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New Study Highlights a Key Role for Adipocytes in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Review of “Acute myeloid leukaemia disrupts endogenous myelo-erythropoiesis by compromising the adipocyte bone marrow niche” from Nature Cell Biology by Stuart P. Atkinson

Previous studies strongly have strongly indicated that the uncontrolled proliferation of dysfunctional leukemic cells associated with the onset of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) leads to the failure of healthy blood production and subsequent characteristic infections and anemia [1, 2]. However, we still do not have a full understanding of why the hematopoietic system fails in AML patients.

Now, new research from the laboratory of Mickie Bhatia (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada) suggests that the defective hematopoiesis observed in AML is due to disruption to another BM-resident cell type: the humble adipocyte [3]. Could this new finding revolutionize AML treatment?

Initial studies of human AML development employed patient samples and xenograft mouse modeling, and suggested the absence of permanent alterations to reservoirs of healthy primitive hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), so indicating that AML disrupts hematopoiesis in another manner. Further in-depth analysis of other BM constituents established that AML significantly affected the production of adipocytes from resident mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and that the resultant compromised adipogenic BM niche indirectly disrupted hematopoiesis. Encouragingly, the authors discovered that treating the AML mouse model with a PPARγ agonist [4] to stimulate adipogenesis in the BM, promoted healthy hematopoiesis, and, importantly, suppressed leukemic colony-forming cells.

These new findings may lead to enhanced AML treatments that limit leukemic growth while supporting normal hematopoietic function and thereby reducing the occurrence of infection and anemia and the need for transfusion products.

For more exciting findings and novel treatment strategies, keep visiting the Stem Cells Portal.


  1. Döhner H, Estey EH, Amadori S, et al., Diagnosis and management of acute myeloid leukemia in adults: recommendations from an international expert panel, on behalf of the European LeukemiaNet. Blood 2010;115:453-474.
  2. Sasine JP and Schiller GJ, Acute Myeloid Leukemia: How Do We Measure Success? Current Hematologic Malignancy Reports 2016;11:528-536.
  3. Boyd AL, Reid JC, Salci KR, et al., Acute myeloid leukaemia disrupts endogenous myelo-erythropoiesis by compromising the adipocyte bone marrow niche. Nature Cell Biology 2017;19:1336.
  4. Brown KK, Henke BR, Blanchard SG, et al., A novel N-aryl tyrosine activator of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma reverses the diabetic phenotype of the Zucker diabetic fatty rat. Diabetes 1999;48:1415-1424.