NOTCH1 is a prevalent signaling pathway in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), but crucial NOTCH1 downstream signals and target genes contributing to T-ALL pathogenesis cannot be retrospectively analyzed in patients and thus remain ill defined. This information is clinically relevant, as initiating lesions that lead to cell transformation and leukemia-initiating cell (LIC) activity are promising therapeutic targets against the major hurdle of T-ALL relapse. Here, we describe the generation in vivo of a human T cell leukemia that recapitulates T-ALL in patients, which arises de novo in immunodeficient mice reconstituted with human hematopoietic progenitors ectopically expressing active NOTCH1. This T-ALL model allowed us to identify CD44 as a direct NOTCH1 transcriptional target and to recognize CD44 overexpression as an early hallmark of preleukemic cells that engraft the BM and finally develop a clonal transplantable T-ALL that infiltrates lymphoid organs and brain. Notably, CD44 is shown to support crucial BM niche interactions necessary for LIC activity of human T-ALL xenografts and disease progression, highlighting the importance of the NOTCH1/CD44 axis in T-ALL pathogenesis. The observed therapeutic benefit of anti-CD44 antibody administration in xenotransplanted mice holds great promise for therapeutic purposes against T-ALL relapse.
Marina García-Peydró, Patricia Fuentes, Marta Mosquera, María J. García-León, Juan Alcain, Antonio Rodríguez, Purificación García de Miguel, Pablo Menéndez, Kees Weijer, Hergen Spits, David T. Scadden, Carlos Cuesta-Mateos, Cecilia Muñoz-Calleja, Francisco Sánchez-Madrid, María L. Toribio