B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) is a multistep disease characterized by the hierarchical acquisition of genetic alterations. However, the question of how a primary oncogene reprograms stem cell–like properties in committed B cells and leads to a preneoplastic population remains unclear. Here, we used the PAX5::ELN oncogenic model to demonstrate a causal link between the differentiation blockade, the self-renewal, and the emergence of preleukemic stem cells (pre-LSCs). We show that PAX5::ELN disrupts the differentiation of preleukemic cells by enforcing the IL7r/JAK-STAT pathway. This disruption is associated with the induction of rare and quiescent pre-LSCs that sustain the leukemia-initiating activity, as assessed using the H2B-GFP model. Integration of transcriptomic and chromatin accessibility data reveals that those quiescent pre-LSCs lose B cell identity and reactivate an immature molecular program, reminiscent of human B-ALL chemo-resistant cells. Finally, our transcriptional regulatory network reveals the transcription factor EGR1 as a strong candidate to control quiescence/resistance of PAX5::ELN pre-LSCs as well as of blasts from human B-ALL.

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