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EMBO J. 2007 Mar 7;26(5):1456-66. Epub 2007 Feb 22.

Bcr-Abl stabilizes beta-catenin in chronic myeloid leukemia through its tyrosine phosphorylation.

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Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Milano-Bicocca, Monza, Milan, Italy.


Self-renewal of Bcr-Abl(+) chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells is sustained by a nuclear activated serine/threonine-(S/T) unphosphorylated beta-catenin. Although beta-catenin can be tyrosine (Y)-phosphorylated, the occurrence and biological relevance of this covalent modification in Bcr-Abl-associated leukemogenesis is unknown. Here we show that Bcr-Abl levels control the degree of beta-catenin protein stabilization by affecting its Y/S/T-phospho content in CML cells. Bcr-Abl physically interacts with beta-catenin, and its oncogenic tyrosine kinase activity is required to phosphorylate beta-catenin at Y86 and Y654 residues. This Y-phospho beta-catenin binds to the TCF4 transcription factor, thus representing a transcriptionally active pool. Imatinib, a Bcr-Abl antagonist, impairs the beta-catenin/TCF-related transcription causing a rapid cytosolic retention of Y-unphosphorylated beta-catenin, which presents an increased binding affinity for the Axin/GSK3beta complex. Although Bcr-Abl does not affect GSK3beta autophosphorylation, it prevents, through its effect on beta-catenin Y phosphorylation, Axin/GSK3beta binding to beta-catenin and its subsequent S/T phosphorylation. Silencing of beta-catenin by small interfering RNA inhibited proliferation and clonogenicity of Bcr-Abl(+) CML cells, in synergism with Imatinib. These findings indicate the Bcr-Abl triggered Y phosphorylation of beta-catenin as a new mechanism responsible for its protein stabilization and nuclear signalling activation in CML.

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