Engraftment is a process including homing to bone marrow, implantation and proliferation. Implantation implies interactions with specialized microenvironments, niches, in which hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) live and are regulated. Studies have demonstrated the possibility that leukemic stem cells (LSCs) interact with niches in a similar manner to HSCs. We investigated whether HSCs and LSCs compete with each other in their engraftment. We employed a mouse transplantation assay with unmanipulatated bone marrow cells (BMCs) as a source of normal HSCs and LSCs generated by transduction of BMCs with Meningioma 1 (MN1), a potent oncogene causing myeloid leukemia in mice. In irradiated recipients (750 cGy), cotransplantation of leukemic cells (1×105) with various numbers of BMCs (1×105, 1×106 and 1×107) demonstrated that the engraftment level of leukemic cells is influenced by BMCs in a dose dependant manner (5.2%, 41.3% and 82.2% at 2-weeks; 52.3%, 69.5% and 86.9% at 4weeks; mice died before the 5 weeks bleeding, 94.9% and 97.5% at 5weeks, respectively). Cotransplantation of various numbers of leukemic cells (1×104, 1×105 and 1×106) with a fixed number of BMCs (1×106) demonstrated a similar pattern of leukemic engraftment (7.0%, 59.5% and 87.1% at 2weeks; 62.0%, 85.7% at 4 weeks, and mice died before the four week bleeding, respectively). To further elucidate the competition between HSCs and LSCs, we transplanted the cells at different time intervals. Transplantation of normal BMCs (1×106) 2 days prior to transplantation of LSCs (1×105) resulted in much reduced levels of leukemic engraftment compared to that seen in mice simultaneously transplanted (3.5% vs 59.5% at 2 weeks; 73.1% vs 85.76% at 4weeks). This competitive suppression of leukemic engraftment was further enhanced by transplanting larger numbers of normal BMCs (2×107) as little as 12 hours prior LSC transplantation (5×105) compared to simultaneous injection (0% vs 7.26% at 2weeks, 0.9% vs 35.3% at 3 weeks, and 6.0% vs 60.6% at 4 weeks). When BMCs (1×105) or leukemic cells (1×105) were transplanted at equal doses of 1×105 together with normal helper cells (1×106) the leukemic cells expanded 280-fold compared to only 7.3 fold for normal BMCs at 2 weeks (total cell count from two femurs and two tibias per 1×105 transplanted cells). Thus the competitive suppression of leukemic cell growth seen upon sequential transplantation of normal BMCs is not readily explained by enhanced kinetics of normal BMC growth but rather by competition at the level of initial engraftment.
In conclusion, our data demonstrate that there is a competition between normal and leukemic cells during the engraftment process, suggesting niche competition of HSCs and LSCs.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.