Purpose of review: Recent genome sequencing studies have identified a broad spectrum of gene mutations in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). The purpose of this review is to outline the latest advances in our understanding of how these mutations contribute to the formation of T-ALL.
Recent findings: Aberrant expression of transcription factors that control hematopoiesis can induce an aberrant stem cell-like program in T-cell progenitors, allowing the emergence of an ancestral or preleukemic stem cell (pre-LSC). In contrast, gain-of-function mutations of genes involved in signaling pathways regulating T-cell development, such as NOTCH1, interleukin-7, KIT and FLT3, are insufficient per se to initiate T-ALL but promote pre-LSC growth independent of the thymic niche. Loss-of-function mutations of epigenetic regulators, such as DNMT3A, have been identified in T-ALL, but their role in leukemogenesis remains to be defined.
Summary: Relapse is associated with clonal evolution from a population of pre-LSCs that acquire the whole set of malignant mutations leading to a full-blown T-ALL. Understanding the genetic events that underpin the pre-LSC will be crucial for reducing the risk of relapse.