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J Clin Invest. 1998 May 15;101(10):2278-89.

The PML/RARalpha fusion protein inhibits tumor necrosis factor-alpha-induced apoptosis in U937 cells and acute promyelocytic leukemia blasts.

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  • 1Department of Hematology-Oncology, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy.


We investigated the effect of the acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) specific PML/RARalpha fusion protein on the sensitivity to TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis. The U937 leukemia cell line was transduced with PML/RARalpha cDNA. PML/RARalpha expression caused a markedly reduced sensitivity to TNF-alpha, even if apoptosis was triggered by agonistic antibodies to TNF-alpha receptors I and II (TNF-alphaRI, II). PML/RARalpha induced a 10-20-fold decrease of the TNF-alpha-binding capacity via downmodulation of both TNF-alphaRI and TNF-alphaRII: this may mediate at least in part the reduced sensitivity to TNF-alpha. Furthermore, the fusion protein did not modify Fas expression (CD95) or sensitivity to Fas-mediated apoptosis. The pathophysiological significance of these findings is supported by two series of observations. (a) Fresh APL blasts exhibit no TNF-alpha binding and are resistant to TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis. Conversely, normal myeloblasts-promyelocytes show marked TNF-alphaR expression and are moderately sensitive to TNF-alpha-mediated cytotoxicity. Similarly, blasts from other types of acute myeloid leukemia (AML M1, M2, and M4 FAB types) show an elevated TNF-alpha binding. (b) The NB4 APL cell line, which is PML/RARalpha+, shows low TNF-alphaR expression capacity and is resistant to TNF-alpha-triggered apoptosis; conversely a PML/RARalpha- NB4 subclone (NB4.306) exhibits detectable TNF-alpha-binding capacity and is sensitive to TNF-alpha-mediated cytotoxicity. These studies indicate that the PML/RARalpha fusion protein protects against TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis, at least in part via downmodulation of TNF-alphaRI/II: this phenomenon may play a significant role in APL, which is characterized by prolonged survival of leukemic blasts.

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