Research Perspectives:

Chronic myeloid leukemia stem cells in the era of targeted therapies: resistance, persistence and long-term dormancy

Jean-Claude Chomel _ and Ali G. Turhan

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Oncotarget. 2011; 2:713-727. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.333

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Jean-Claude Chomel and Ali G. Turhan

Service d'Hématologie et Oncologie Biologique, CHU de Poitiers, France, Inserm U935, Université de Poitiers, France

Received: September 21, 2011; Accepted: September 22, 2011; Published: September 22, 2011;

Keywords: CML, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, leukemic stem cells, persistency, quiescence, undetectable molecular disease


A.G. Turhan, email:


Targeted therapies of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) using tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) have profoundly changed the natural history of the disease with a major impact on survival.  Molecular monitoring with BCR-ABL quantification shows that a status of undetectable molecular residual disease (UMRD) is obtained in a significant minority of patients. However, it remains unclear whether these patients are definitively cured of their leukemia. Imatinib mesylate withdrawal trials have demonstrated the rapid appearance of the malignant clone in the majority of the patients whereas some patients remain in a state of UMRD. It has clearly been demonstrated that the most primitive stem cells are refractory to all TKIs used in clinical practice. In addition, long-term dormancy is one of the most fundamental characteristics of hematopoietic stem cells. In this context, we have recently undertaken a systematic analysis of the bone marrow stem cell compartment in several patients in durable UMRD. We have demonstrated the long-term persistence of a considerable amount of BCR-ABL-expressing stem cells, even in the absence of relapse. The phenomenon of long-term leukemic stem cell dormancy is of major importance in CML and one of the key questions in cancer biology in general. We discuss, here, the potential mechanisms, including intrinsic and microenvironmental factors, that control the response of leukemic stem cells (LSCs) to targeted therapies and potential novel strategies currently in progress with a curative intent. Moreover, we propose a molecular evaluation of the residual LSC compartment in selected patients in order to develop rational TKI-cessation strategies in CML.

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