One of the most urgent needs in AML is to improve the disease cure rate as relapse still occurs in 60-80% of patients. Recent evidence suggests that dismal clinical outcomes may be improved by a better definition of the tight interaction between the AML cell population and the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment ("the niche"); the latter has been progressively highlighted to have an active role in the disease process. It has now been well established that the leukemic population may misinterpret niche-derived signals and remodel the niche, providing a shelter to AML cells and protecting them from the cytotoxic effects of chemoradiotherapy. Novel imaging technological advances and preclinical disease models have revealed that, due to the finite number of BM niches, leukemic stem cells (LSCs) and normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) compete for the same functional areas. Thus, the removal of LSCs from the BM niche and the promotion of normal HSC engraftment should be the primary goals in antileukemic research. In addition, it is now becoming increasingly clear that AML-niche dynamics are disease stage specific. In AML, the niche has been linked to disease pathogenesis in the preleukemic stage, the niche becomes permissive once leukemic cells are established, and the niche is transformed into a self-reinforcing structure at a later disease stage. These concepts have been fostered by the demonstration that, in unrelated AML types, endosteal vessel loss occurs as a primary AML-induced niche alteration, and additional AML-induced alterations of the niche and normal hematopoiesis evolve focally and in parallel. Obviously, this endosteal vessel loss plays a fundamental role in AML pathogenesis by causing excessive vascular permeability, hypoxia, altered perfusion, and reduced drug delivery. Each of these alterations may be effectively targeted by various therapeutic procedures, but preservation of endosteal vessel integrity might be the best option for any future antileukemic treatment.
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