The ability of the tumor promotor 12–0-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate (TPA) to induce differentiation of leukemic cells was studied in 10 cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). An increase in modal volume and an enhancement of the capacity of te leukemic cells to stimulate in mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) was seen in the majority of cases. A significant increase in Ia expression was observed upon culture of leukemic cells with TPA in 6 of the 10 cases; 5 of these cases also showed an induction of cytoplasmic IgM production. Correlations between the phenotypic markers of the leukemic cells and their ability to respond to TPA were evaluated. CLL cells with low amounts to surface Ig. a volume less than or equal to 165 fl. and relatively low la expression responded well to TPA. Cells with bright surface Ig. a volume greater than or equal to 178 fl. and elevated amounts of Ia responded poorly to TPA. These results suggest that differences in the response of B leukemic cells to TPA reflect the underlying heterogeneity of the leukemic cells and might be correlated with their stage of maturation.

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