The chimeric bcr-abl gene formed by the Philadelphia translocation is thought to initiate chronic myeloid leukemia. Engraftment of mice with bone marrow cells infected with a bcr-abl retrovirus has been shown to elicit multiple hematopoietic disorders, including a clonal but nontransplantable hyperproliferation of erythroid and/or mast cells. Culture of spleen and bone marrow cells from such mice usually yielded mast cell lines, even when erythroid disease dominated the primary animal. The mast cells, which carried the same proviral insert as the primary disease, generally grew slowly and were neither transplantable nor clonogenic in agar until they had been cultured for several months. Unexpectedly, several bcr-abl-induced lines switched in vitro from mast cell to megakaryocytic and/or erythroid character, and one became myeloid. The dramatic phenotypic shifts seem likely to involve changes occurring within progenitor cells maintaining the clone, rather than mutation of mature mast cells. The variant lines exhibited substantial spontaneous differentiation, despite being readily transplantable and therefore fully transformed. The production of hematopoietic growth factors by the mast cell lines and their phenotypic variants may implicate an autocrine loop in their evolution. These novel bcr-abl cell lines should aid in the study of genetic events in the progression from chronic to acute leukemia and facilitate analysis of hematopoietic lineage commitment.

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