The c-myc gene plays a pivotal role in mediating the competence state for cell cycle transversion. This biologic role is in contradiction to reports of elevated expression of the gene in multiple myeloma, a tumor with restricted self-renewal capacity. To more clearly define the role of this gene in plasma cells of myeloma patients, c-myc messenger RNA (mRNA) and/or oncoprotein expression were semiquantitatively analyzed on the single cell level in 19 cases of multiple myeloma, among them 1 biclonal case and 1 case with coexistent chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Performing anti-sense/mRNA in situ hybridization, mature c-myc gene transcripts were detected in 92% (12 of 13) of cases and could definitely be attributed to the plasma cells by our study. The number of Ki 67-positive plasma cells actively passing the cell cycle was less than 1% and independent of c-myc gene expression. However, because the presence of the 152-c-MYC epitope was correlated to extent of marrow plasmacytosis (r = .64; P = .043) and content of plasmablasts (P = .09), the c-myc gene might serve a function different from proliferative activity, but also associated with tumor cell mass. In CLL cells (21 of 22 cases) and their benign counterparts, ie, bone marrow and peripheral blood lymphocytes, the anti-sense/c-myc mRNA hybridization signals remained below the threshold considered as cutpoint between negative and positive. The low amounts of c-myc transcripts were correlated to neither stage of disease (P = .52) nor lymphocyte counts (P = .24). Because the numbers of peripheral blood lymphoma cells were independent of tumor mass and of c-myc gene transcripts expressed, peripheral blood lymphocytosis might more likely reflect homing processes than proliferative activity in CLL.
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