoform from Helsinki University Hospital. Genetic alterations were identified by whole exome sequencing. RNA sequencing was employed to analyze transcriptional profiles of p190 CML (n=3) in contrast to p210 CML patients (n=4). A thorough transcriptional, phosphorylation and drug sensitivity profiling were applied to five p190- and three p210-expressing Ph+ALL patients. Expression alterations were further characterized in two cell line models mimicking BCR-ABL positive leukemia (Ba/F3 and HPCLSK). Phosphorylation profiles were analyzed by flowcytometry and phospho-array (Tyrosine Phosphorylation ProArray, Full Moon Biosystems). For drug sensitivity and resistance testing (DSRT), a custom plate set comprising 75 approved and investigational oncology drugs was used for patient samples and more extensive 528-drugs plates were used for the cell lines.

Results: CML patients with p190 had a median age of 72.5 years at the diagnosis (range: 50-80) and all received imatinib as a frontline treatment. Only one patient achieved a fluctuating major molecular response (MMR) by 12 months while the rest of the patients showed primary resistance to treatment and were shifted to a 2nd line TKI, nilotinib (n=2) or proceeded to HSCT (n=1). By exome sequencing we identified 26 variants in p190-CML samples (median per patient=7, range: 2-10), including variants in ASXL1, DNMT3A and KDM4D genes. RNA-sequencing analysis identified 19 and 97 dysregulated genes (Q <0.05) between p190- and p210 in CML and Ph+ ALL cells respectively. In CML, enrichment analysis revealed upregulation of TNF, interferon (IFN), IL1-R and Toll-like receptor (TLR) signaling, TP53-related, cell cycle and apoptosis pathways. Among Ph+ ALL samples, many CML-related genes were upregulated in samples encompassing p210 while IFN-, TP53- and cell cycle-related molecules were upregulated in p190 samples. p190 samples exhibited hyper-phosphorylation of Src kinase compared to p210 samples. DSRT results also revealed increased sensitivity of primary Ph+ ALL-p190 cells to Src-inhibitors (dasatinib and saracatinib), glucocorticoids and MDM2 inhibitors/TP53 activators (SAR405838 and idasanutlin). Regarding cell lines, Ba/F3-p190 showed the upregulation of interferon signaling pathways compared to p210. Src was also hyperphosphorylated in both Ba/F3 and HPCLSK p190 models. In addition to glucocorticoids and Src-inhibitors, compounds blocking the activity of the inhibitors of apoptosis protein (IAP) family were highly effective at reducing the viability of p190 compared to p210 cells in both cell lines.

Conclusions: In CML, p190 isoform of BCR-ABL1 is associated with distinct features and should be considered as a high-risk group. Combining clinical, genomic, phosphorylation and drug sensitivity data, we demonstrated that p190 activates specific cancer pathways, notably Src signaling and interferon pathways. Data also suggests that CML patients with p190 could benefit from broad spectrum TKI with Src inhibiting activity or combination of TKI with MDM2- or IAP-inhibitors.


Heckman:Orion Pharma: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Novartis: Research Funding; Oncopeptides: Research Funding. Porkka:Celgene: Consultancy, Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Research Funding; Daiichi Sankyo: Consultancy, Research Funding. Mustjoki:Novartis: Research Funding; Pfizer: Research Funding; BMS: Honoraria, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.