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Although 90% of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are now cured, the prognosis for infant-ALL remains dismal. Infant-ALL is usually caused by a single genetic hit that arises in utero: an MLL/KMT2A gene rearrangement (MLL-r). This is sufficient to induce a uniquely aggressive and treatment-refractory leukemia compared to older children. The reasons for disparate outcomes in patients of different ages with identical driver mutations are unknown. Using the most common MLL-r in infant-ALL, MLL-AF4, as a disease model, we show that fetal-specific gene expression programs are maintained in MLL-AF4 infant-ALL but not in MLL-AF4 childhood-ALL. We use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing of primary human fetal liver hematopoietic cells to produce a t(4;11)/MLL-AF4 translocation, which replicates the clinical features of infant-ALL and drives infant-ALL-specific and fetal-specific gene expression programs. These data support the hypothesis that fetal-specific gene expression programs cooperate with MLL-AF4 to initiate and maintain the distinct biology of infant-ALL.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

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