A transcriptomic continuum of differentiation arrest identifies myeloid interface acute leukemias with poor prognosis
Abstract: Classification of acute lymphoblastic and myeloid leukemias (ALL and AML) remains heavily based on phenotypic resemblance to normal hematopoietic precursors. This framework can provide diagnostic challenges for immunophenotypically heterogeneous immature leukemias, and ignores recent advances in understanding of developmental multipotency of diverse normal hematopoietic progenitor populations that are identified by transcriptional signatures. We performed transcriptional analyses of a large series of acute myeloid and lymphoid leukemias and detected significant overlap in gene expression between cases in different diagnostic categories. Bioinformatic classification of leukemias along a continuum of hematopoietic differentiation identified leukemias at the myeloid/T-lymphoid interface, which shared gene expression programs with a series of multi or oligopotent hematopoietic progenitor populations, including the most immature CD34+CD1a−CD7− subset of early thymic precursors. Within these interface acute leukemias (IALs), transcriptional resemblance to early lymphoid progenitor populations and biphenotypic leukemias was more evident in cases originally diagnosed as AML, rather than T-ALL. Further prognostic analyses revealed that expression of IAL transcriptional programs significantly correlated with poor outcome in independent AML patient cohorts. Our results suggest that traditional binary approaches to acute leukemia categorization are reductive, and that identification of IALs could allow better treatment allocation and evaluation of therapeutic options.