Blood Journal
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Primitive, quiescent, Philadelphia-positive stem cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia are insensitive to STI571 in vitro

  1. Susan M. Graham,
  2. Heather G. Jørgensen,
  3. Elaine Allan,
  4. Charlie Pearson,
  5. Michael J. Alcorn,
  6. Linda Richmond, and
  7. Tessa L. Holyoake
  1. 1 From the Departments of Medicine and Haematology, Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland.


In clinical trials, the tyrosine kinase inhibitor STI571 has proven highly effective in reducing leukemic cell burden in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). The overall sensitivity of CML CD34+ progenitor cells to STI571 and the degree to which cell death was dependent on cell cycle status were determined. Stem cells (LinCD34+) from the peripheral blood of patients with CML in chronic phase and from granulocyte–colony-stimulating factor–mobilized healthy donors were labeled with carboxy-fluorescein diacetate succinimidyl diester dye to enable high-resolution tracking of cell division. Then they were cultured for 3 days with and without growth factors ± STI571. After culture, the cells were separated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting into populations of viable quiescent versus cycling cells for genotyping. For healthy controls, in the presence of growth factors, STI571 affected neither cell cycle kinetics nor recovery of viable cells. In the absence of growth factors, normal cells were unable to divide. For CML samples, in the presence or absence of growth factors, the response to STI571 was variable. In the most sensitive cases, STI571 killed almost all dividing cells; however, a significant population of viable CD34+ cells was recovered in the undivided peak and confirmed to be part of the leukemic clone. STI571 also appeared to exhibit antiproliferative activity on the quiescent population. These studies confirm that CML stem cells remain viable in a quiescent state even in the presence of growth factors and STI571. Despite dramatic short-term responses in vivo, such in vitro insensitivity to STI571, in combination with its demonstrated antiproliferative activity, could translate into disease relapse after prolonged therapy.

  • Submitted May 7, 2001.
  • Accepted September 5, 2001.
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