Understanding the emergence of leukemia

Understanding the emergence of leukemia
Microscopic image of a thymus section. Mature T lymphocytes (red and green) are at the centre of the thymus whereas the precursor cells (yellow) are located at the periphery. Credit: Mariana Ávila, IGC

Acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia is a rare type of blood cancer that affects mostly children. This blood cancer appears from the precursor cells that produce T lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells). A new study from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), conducted in mice, shows that leukemia can emerge as a consequence of prolonging the presence of precursor cells in the thymus. This work was now published in the Journal of Immunology.

T lymphocytes are essential to fight infections and prevent cancer. They develop in the thymus, an organ located above the heart. Their development relies on the seeding by precursor cells that come from the bone marrow and enter the thymus to differentiate and learn to protect the organism. This is a process secured by an "assembly line" in the thymus in which many of the precursor cells enter, but are discarded if they malfunction. The work led by Vera Martins at the IGC shows that if there is a problem with the that come from the , the thymus alone can maintain its "" for some time. However, this function is associated with a high risk of developing T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The IGC team tested several in mice known to be involved in the formation of T lymphocytes. The results showed that in all conditions tested there was an incidence of ca. 80 percent of this type of leukemia. "Our study shows the importance of investigating in detail the cellular, genetic and associated with the process of normal cell differentiation, and opens the door to understand how leukemia can appear in cells that should be learning to defend our body," says Vera Martins.


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More information: Luna Ballesteros-Arias et al. T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia as a Consequence of Thymus Autonomy, The Journal of Immunology (2019). DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.1801373
Journal information: Journal of Immunology

Provided by Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)
Citation: Understanding the emergence of leukemia (2019, January 25) retrieved 23 July 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-01-emergence-leukemia.html
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