Recreating the Bone Marrow Microenvironment to Model Leukemic Stem Cell Quiescence

Front Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Sep 13;9:662868. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.662868. eCollection 2021.


The main challenge in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is relapse, as it has no good treatment options and 90% of relapsed patients die as a result. It is now well accepted that relapse is due to a persisting subset of AML cells known as leukemia-initiating cells or leukemic stem cells (LSCs). Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) reside in the bone marrow microenvironment (BMM), a specialized niche that coordinates HSC self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation. HSCs are divided into two types: long-term HSCs (LT-HSCs) and short-term HSCs, where LT-HSCs are typically quiescent and act as a reserve of HSCs. Like LT-HSCs, a quiescent population of LSCs also exist. Like LT-HSCs, quiescent LSCs have low metabolic activity and receive pro-survival signals from the BMM, making them resistant to drugs, and upon discontinuation of therapy, they can become activated and re-establish the disease. Several studies have shown that the activation of quiescent LSCs may sensitize them to cytotoxic drugs. However, it is very difficult to experimentally model the quiescence-inducing BMM. Here we report that culturing AML cells with bone marrow stromal cells, transforming growth factor beta-1 and hypoxia in a three-dimensional system can replicate the quiescence-driving BMM. A quiescent-like state of the AML cells was confirmed by reduced cell proliferation, increased percentage of cells in the G0 cell cycle phase and a decrease in absolute cell numbers, expression of markers of quiescence, and reduced metabolic activity. Furthermore, the culture could be established as co-axial microbeads, enabling high-throughput screening, which has been used to identify combination drug treatments that could break BMM-mediated LSC quiescence, enabling the eradication of quiescent LSCs.

PMID:34589478 | PMC:PMC8473680 | DOI:10.3389/fcell.2021.662868


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