Single-cell multiomics analysis reveals higher plasticity and stem cell-like blasts in younger KMT2A-r ALL patients with worse prognosis
The most immature leukemic cells exhibit steroid resistance and stem-cell like cells contribute to immune evasion in younger patients
KMT2A-rearranged (KMT2A-r) infant ALL is a devastating malignancy with a dismal outcome, and younger age at diagnosis is associated with increased risk of relapse. To discover age-specific differences and critical drivers that mediate poor outcome in KMT2A-r ALL, we subjected KMT2A-r leukemias and normal hematopoietic cells from patients of different ages to single cell multi-omics analyses. We uncovered the following critical new insights: leukemia cells from patients younger than 6 months have significantly increased lineage plasticity. Steroid response pathways are downregulated in the most immature blasts from younger patients. We identify a hematopoietic stem and progenitor-like (HSPC-like) population in the blood of younger patients that contains leukemic blasts and form an immunosuppressive signaling circuit with cytotoxic lymphocytes. These observations offer a compelling explanation for the ability of leukemias in young patients to evade chemotherapy and immune mediated control. Our analysis also revealed pre-existing lymphomyeloid primed progenitors and myeloid blasts at initial diagnosis of B-ALL. Tracking of leukemic clones in two patients whose leukemia underwent a lineage switch documented the evolution of such clones into frank AML. These findings provide critical insights into KMT2A-r ALL and have clinical implications for molecularly targeted and immunotherapy approaches. Beyond infant ALL, our study demonstrates the power of single cell multi-omics to detect tumor intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting rare but critical subpopulations within a malignant population that ultimately determines patient outcome.