K-ras plays an important role in hematopoiesis. K-ras-deficient mouse embryos die around E12-E13 with severe anemia. In humans, oncogenic mutations in K-ras gene are identified in ~30% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia. We used mouse primary erythroid progenitors as a model system to study the role of K-ras signaling in vivo. Both Epo- and stem cell factor (SCF) - dependent Akt activation are greatly reduced in K-ras-/- fetal liver cells, whereas other cytokine- induced pathways, including Stat5 and p44/p42 MAP kinase, are activated normally. The reduced Akt activation in erythroid progenitors per se leads to delayed erythroid differentiation. Our data identify K-ras as the major regulator for cytokine-dependent Akt activation, which is important for erythroid differentiation in vivo. Overexpression of oncogenic Ras in primary fetal erythroid progenitors led to their continual proliferation and a block in terminal erythroid differentiation. Similarly, we found that primary fetal liver cells expressing oncogenic K-ras from its endogenous locus undergo abnormal proliferation and terminal erythroid differentiation is partially blocked. We are currently investigating the signal transduction pathways activated by this oncogenic K-ras that underlies these cellular phenotypes.

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