Acute leukemias (AL) of ambiguous lineage are a heterogeneous group of high-risk leukemias characterized by co-expression of myeloid and lymphoid markers. In this study, we identified a distinct subgroup of immature acute leukemias characterized by a broadly variable phenotype, covering acute myeloid leukemia (AML M0 or M1), T/myeloid mixed phenotype acute leukemia (T/M MPAL), and early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP-ALL). Rearrangements at 14q32/BCL11B are the cytogenetic hallmark of this entity. In our screening of 915 hematological malignancies, there were 202 AML and 333 T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (T-ALL) (58 ETP, 178 non-ETP, 8 T/M MPAL, 89 not otherwise specified). We identified 20 cases of immature leukemias (4% of AML and 3,6% of T-ALL) harbouring four types of 14q32/BCL11B translocations: t(2,14)(q22.3;q32) (n=7), t(6;14)(q25.3;q32) (n=9), t(7;14)(q21.2;q32) (n=2) and t(8;14)(q24.2;q32) (n=2). The t(2;14) produced a ZEB2-BCL11B fusion transcript, while the other three rearrangements displaced transcriptionally active enhancer sequences close to BCL11B without producing fusion genes. All translocations resulted in the activation of BCL11B, a regulator of T-cell differentiation associated with transcriptional corepressor complexes in mammalian cells. The expression of BCL11B behaved as a disease biomarker, which was present at diagnosis but not in remission. Deregulation of BCL11B co-occurred with variants at FLT3 and at epigenetic modulators, most frequently DNMT3A, TET2 and/or WT1 gene. Transcriptome analysis identified a specific expression signature, with significant downregulation of BCL11B targets, and clearly separating BCL11B positive AL from AML, T-ALL, and ETP-ALL. Remarkably, ex-vivo drug sensitivity profile identified a panel of compounds with effective antileukemic activity.
Danika Di Giacomo, Roberta La Starza, Paolo Gorello, Fabrizia Pellanera, Zeynep Kalender Atak, Kim De Keersmaecker, Valentina Pierini, Christine J Harrison, Silvia Arniani, Martina Moretti, Nicoletta Testoni, Giovanna De Santis, Giovanni Roti, Caterina Matteucci, Renato Bassan, Peter Vandenberghe, Stein Aerts, Jan Cools, Beat Bornhauser, Jean-Pierre Bourquin, Rocco Piazza, Cristina Mecucci