Diamond-Blackfan anemia is a congenital disorder of erythropoiesis in humans, characterized by a macrocytic anemia often associated with physical anomalies. Mutations at either the W or Steel loci in the mouse also leads to a severe macrocytic anemia, as well as other developmental abnormalities. The W locus encodes the proto-oncogene c- kit, a member of the receptor tyrosine kinase family, while the Steel locus encodes a potent hematopoietic growth factor that is the ligand for c-kit. Growth of clonogenic marrow erythroid progenitor cells in vitro in the presence of the recombinant hematopoietic growth factors interleukin-3 (IL-3) and Steel was used to characterize this disease at the cellular level. Three patterns of in vitro marrow response to both recombinant IL-3 or Steel were observed among 10 Diamond-Blackfan patients: those that responded quantitatively and qualitatively almost as well as cells from normal marrow, those that responded at an intermediate level, and those that did not respond at all. These results provide evidence for cellular heterogeneity underlying the pathogenesis of this disorder and therefore raise the possibility that there may be more than one underlying molecular basis for the disease. No gross abnormalities in the structure of either the c-kit or Steel loci were observed in these patients. The normal response in culture of the progenitor cells from at least some patients to Steel with or without IL-3 raises the possibility of using this novel growth factor as a therapeutic agent in Diamond-Blackfan anemia.

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