Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) is a paradigm of precision medicine, being one of the first cancers to be treated with targeted therapy. This has revolutionised CML therapy and patient outcome, with high survival rates. However, this now means an ever-increasing number of patients are living with the disease on life-long tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) therapy, with most patients anticipated to have near normal life expectancy. Unfortunately, in a significant number of patients, TKIs are not curative. This low-level disease persistence suggests that despite a molecularly targeted therapeutic approach, there are BCR-ABL1-independent mechanisms exploited to sustain the survival of a small cell population of leukaemic stem cells (LSCs). In CML, LSCs display many features akin to haemopoietic stem cells, namely quiescence, self-renewal and the ability to produce mature progeny, this all occurs through intrinsic and extrinsic signals within the specialised microenvironment of the bone marrow (BM) niche. One important avenue of investigation in CML is how the disease highjacks the BM, thereby remodelling this microenvironment to create a niche, which enables LSC persistence and resistance to TKI treatment. In this review, we explore how changes in growth factor levels, in particular, the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) and pro-inflammatory cytokines, impact on cell behaviour, extracellular matrix deposition and bone remodelling in CML. We also discuss the challenges in targeting LSCs and the potential of dual targeting using combination therapies against BMP receptors and BCR-ABL1.
Myeloid leukaemias share the common characteristics of being stem cell-derived clonal diseases, characterised by excessive proliferation of one or more myeloid lineage. Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) arises from a genetic alteration in a normal haemopoietic stem cell (HSC) giving rise to a leukaemic stem cell (LSC) within the bone marrow (BM) ‘niche’. CML is characterised by the presence of the oncogenic tyrosine kinase fusion protein breakpoint cluster region-abelson murine leukaemia viral oncogene homolog 1 (BCR-ABL), which is responsible for driving the disease through activation of downstream signal transduction pathways. Recent evidence from our group and others indicates that important regulatory networks involved in establishing primitive and definitive haemopoiesis during development are reactivated in myeloid leukaemia, giving rise to an LSC population with altered self-renewal and differentiation properties. In this review, we explore the role the bone morphogenic protein (BMP) signalling plays in stem cell pluripotency, developmental haemopoiesis, HSC maintenance and the implication of altered BMP signalling on LSC persistence in the BM niche. Overall, we emphasise how the BMP and Wnt pathways converge to alter the Cdx–Hox axis and the implications of this in the pathogenesis of myeloid malignancies.
CML (chronic myeloid leukaemia) is characterized by the presence of the oncogenic tyrosine kinase fusion protein BCR (breakpoint cluster region)–Abl, responsible for driving the disease. Current TKI (tyrosine kinase inhibitor) therapies effectively inhibit BCR–Abl to control CML in the majority of patients, but do not eliminate the LSC (leukaemic stem cell) population, which becomes quiescent following treatment. Patients require long-term treatment to sustain remission; alternative strategies are therefore required, either alone or in combination with TKIs to eliminate the LSCs and provide a cure. The embryonic morphogenetic pathways play a key role in haemopoiesis with recent evidence suggesting LSCs are more dependent on these signals following chemotherapy than normal HSCs (haemopoietic stem cells). Recent evidence in the literature and from our group has revealed that the BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) pathway is differentially expressed in CML patients compared with normal donors. In the present review, we explore the role that BMP signalling plays in oesteoblast differentiation, HSC maintenance and the implication of altered BMP signalling on LSC persistence in the BM (bone marrow) niche. Overall, we highlight the BMP pathway as a potential target for developing LSC-directed therapies in CML in the future.