The cytokines interleukin-3, interleukin-5, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor bind with high affinity to a receptor complex that contains a ligand-specific alpha-chain and a common beta-chain, h beta c. We report here the isolation of a mutant form of h beta c, from growth factor-independent cells, that arose spontaneously after infection of a murine factor-dependent hematopoietic cell line (FDC-P1) with a retroviral h beta c expression construct. Analysis of this h beta c mutation shows that a small (37 amino acid) duplication of extracellular sequence that includes two conserved sequence motifs is sufficient to confer ligand-independent growth on these cells and lead to tumourigenicity. Because this is a conserved region in the cytokine receptor superfamily, our results suggest that the large family of cytokine receptors has the capacity to become oncogenically active.

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