Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Cancer Biology



First Thesis Advisor

Shaoguang Li, M.D., Ph.D.


Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive, Neoplastic Stem Cells, Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1, alpha Subunit, Stearoyl-CoA Desaturase, src-Family Kinases


Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a clonal hematopoietic stem cell disorder associated with the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph) that arises from a reciprocal translocation between chromosomes 9 and 22, thereby resulting in the formation of the chimeric BCR-ABL oncogene encoding a constitutively activated tyrosine kinase. BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) induce a complete hematologic and cytogenetic response in the majority of chronic phrase CML patients. However, TKIs cannot efficiently eradicate leukemia stem cells (LSCs) because of the insensitivity of LSCs to TKIs. Therefore, developing new strategies to target LSCs is necessary and critical for curing CML, and success of this approach depends on further understanding the molecular mechanisms by which LSCs survive and are maintained.

In Chapter I, I briefly introduce CML disease, BCR-ABL oncoprotein, and TKIs. I also describe the identification and features of LSCs. Several key pathways in LSCs including Wnt/ß-catenin, hedgehog, FoxO, Bcl6 and HIF1, are discussed. I also propose our strategy to identify unique molecular pathways that are important for LSCs but not their normal stem cell counterparts.

In Chapter II, I describe our finding about the function of the positive regulator, HIF1α, in CML development and LSC survival. I show that loss of HIF1α impairs the maintenance of CML through impairing cell cycle progression and inducing apoptosis of LSCs, and I also report that p16Ink4a and p19Arf mediate the effect of HIF1α on LSCs, as knockdown of p16Ink4a and p19Arf rescues the defective colony-forming ability of HIF1α-/- LSCs.

As detailed in Chapter III and IV, through comparing the global gene expression profiles of LSCs and HSCs, I find two novel regulators, Blk and Scd1, which act as tumor suppressors in CML development. In Chapter III, I show that Blk is markedly down-regulated by BCR-ABL in LSCs, and that c-Myc and Pax5 mediate this down-regulation. Deletion of Blk accelerates CML development; conversely, Blk overexpression significantly delays the development of CML and impairs the function of LSCs. I also demonstrate that p27, as a downstream effector, is involved in the function of Blk in LSCs. Blk also functions as a tumor suppressor in human CML stem cells, and inhibits the colony-forming ability of human CML cells. In Chapter IV, I investigate the function of another negative regulator, Scd1, in CML LSCs, and find that expression of Scd1 is down-regulated in mouse LSCs and human CML cells. We report that Scd1 acts as a tumor suppressor in CML, as loss of Scd1 causes acceleration of CML development and overexpression of Scd1 delays CML development. Using a colony-forming assay, I demonstrate that Scd1 impairs the maintenance of LSCs due to the change of expression of Pten, p53 and Bcl2. Importantly, I find that both Blk and Scd1 do not affect normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) or hematopoiesis.

Taken together, our findings demonstrate that HIF1α is required for the maintenance of CML LSCs, and conversely that Blk and Scd1 suppress the function of LSCs, suggesting that combining TKI treatment with specific targeting of LSCs will be necessary for curing CML.



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