The Hidden Pathogenesis of CML: Is BCR-ABL1 the First Event?

Curr Hematol Malig Rep. 2019 Dec;14(6):501-506. doi: 10.1007/s11899-019-00549-1.


Purpose of review: Identification of the BCR-ABL1 fusion oncogene in patients diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) led to the development of targeted therapy responsible for the dramatic survival benefits observed in the past two decades. However, despite these revolutionary findings, there remains marked disparity in patient outcomes. Why do some patients present de novo while others evolve to the more aggressive stages of CML? Why can select patients successfully discontinue therapy as part of a treatment-free remission attempt whereas others fail to meet specific molecular milestones?

Recent findings: BCR-ABL1 kinase mutations are only identified in approximately 50% of patients with poor responses and disease progression, suggesting the presence of alternative resistance mechanisms. Numerous institutions have identified the presence of additional genomic events in addition to BCR-ABL1 with the increasing availability of next-generation sequencing. We explore the potential pathways and events that may cooperate with BCR-ABL1 to answer these questions but also challenge the fundamental tenet that BCR-ABL1 is always the sole event initiating CML.

Keywords: Disease progression; Mutations; Next-generation sequencing; Resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Disease Progression
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl / genetics*
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl / metabolism
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / diagnosis
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / etiology*
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / therapy
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Precancerous Conditions / genetics
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • BCR-ABL1 fusion protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl