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Scientists uncover indicator that warns leukemia is progressing to more dangerous form
Date:2/17/2009

"This knowledge may enable us to design and develop more effective, personalized therapies for these patients," said staff research associate and co-first author Annelie Abrahamsson.

In CML, an enzyme called ABL goes in overdrive because of a chromosomal mix-up that occurs during blood cell development. The genes ABL and BCR fuse and produce a hybrid BCR-ABL enzyme that drives the excessive proliferation of white blood cells. CML progresses from a chronic stage in hematopoietic stem cells that carry BCR-ABL to the blast crisis stage. This stage is characterized by the over-production of beta-catenin in white blood cells called granulocyte macrophage progenitors (GMP) in effect, leukemia stem cells.

According to Jamieson, a major roadblock in predicting and stopping the conversion of chronic CML to blast crisis stage was the failure to understand what turned on beta-catenin. The team showed that by injecting blast crisis CML progenitor cells GMP into mice lacking working immune systems, they could "transplant" leukemia into the animals. When they did this, they discovered that GSK 3 beta levels dropped. Looking more closely, they found an aberrant "misspliced" form of GSK 3 beta that was unable to turn off beta-catenin, suggesting a potential mechanism behind the change to blast crisis stage.

The scientists also showed that the mice that had received the cells with the bad form of GSK 3 beta developed granulocytic sarcomas, tumors that are seen in patients with the most advanced form of CML.

"Many investigators have questioned the usefulness of finding and purifying leukemia and cancer stem cells," said Weissman. "This paper shows why. The damage to the enzyme GSK 3 beta that prevents beta-catenin activation of cell proliferation occurs only in the GMP leukemia stem cells, which are only about 1 in 20 bone marrow cells. Trying to analyze the missplicing of GSK in the whole leukemia would not have worked.

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Contact: Steve Benowitz
sbenowitz@ucsd.edu
619-543-6163
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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