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Blood. 1999 May 15;93(10):3494-504.

Interferon-gamma prevents apoptosis in Epstein-Barr virus-infected natural killer cell leukemia in an autocrine fashion.

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  • 1First Department of Internal Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan.


The significant function of cytokines includes maintenance of cell survival as well as induction of cell differentiation and/or proliferation. We demonstrate here that interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) plays a role for progression of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-infected natural killer cell leukemia (NK leukemia) through maintaining cell survival. NK leukemia cells obtained from 7 patients had clonal episomal forms of EBV, indicating that the leukemic cells were of clonal origin. Although normal NK cells constitutively expressed Bcl-2, the EBV-infected NK leukemia cells lacked endogenous Bcl-2 expression and were hypersensitive to apoptosis in vitro. The addition of IFN-gamma to the culture significantly inhibited their spontaneous apoptosis without inducing cell proliferation or upregulation of Bcl-2. The NK leukemia cells constitutively secreted IFN-gamma, and the patients' sera contained a high concentration of IFN-gamma, levels that were high enough to prevent NK leukemia cells from apoptosis. Bcl-XL was not involved in the IFN-gamma-induced NK leukemia cell survival. These data suggest that the acquisition of IFN-gamma-mediated autocrine survival signals, other than Bcl-2 or BCL-XL, might be important for the development of EBV-infected NK leukemia.

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