Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia is similar to but a separate entity from both myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelodysplastic syndromes, and shows either myeloproliferative or myelodysplastic features. We ask whether this distinction may have a molecular basis. We established the gene expression profiles of 39 samples of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (including 12 CD34-positive) and 32 CD34-positive samples of myelodysplastic syndromes by using Affymetrix microarrays, and studied the status of 18 genes by Sanger sequencing and array-comparative genomic hybridization in 53 samples. Analysis of 12 mRNAS from chronic myelomonocytic leukemia established a gene expression signature of 122 probe sets differentially expressed between proliferative and dysplastic cases of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. As compared to proliferative cases, dysplastic cases over-expressed genes involved in red blood cell biology. When applied to 32 myelodysplastic syndromes, this gene expression signature was able to discriminate refractory anemias with ring sideroblasts from refractory anemias with excess of blasts. By comparing mRNAS from these two forms of myelodysplastic syndromes we derived a second gene expression signature. This signature separated the myelodysplastic and myeloproliferative forms of chronic myelomonocytic leukemias. These results were validated using two independent gene expression data sets. We found that myelodysplastic chronic myelomonocytic leukemias are characterized by mutations in transcription/epigenetic regulators (ASXL1, RUNX1, TET2) and splicing genes (SRSF2) and the absence of mutations in signaling genes. Myelodysplastic chronic myelomonocytic leukemias and refractory anemias with ring sideroblasts share a common expression program suggesting they are part of a continuum, which is not totally explained by their similar but not, however, identical mutation spectrum.
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