Genetic and biologic evidence suggests that the Kit receptor tyrosine kinase is important in early events in hematopoietic stem cell differentiation. Two naturally occurring isoforms of the Kit receptor, termed Kit and KitA, were originally described in mouse cells and, subsequently, in human cells. These isoforms differ by the presence (KitA) or absence (Kit) of four amino acids (Gly-Asn-Asn-Lys) that lie immediately outside the transmembrane domain. RNase protection was used to measure the levels of Kit and KitA mRNA in normal bone marrow and the blast cells from individuals with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Although both isoforms were present in all the AML samples tested, there was considerable heterogeneity in the relative levels of the two transcripts, with Kit to KitA RNA ratios varying from as low as 1.3 to as high as 12. In contrast, the ratio of Kit to KitA transcripts in normal bone marrow was tightly clustered between 4.4 and 5.5. Because alterations in the relative levels of expression of Kit and KitA may affect the ability of a cell to respond to the Kit ligand, Steel factor, we examined the Kit/KitA RNA ratio in AML patients that differed with respect to a number of diagnostic, prognostic, and biologic parameters. The relative levels of Kit to KitA RNA was independent of French-American-British subtype, response to therapy, and primary and secondary plating efficiencies in vitro. Thus, these data suggest that the relative levels of the two isoforms of the Kit receptor in AML are not associated with any obvious biologic or clinical parameters and, therefore, may reflect naturally occurring changes in splicing mechanisms as stem cells differentiate.

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