We recently reported development of an acute myeloid leukemia in a rhesus macaque transplanted with autologous CD34+ cells transduced with a murine stem cell virus-derived replication defective retrovirus vector expressing only marker genes under control of the strong MCSV LTR. This animal had an unusual clonal reconstitution pattern the first year following transplant, with a single transduced myeloid progenitor cell clone accounting for up to 80% of then normal myelopoiesis (Kelly, 2005). The same vector-containing clone then transformed to AML five years following transplantation, and each tumor cell was shown to contain two vector insertions, one localized 20 kb upstream the CDw92 gene on chromosome 9, and the second localized in the first intron of BCL2A1 on chromosome 15 (Seggewiss, 2006), a gene in the anti-apoptotic BCL2 family not previously linked to myeloid leukemia. BCL2A1 was highly expressed in the tumor cells. This tumor was the first hematopoietic malignancy reported in a recipient of primitive cells transduced with a replication-incompetent vector containing only marker genes, and suggested that BCL2A1 could have potent effects on myeloid cell behavior. To investigate the impact of the BCL2A1 gene product on hematopoietic cells, we cloned the murine and human HA-tagged BCL2A1 cDNAs into lentivirus vectors and transduced the murine BaF3 hematopoietic cell line as a model to study the impact of expression of these proteins on hematopoiesis. We confirmed overexpression of the proteins in the producer cell line as well as in transduced cells by western blot using an anti-HA monoclonal antibody. BaF3 cell proliferation and survival are dependant on IL-3, and under IL-3 replete conditions overexpression of murine or human BCL2A1 did alter proliferation compared with untransduced cells or cells transduced with an empty vector. Removal of IL-3 from the cell culture media leads to rapid apoptosis of BaF3 cells, with cell cycle arrest in the G1 and an apoptotic subpopulation appearing within 24 hours of IL-3 removal. 45% untransduced or empty vector cells were apoptotic, and this fraction decreased to 30% and 15% respectively for BaF3 cells expressing murine or human BCL2A1. These results were confirmed by direct analysis of apoptosis. Only BaF3 cells over-expressing human BCL2A1 were still alive and arrested in G1 after 3 days of culture without IL-3. The murine BCL2A1 had similar but less striking effects. Gene expression analyses on the BaF3 cell populations are ongoing, to identify potential downstream targets of the BCL2A1 protein. The BCL2A1 and empty vectors were also utilized in murine bone marrow cell immortalization assay, previously utilized to identify genes impacting on the survival and expansion of primary myeloid progenitor cells (Du, 2005). In an initial set of experiments, clonal clonal expansion was obtained with marrow cells expressing murine (4 clones) and human (5 clones) BCL2A1 but not for empty vector or untransduced murine marrow. Mice have also been transplanted with primary bone marrow cells transduced with the BCL2A1 and control vectors, and are being followed for in vivo expansion of transduced clones and development of leukemia. In conclusion, we have confirmed the role of BCL2A1 as an anti-apoptotic protein, now in myeloid hematopoietic cells, and will continue to investigate the role of this gene product in hematopoiesis and leukemogenesis.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.