Lineage-ambiguous leukemias are high-risk malignancies of poorly understood genetic basis. Here, we describe a distinct subgroup of acute leukemia with expression of myeloid, T lymphoid, and stem cell markers driven by aberrant allele-specific deregulation of BCL11B, a master transcription factor responsible for thymic T-lineage commitment and specification. Mechanistically, this deregulation was driven by chromosomal rearrangements that juxtapose BCL11B to superenhancers active in hematopoietic progenitors, or focal amplifications that generate a superenhancer from a noncoding element distal to BCL11B. Chromatin conformation analyses demonstrated long-range interactions of rearranged enhancers with the expressed BCL11B allele and association of BCL11B with activated hematopoietic progenitor cell cis-regulatory elements, suggesting BCL11B is aberrantly co-opted into a gene regulatory network that drives transformation by maintaining a progenitor state. These data support a role for ectopic BCL11B expression in primitive hematopoietic cells mediated by enhancer hijacking as an oncogenic driver of human lineage-ambiguous leukemia.


Lineage-ambiguous leukemias pose significant diagnostic and therapeutic challenges due to a poorly understood molecular and cellular basis. We identify oncogenic deregulation of BCL11B driven by diverse structural alterations, including de novo superenhancer generation, as the driving feature of a subset of lineage-ambiguous leukemias that transcend current diagnostic boundaries.

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