Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a hematopoietic disease characterized by expansion of myeloid blood cells. It is caused by the t(9;22) chromosomal translocation that results in the expression of the fusion tyrosine kinase BCR-ABL. Tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) therapy has led to long-term remissions, but patients remain BCR-ABL+. There is agreement that TKIs do not kill CML stem cells; however, it is controversial whether this is because of a lack of BCR-ABL kinase inhibition in CML stem cells or because CML stem cells do not require BCR-ABL for survival. In this issue of the JCI, Corbin and colleagues provide definitive evidence that BCR-ABL is kinase active in CML stem cells and that TKIs inhibit this kinase activity without affecting CML stem cell survival. Rather, CML stem cells revert to a normal dependence on cytokines for survival and proliferation. These results demonstrate that the CML stem cell is not BCR-ABL addicted and have important implications for developing curative therapeutic approaches to CML.
Alexander Perl, Martin Carroll