Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is characterized by the presence of the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome in clonally derived hematopoietic precursors and their progeny. The Ph chromosome arises from a translocation that deregulates the c-ABL protein tyrosine kinase, giving it transforming potential and increased kinase activity. We observed a unique 39-kD tyrosine phosphoprotein (pp39), previously reported in blastic CML cell lines, in neutrophils from 50 cases of chronic phase CML. This protein was prominently and constitutively tyrosine-phosphorylated in CML neutrophils and was not phosphorylated in normal neutrophils. Stimulation of normal neutrophils with cytokines and agonists did not induce tyrosine phosphorylation of proteins migrating in the region of pp39, and the phosphorylation state of pp39 in CML neutrophils was not affected by kinase inhibitors known to downregulate the ABL kinase. The pp39 was not phosphorylated in hematopoietic cells from healthy donors or from patients with Ph chromosome-negative myeloproliferative disorders. Using micro amino acid sequencing of purified preparations of pp39, we identified pp39 as CRKL protein, which is consistent with recent immunologic studies in the blastic K562 cell line. Immunoblotting with anti-CRKL antibodies showed the presence of CRKL protein in CML cells and cell lines as well as in antiphosphotyrosine immunoprecipitates from CML cells. Our results suggest that pp39 CRKL in CML neutrophils may be stably tyrosine-phosphorylated by the BCR/ABL kinase at an early stage of myeloid differentiation when the ABL kinase is active. CRK, CRKL, and other SH2 (SRC homology domain)/SH3-containing proteins function as adaptor molecules in nonreceptor tyrosine kinase signalling pathways. Although the CRKL protein is present in normal neutrophils, it is not tyrosine-phosphorylated, and the inability to induce such phosphorylation in normal neutrophils suggests a special role of this phosphoprotein in the pathogenesis of CML. Constitutive phosphorylation of CRKL is unique to CML, indicating that it may be a useful target for therapeutic intervention.

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